Through the Eyes of a Child
Somdatta Mandal
OUR SANTINIKETAN by Mahasweta Devi. Translated from the original Bengali by Radha Chakravarty Seagull Books, London, New York and Calcutta, 2022, 133 pp., 499.00
May 2022, volume 46, No 5

She donned many mantles. It is a well-known fact that Mahasweta Devi (1926-2016), the Bengali novelist, short story writer, playwright, essayist, columnist, editor, and above all a socio-cultural activist, had relentlessly worked for decades highlighting the problems of the rural poor and the tribals. Standing as she did at the intersection of vital contemporary questions of politics, gender, class and caste, she was perhaps the most significant figure in the socially committed literature field. Despite pressure from readers and publishers, Mahasweta never wrote a full-fledged autobiography, though she expressed a desire to do so. In 2001, her brief and intense memoir Amader Santiniketan (Our Santiniketan) was published where she reminisces about her early schooldays from 1936 to 1938, the years she spent at Santiniketan, amidst the natural surroundings of Birbhum in West Bengal, in the living presence of Rabindranath Tagore. The title of the book comes from the opening words of the Santiniketan anthem, a Tagore lyric that is sung at the end of any academic and cultural programme there, and which asserts a passionate sense of belonging to the place: ‘Amader Santiniketan/amader shob hotey apon’ (Our very own Santiniketan/Dearest to our hearts). The book is dedicated to her son Bappa (Nabarun Bhattacharya), estranged from her since she left his father, her first husband Bijan Bhattacharya. ‘I gift you the most carefree days of my own childhood’,  she writes, ‘Let my childhood remain in your keeping.’

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