Maitreyi Devi: Author of 'It Does Not Die'

Published : 04 Feb 2018, 20:03

Jagoroniya Desk

Maitreyi Devi was a Bengali-born Indian poet and novelist born in 1914. Devi was the daughter of philosopher Surendranath Dasgupta and protegée of poet Rabindranath Tagore.

Her first book of verse appeared when she was sixteen, with a preface by Rabindranath Tagore. She wrote 'Rabindranath--the man behind his poetry'.

She graduated from the Jogamaya Devi College, an affiliated undergraduate women's college of the historic University of Calcutta, in Kolkata.

Maitreyi Devi was sixteen years old in 1930, the year Romanian-born Mircea Eliade, then twenty-three, came to Calcutta to study with her father. Her "romance" with Eliade lasted a few months. When her parents realized that the two were tangling amorously, Eliade was asked to leave the DasGupta residence and ordered by Professor DasGupta never to contact Maitreyi again. 

At the age of twenty she was married to a Bengali man D. Monmohan Sen. She had two children. In 1938 and 1939 she invited Rabindranath Tagore to stay in her and her husband's house in Mungpoo near Kalimpong, which later became the Rabindra Museum. In 1942 she wrote about the memories of Tagore in Mumngpoo which was published as 'Mungpoo te Rabindranath' and later translated in English as 'Tagore by Fireside'. She published volumes of poetry and prose, wrote many books on her mentor Tagore.

She was the basis for the main character in writer Mircea Eliade's 1933 novel 'La Nuit Bengali' (Bengal Nights). Over forty years passed before Devi read Bengal Nights, Eliade's fictionalized account of their romance. In her ন হন্যতে (It Does Not Die) novel, written as a response to Bengal Nights, Maitreyi Devi describes the romance and the cultural tensions resulted from it. Given the cultural constraints, Maitreyi Devi denied claims of a sexual affair between her and Eliade during the latter's sojourn in British India. It is also a moving story of what happens to young love when enchantment and disillusion, cultural difference and colonial arrogance collide.

Devi's first written response to Eliade's fantasies was a series of poems in the final months of 1972, published in a slim volume titled Aditya Marichi (Calcutta: Nabajatak Printers, 1972). In 1973, Devi arranged to be invited by the University of Chicago to give lectures on Tagore and showed up at Eliade's office unannounced. She had several meetings with him over the two months that she was there, condensing them into the one meeting described at the end of her book.

In 1974, 'Na Hanyate' was published in Bengali, the "response" to Eliade's book that became It Does Not Die. 

She received Sahitya Akademi Award in the year 1976 for her novel 'Na Hanyate'. She also received the highest honor of India 'Padmasree' award in 1977.

Because of being very close to Tagore, Devi was invited to Bulgeria, Hungery and Soviet Union in the 100th birth anniversary of Tagore. Several times she delivered speech on Tagore and peace in Europe, America and Soviet Union. During the 1964 riot in India, she establishes 'Council for Promotion of Communal Harmony'. In 1971 she expressed her support to Bangladesh's liberation war several times. Later in life she set up orphanages for needy children. 

She died on 4 February, 1990 in Kolkata.

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