The Mahasweta Devi Collection #1

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Mahasweta Devi (1926–2016) was one of India’s foremost literary figures from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries—a writer and social activist in equal right. Author of numerous novels, essays and short stories, she received the Jnanpith Award, India’s highest literary honour, in 1996. She was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1997 for her ‘compassionate crusade through art and activism to claim for tribal peoples a just and honourable place in India's national life’.

This bundle contains five brilliant historical stories by Mahasweta Devi

1. Mirror of the Darkest Night

Translated by Shamya Dasgupta

It’s the mid-to-late 1800s and the British have banished Wajid Ali Shah—the nawab of Awadh in Lucknow—to Calcutta. To the sound of the soulful melody of the sarangi, the mercurial courtesan Laayl-e Aasman is playing a dangerous game of love, loyalty, deception, and betrayal. Bajrangi and Kundan, bound by their love for each other and for Laayl-e, struggle to keep their balance. Ranging across generations and geography, the scale of Laayl-e’s story sweeps the devil, a crime lord, and many other remarkable characters into a heady mix.

Mirror of the Darkest Night is almost an aberration in Mahasweta Devi’s oeuvre. Known for her activism and hard-hitting indictment of social inequalities, she pays close attention to detail in this sparkling novel. It offers a rare glimpse of Devi’s talent for telling the sort of story she normally eschewed—and it’s a cracker of a tale.

2. The Queen of Jhansi

Translated by Sagaree Sengupta and Mandira Sengupta

Lakshmibai, the Queen of Jhansi, a legendary Indian heroine, led her troops against the British in the uprising of 1857, which is now widely described as the first Indian War of Independence. The image of the young warrior queen who died on the battlefield but not in the minds of her people captured the imagination of novelist Mahasweta Devi, who undertook extensive research that encompassed family reminiscence, oral literature, local histories, and more traditional sources. From these she wove a very personal history of a heroine—an unusual woman, widowed at an early age, who grew from a free-spirited child into an independent young leader.

Devi’s resulting work traces the history of the growing resistance to the British, while building a detailed picture of Lakshmibai as a complex, spirited, full-blooded woman who wears her long tresses unbound at the same time as she prefers a male attire on horseback; who is a cool-headed and far-sighted leader of men, full of warm concern for her soldiers; as well as a mother who worries about her infant son’s well-being. Simultaneously a history, a biography, and an imaginative work of fiction, this book is a valuable contribution to the reclamation of history and historiography by feminist writers.

3. The Book of the Hunter

Translated by Saragee Sengupta and Mandira Sengupta

This riveting and expansive novel set in sixteenth-century medieval Bengal draws on the life of the great medieval poet Kabikankan Mukundaram Chakrabarti, whose epic poem Abhayamanga better known as Chandimangal, records the socio-political history of the times. In the section of that epic called Byadhkhanda—the Book of the Hunter—he describes the lives of the hunter tribes, the Shabars, who lived in the forest and its environs.

Mahasweta Devi explores the cultural values of the Shabars and how they cope with the slow erosion of their way of life, as more and more forest land gets cleared to make way for settlements. She uses the lives of two couples—the brahman Mukundaram and his wife, and the young Shabars, Phuli and Kalya—to capture the contrasting cultural norms of rural society of medieval Bengal. Devi acknowledges her debt to Mukundaram, who wrote about men and women, not gods and goddesses. The hunter tribes’ refusal to cultivate and settle down, as described by him, is true of surviving forest tribes today. The villages and rivers mentioned by him still exist, and Devi’s prose brings them to vivid life in these pages.

4. After Kurukshetra

Translated by Anjum Katyal

As the warriors are cremated, the skies above Kurukshetra are dark with circling birds of prey. Reek of rotting flesh. Row upon row of oil-soaked wood pyres piled high with decomposing bodies. They are set alight. The pyres burn for days. With the ancient epic Mahabharata as her source, and the battle of Kurukshetra as a central motif, Mahasweta Devi weaves three stories in which we visit unexpected alleys and by-lanes of the traditional epic saga, and look at events from the eyes of women—marginalized, dispossessed, dalit. Their eyes condemn the wanton waste and inhumanity of war. This Kurukshetra is not the legendary Dharmayuddha of the popular imagination but rather a cold-blooded power game sacrificing countless human lives.

5. Titu Mir

Translated by Rimi B. Chatterjee

Titu Mir, a peasant leader, led a revolt against the British in Bengal in 1830–31, in the course of which he was killed. He has remained a hero in the popular imagination. This was a period of transition in agricultural Bengal. The evil effects of the Permanent Settlement were beginning to be felt by the rural people. Traditional zamindars were being replaced by absentee landlords. Indigo plantations were eating up fertile agricultural land. Titu, a headstrong young man, a natural leader, found himself defending the rural poor against the exploitation of the landlords and the British, at the cost of his own life.

In this warmly told historical adventure tale, Mahasweta Devi brings history alive in the person of a charismatic hero, embedding Titu Mir in the larger socioeconomic situation of the times. We get to know Titu as a young boy, fearless and restless, always standing up for victims of injustice, and then trace his gradual development into a rebel leader after his conversion to the Wahabi sect.

Check out more bundles by clicking here.

ISBN: MDeviBundle1
Format: Bundle
Rights: UCP
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