Friday, March 20, 2009

Mahasweta Devi in Man Booker International Prize longlist

I'm so happy Mahasweta Devi, eminent Bengali writer and activist, has figured in the Man Booker International Prize longlist.

Mahasweta is one of Bengal's few respected writers with a long record of writing about the poor and repressed section of Indian society in a vibrant way. Whether it is the Naxalite movement in late 60's or the recent uprising in Nandigram, she has already explored it, and her oeuvre has had some protagonist, some hapless mother whose only son was killed by the police, or a recently widowed woman whom the administration refused to hand over her husband's body, working up in her narrative. Her works are chronicle and history combined. They are current and epic at the same time.

Mahasweta's activism is another aspect to her persona. Few writers are so aware and knowledgeable about common man's problems as she is. She is especially concerned about the tribals' status in India, and has worked among them over years to uplift their abysmal condition. She travels widely even now (she's about eighty) and is constantly in touch with the victims of Indian society. To know how much she is involved with the humanity, you have to read her column in the Statesman (Bengali) published from Kolkata.

Mahasweta Devi has had to pay a heavy price for her anti-establishment and lack-of-political-correctness posture throughout her life. The Congress Government fired her from her job on the ground that she was a Marxist. But the subsequent Marxist Government - long since in power in Bengal - is not kind to her either for her outspokenness.

Mahasweta has thousands of admirers across the world. Her works have been translated in many languages. Many awards have already come her way, Magsaysay award being one of them. She is a serious contender for the Nobel Prize.

If the judges award her the Man Booker International Prize, they would do a service not only to a real writer, but also to the prize itself.

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