Table of Contents
Recalling Mahadevi By Neera Kuckreja Sohoni Study Guide
A Brief Introduction to the Author
Neera Kuckreja Sohoni is an associated scholar at Stanford University’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender. Neera has brought the powerful Chhayavadi poet to a broader audience by translating Mahadevi Verma’s Ateet Ke Chalchitra, Shrankhala Ki Kadiyaan, and other prose pieces into English. She gets full credit for her significant contribution to Hindi literature.
The brief profile of Mahadevi Verma was first published in The Hindu on May 4, 2003. After providing certain biographical details about Mahadevi Verma (1902-1987), the author connects them to how the poet’s personality evolved later in life. At a time when Hindi writing was dominated by men, Mahadevi decided to pursue a career as a writer who was actively supportive of women’s rights. Neera Kuckreja Sohoni aims to alter Mahadevi’s public image of a woman who penned mystical romantic poetry by emphasising the fact that throughout her memoirs, essays, critiques, sketches, and so on, she addressed women’s issues with a profound sense of devotion and humanistic concern.
Summary of Recalling Mahadevi
Mahadevi Verma was born in a happy middle-class little town on Holi in 1907. She was her parents’ first child. They had a soft spot for her. She acquired her primary and secondary education at home, as well as at a school and college.
Mahadevi’s mother was highly devout, while her father was an English professor. As a result, she had a solid foundation and exposure to both Indian and Western thought.
She was married off at the age of nine, but this did not interfere with her academics, and she went on to earn a post-graduate degree.
Mahadevi rejected the strictly wifely position and pursued a profession in writing, which was a male-dominated field at the time. She never explained why she chose not to have a traditional marriage life. Critics and biographers have hypothesised that her decision to defy tradition was motivated by personal, even sexual, motivations.
She was acknowledged as a founder leader of Chhayavad, the Romantic movement in Hindi poetry, alongside Nirala, Pant, and Prasad. She published five volumes of poetry as well as memoirs, essays, and criticisms. Writing gave her joy, and not writing gave her a sense of emptiness in life. Informed observers believe she would have won the Nobel Prize in poetry if her work had been translated into English.
Mahadevi was also a remarkable feminist writer, writing cogently, boldly, and often furiously about women’s issues. Shrankhala Ki Kadiyaan, a collection of eleven of these ground-breaking articles, was published in 1942. Ateet Ke Chalchitra, published earlier in 1941, included moving biographical portraits of the unsung heroes – the poor women and men for whom she advocated. Her prose sketches address issues concerning women’s status, rights, and potentials, such as widow remarriage, child marriage, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, the practice of elderly men and widowers marrying much younger women, bigamy, male infidelity, ill-treatment of children by stepmothers, girls’ lower status, and economic difficulties for women. She was vehemently opposed to men’s conflicting morality standards. She questioned the male’s entitlement to exploit and torment women, as well as his deception in convincing the woman that this was the only “natural” state for her.
Mahadevi was a rational thinker. If she spoke with genuine grief about men’s moral and sexual exploitation of women, she spoke equally vehemently about women’s exploitative and unfair behaviour toward women. She chastised women for failing to function as a fraternity, for allowing envy and jealousy to govern them and for failing to show compassion to one another.
The author of this brief biography of Mahadevi criticises current feminists who disregard the poet’s action and discourse due to a lack of ideology. According to Ms Kuckreja Sohoni, hunting for Marxist and colonial dialectic in Mahadevi is akin to looking for mathematical theorems in an art book. She was concerned with the dignity of persons considered low-ranking on a humanistic, rather than ideological, level. According to Ms Kuckreja Sohoni, such human commitment and ingenuity as Mahadevi’s do not necessitate politically correct ideological labels.
Questions and Answers
Q.1 Describe in your own words the circumstances of Mahadevi’s life before she became a writer.
Ans. Mahadevi was born on Holi Day in 1907. Her parents’ eldest child, she was. As a result, she began her life with a natural advantage. Her parents were adoring of her. She acquired her early education at home before moving on to a school and, eventually, college. Her upbringing in a pleasant middle-class little town provided her with cultural connections to Indian culture and customs. Her mother was a devout Catholic, while her father was an English professor. This provided her with a solid foundation and exposure to Indian and Western thought. She married at the tender age of nine. Despite this, she was able to complete her studies and obtain a post-graduate degree. She refused to play the usual role of a wife. Instead, she decided to pursue a career as a writer.
Q.2. What are Mahadevi’s basic convictions as a woman writer?
Ans. Mahadevi overturned the male hegemony in Hindi poetry. She became known as one of the four founding leaders of Chhayavad, the Hindi equivalent of the romantic movement in poetry. The other three were Nirala, Pant, and Prasad. The writing was a fulfilling compulsion for Mahadevi. It gave her pleasure, and not writing gave her a sense of emptiness in life. She wrote about literary criticism as well as the status of women. She addressed women’s issues in writings published in the women’s magazine Chand. She was not pleased with being an inactive campaigner. She was an activist who advocated for poor women and men. Some of these unsung heroes are depicted in her biographical sketches in Ateet Ke Chalchitra, which was released in 1941.
Mahadevi’s prose sketches addressed topics concerning women’s status, rights, and potential.
Some of the themes addressed are widow remarriage, early marriage, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, the practice of elderly men and widowers marrying much younger women, bigamy, male infidelity, stepmothers’ harsh treatment of children, girls’ lower status, and economic challenges for women. She was critical of men’s dual moral standards, which created challenges and agony for women only. It bothered her that men could get away with without exercising any discipline or commitment in human relationships. She refused to accept that it was the male’s birthright to exploit and afflict women and that this was the only ‘natural’ state for her. She was outraged about the moral and sexual exploitation of women.
However, as an objective thinker, she was equally harshly critical of the exploitative and unfair posture taken by women against women. She chastised women for maintaining double standards in human behaviour and ethics. She questioned why they were envious and resentful of one another rather than acting as a sympathetic brotherhood. Her role as a creative writer in preserving the dignity of individuals considered low-ranking was on a compassionate level, not a political or ideological one.
Q.3. What does the author mean when she says that Mahadevi’s poetic image, unfortunately, overshadows her feminist profile?
Ans. When Mahadevi and Subhadra Kumari Chauhan decided to become poet-writers, writing in Hindi was an exclusively male pastime. She quickly shattered the male monopoly and was acknowledged as one of the four founding leaders of Chhayavad, Hindi for “romantic movement.” (The other three were Nirala, Pant, and Prasad.) Mahadevi’s preoccupation with writing led to the publication of almost five books of poetry. She also authored memoirs, articles, and criticisms on some topics, including women’s rights and literary criticism. Her poetry and prose both gained her immediate attention. However, educated observers believe that if her poems had been translated into English, she would have gotten the famous Nobel Prize.
Mahadevi, on the other hand, was more than just a wonderful poet. She was also a fantastic feminist. And, unlike Mahashweta Devi, who was twenty years her junior, she was an active, not an armchair feminist. Mahadevi dedicated her entire life to helping depressed men and women. As a prose writer, she used her characters to address a wide range of timeless female themes. She concentrated on women’s status, rights, and capacities. She wrote on widow remarriage, early marriage, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, the practice of elderly men and widowers marrying much younger women, bigamy, male infidelity, stepmothers’ terrible treatment of children, girls’ lesser status, and economic challenges for women. She was vehemently opposed to men’s conflicting moral standards. She questioned men’s notion that it was their natural right to exploit and torture women. Her pain and rage were fueled by the moral and sexual exploitation of women. She highlighted the masculine cleverness in convincing the female that her victimisation was natural. Despite her staunch support for the feminist cause, Mahadevi’s literary persona sadly overshadows her feminist credentials.
Q.4. Write a critical note on Mahadevi as a prose writer and essayist.
Ans. Mahadevi composed a large amount of prose in addition to five volumes of poetry. She produced multiple volumes of memoirs, essays, and criticisms on a wide range of topics, including women’s rights and literary criticism. Her pieces, which were published in Chand, a women’s magazine, address women’s issues in a clear and forthright manner.
Shrankala Ki Kadiyaan, published in 1942, is a compilation of eleven such groundbreaking pieces. Ateet Ke Chalchitra (1941) has some notable biographical essays written by her on the lives of the destitute and forgotten men and women. Her characters in her prose sketches are utilised to address concerns concerning women’s status, rights, and potential. Her viewpoints on these topics are ageless. She wrote on a wide range of topics. Some of these are: widow remarriage, early marriage, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, the practice of elderly men and widowers marrying much younger women, bigamy, male infidelity, stepmothers’ harsh treatment of children, girls’ lower status, and economic challenges for women.
Mahadevi was a harsh critic of men’s conflicting moral standards. Women were forced to face the brunt of the repercussions. She was irritated by how it allowed guys to discard any type of discipline or commitment in human relationships. Her essays call into question the male’s self-proclaimed birthright to exploit and afflict women. She pointed out that his deception had gotten the female to accept it as the sole “natural” circumstance for her.
In her works, Mahadevi voiced her tremendous pain and fury on behalf of morally and sexually exploited women. At the same time, she did not hesitate to criticise the exploitative and unjust posture taken by women against women. Women were also accused of upholding double standards in human ethics and behaviour. She accused them of not acting as a fraternity with compassion toward one another, but rather of letting “envy and jealousy to rule them.”
All of this was inspired by Mahadevi’s compassionate concern for the dignity of individuals seen as low-ranking. She was not worried by any political ideologies other than human dedication and a creative impulse.
Q.5. What are the social issues on which Mahadevi usually focuses her attention? Why are they so important to her?
Ans. Mahadevi was a feminist activist as well as a prominent poet. In her essays, she discussed women’s issues. She, like Mahashweta Devi, advocated for the rights of disadvantaged women and men. Her works on women’s status, rights, and potential are timeless. She wrote about a variety of themes, including widow remarriage, early marriage, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, the practice of elderly men and widowers marrying much younger women, bigamy, male infidelity, stepmothers’ terrible treatment of children, girls’ lower status, and economic challenges for women. While she attacked men for practising dual moral standards, she did not hold women accountable for sustaining double standards in human ethics and behaviour. She accused women of being exploitative and unkind to women. She chastised them for not acting as a fraternity with compassion for one another.
These issues were essential to Mahadevi because of her humanistic concern for the dignity of persons seen as low ranked. She was not espousing any politically correct ideologies. She was simply irritated to watch males disregard any form of restraint or commitment in human relationships.