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Author-activist Mahasweta Devi dies in Kolkata at 90

Renowned Bengali author Mahasweta Devi died in a Kolkata nursing home on Thursday of multi-organ failure, leaving behind a formidable literary legacy that focused on the lives of marginalized communities.

books Updated: Jul 28, 2016 20:57 IST
Avijit Ghoshal
Avijit Ghoshal
Hindustan Times
Mahasweta Devi,Social activist,Mahasweta Devi death
Mahasweta Devi was undergoing treatment at south Kolkata’s Belle Vue Clinic.(HT File Photo)

Renowned Bengali author and activist Mahasweta Devi died in a Kolkata nursing home on Thursday, leaving behind a formidable literary legacy that focused on the lives of marginalized communities.

The 90-year-old died of cardiac arrest due to multiple-organ failure. She was undergoing treatment at Belle Vue Clinic in South Kolkata under an eight-member team of doctors.

Read | Mahasweta Devi lived like she wrote: Fearlessly and without restraint

“India has lost a great writer. Bengal has lost a glorious mother. I have lost a personal guide. Mahasheta Di rest in peace,” chief minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted.

Devi was one of the most decorated writers of the country, with awards such as Sahitya Academi (1979), Padmashri (1986), Jnanpith (1996), Ramon Magsaysay (1997) and Padma Vibhushan (2006) under her belt.

Mahasweta Devi at her Calcutta residence in 1984. (Santosh Gupta/HT File Photo)

After the 2006 Singur movement lead by Mamata Banerjee, the author, over 80 years of age at the time, became an advisor to the Trinamool leader, who turned to her regularly for guidance. She was also easily the tallest figure in the group of intellectuals who stood by Mamata at the time.

The writer was the prime face on the dais during the yearly July 21 Martyr’s Day programme organised by the Trinamool Congress.

Read | Mahasweta Devi found extraordinariness among ordinary people: Amit Chaudhuri

She spent years researching, writing on and campaigning for welfare activities for the tribals of Bengal, especially the Lodha and Shabar communities. Though Mahasweta Devi was a bitter critic of the Left for the past 10 years, her intellectual moorings was initially with the Left.

Arguably her most-famous book, Hajar Churashir Maa (Mother No 1084) was based on the mother of a Naxalite in the tumul

tuous ’70s in Kolkata and was made into a popular Bollywood movie starring Jaya Bachchan.

She was married to Bijan Bhattacharya, a firebrand playwright deeply connected with Indian People’s Theatre Association, an association of Leftist theatre artists. But her marriage ended in divorce in 1959.

Their son, Nabarun, was born in 1948.

Read | Mahasweta Devi: She was a commandant, leader and the loss is irreversible

Devi had to suffer the pain of her son’s death on July 31, 2014. Nabarun was one of the Bengali authors who wrote about the underbelly of society and was regarded as a cult figure among a large section of the Bengali literary circuit.

Films based on her works include Sunghursh (1968), Rudaali (1993), Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa (1998) and Maati Maay (2006).

“She was admitted in the hospital for 67 days. For the past few days, she was in the critical care unit,” P K Tondon, chief administrative officer of Belle Vue Clinic told HT.

Devi was declared dead at 3:16 pm on Thursday. “The grandmom breathed her last at 3:16 pm today. I thank all of you for your concern and support,” grandson Tathagata Bhattacharya wrote on Facebook.

First Published: Jul 28, 2016 16:00 IST