Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi, best known for works such as Hajar Churashir Ma (Mother of 1084), Rudali (which was made into a well-known movie by Kalpana Lajmi), and Chotti Munda Evam Tar Tir (Chotti Munda and His Arrow), died in Kolkata today at the age of 90.
She had a heart attack on 23 July and had been at the Belle Vue nursing home for the past two months. Her condition worsened as she developed a blood infection and her kidneys failed.
Born in 1926 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Devi grew up in a literary family. Her father, Manish Ghatak, was a writer, who was part of the Kallol movement which ushered in a wave of post-modernism in Bengali writing. Ghatak's brother was the iconic filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak.
Devi was educated in Dhaka and later in Santiniketan and Kolkata. She was briefly married to the famous playwright, Bijon Bhattacharya, one of the founders of the IPTA movement. They had a son, the late Nabarun Bhattacharya, a distinguished novelist in his own right, known for his cerebral style.
Devi was actively involved in campaigning for the rights of tribal people, especially in West Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. She wrote extensively about the Lodha and Sabar people in Bengal in her novels, essays and journalistic pieces.
In her last years, she vehemently opposed the former Left Front government's controversial land acquisition policies in Singur and Nandigram in West Bengal. She also supported Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress (TMC) party in the election that would topple the Left rule in Bengal after three decades. However, she later became disillusioned with the TMC as well and distanced herself from it.
In her long career as a writer and activist, Devi had received the Sahitya Akademi Award, Padma Vibhushan, Jnanpith and Magsaysay Award, among several other distinctions. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called her "a personal guide" in a tribute on Twitter.
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India has lost a great writer. Bengal has lost a glorious mother. I have lost a personal guide. Mahashweta Di rest in peace— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) July 28, 2016