Rights activist and iconic Bengali writer, Mahasweta Devi, struck a strident note during her session that flagged off the Jaipur literature festival by calling into question the constant suppression of women, tribals and landless labourers. "The right to dream should be made a fundamental right," she said.
She condemned middle-class morality, saying she found it "a sham" because of its tendency to "objectify and suppress" things. Devi was part of a discussion with Naveen Kishore, the Seagull publisher who has brought out her book, Of Women, Outcasts, Peasants and Rebels.
The stories by Mahasweta Devi in Of Women, Outcasts, Peasants and Rebels are linked to the story of the devastating oppression of the landless peasants. The story runs parallel to the character fighting the tide of ruthless landlords, the government and the police.
During the session, she recollects her brief interaction with a few naxal boys. They came to her with a complaint of looking at the Naxalite movement from a rural context and not the plight of those who were butchered on the streets of Calcutta every other day.
This idea turned into the novel, Mother of 1084, which came after much homework, meeting people, taking notes and finally compiling everything.
The novel was smuggled into the jail and was read by naxalite prisoners. "It became a rage," she added.
The writer was accepted by them because of this novel. It was her trips to Palamu, Purulia and other tribal areas when she the happiest.
The eighty-seven-year-old writer now looks back at her published books to see what intrigued the audience then. Though, she finds nothing 'mindblowingly outstanding' in her writings.
Devi's work was divided over the "needful and needless", of which, she was more interested in the 'needful'. The 'needless' did not figure into her expanse of writings.
However, over the year the author found that she was the happiest when she was back home after her traveling that she loved. That home meant a lot to her.
She was "carried away" by her second husband but never had she envisaged leading to a divorce.
She bled for the separation which left a void inside her. Her constant worry about her son, Bappa, who was a teenager then, troubled her knowing the fact that he will have to thrive in this locality, go to the same school.
Later, Bappa wrote his first poem which was as powerful a portrayal of the oppression and the oppressed naxals as Devi's own works were.
Breast Stories by Devi, remarkable for their complete lack of sentimentality, her characters towards the end of the story rise through oppression. In the Breast Giver her protagonist, Draupadi, a rebel, hunted down by the government in their attempt to subjugate these groups. The story ends with a magnificient final scene in which she faces her abusers, naked and bloody, but fiercely strong.
"Life is like a flowing river and you cannot always expect that this river will flow smoothly. But one has to ensure that one doesn't go through social oppression," the writer said.
Interacting with reports after the session, Devi spoke on Delhi gang rape case incident. She appreciated the fact that women are protesting against these atrocities and their voices are being heard now.