Body phele debo
— Mahasweta Devi
The loss that literature faces with the loss of its crusader is immeasurable. Eminent litterateur and social activist Mahasweta Devi’s nirvana is one big loss. Speaking to Shabdankan director, Jaipur Literature Festivals, Namita Gokhle said, “As a woman, and as a writer, I cannot imagine a more inspiring iconic than Mahasweta Devi. Naveen Kishore had persuaded her to attend the Jaipur festival 2013, where she delivered the keynote address. This frail figure of incredible strength delivered a moving address, and made an indelible impact on me, as she did on all who read her or had the privilege of meeting her.”
Namita Gokhle’s word inspired me to do some research on what all Mahasweta Devi could’ve said in 2013’s JLF where she inaugurated the festivals.
Not to be missed1. The desire to live again is a mischievous one trying to trap it like catching butterflies with a net.
2. For any culture as ancient as ours to have survived over time, there could only be one basic common and acceptable core thought: humaneness. Small things and small dreams have their significance.
3. End of strength is not quite a full stop. Nor is it the last station where you get off the train. It is simply a slowing down. An ebbing of vitality, at my age, the desire to live again is a “mischievous one.”
4. Here’s what she said – in JLF 2013 - about how she became a writer -
Speaking with her usual reckless candour, about falling in love with one of her remote cousins as a teenager. In a tragic turn, the young man, who had a history of suicide in his family, killed himself too. “Everybody said he did this out of love for me, but I don’t think it was so,” she explained. “I was crushed by this event,” she added. This was one of the decisive moments in her life which pushed her into writing, almost as a way of making sense of this tragedy.
“All of you are aware that most women’s first sexual experience in India comes from within the family,” she explained. “I grew up surrounded by an ambience of middle-class morality, which I considered a sham.” The need to react to this ethos, together with her defiant spirit, made her join the Communist Party. “I was a girl who did not understand her body’s attraction,” she added. So writing became, for her, a way of figuring out her body’s reaction to the tugs and pulls of society.”
5. The only way to counter globalisation is to have a plot of land in some central place, keep it covered in grass, let there be a single tree, even a wild tree. Let your son’s tricycle lie there. Let some poor child come and play, let a bird come and use the tree. Small things. Small dreams.
6. Mahasweta Devi is known for her war cry—“Body phele debo”, I shall throw my body into the fray.
7. The right to dream should be the first fundamental right of people. That is my fight, my dream in life and literature.
Mahasweta Devi Speaks
#JLF 2013: Talking, Writing- Conversations with Mahasweta Devi
A film by Pushan Kriplani and Mahasweta Devi in conversation with Naveen Kishore
#JLF 2013: Inaugural Session- 'O To Live Again!'
Keynote address by Mahasweta Devi
Shabdankan will be publishing more on Mahasweta Devi about her life, her stories, her books.