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Mahadevi Verma: Reminiscing the free-spirited poetess on her 34th death anniversary

It will be no exaggeration to say that the world of Hindi literature would remain incomplete without the mention of Mahadevi Verma.

Hailed as one of the four pioneers of Chhayavaad or neo-romanticism in Hindi poetry, Mahadevi Verma was among the first Indian poetesses who dared to not just touch upon, but to address in detail the pertinent issue of women empowerment.

Genesis: A proficient writer since childhood

Mahadevi Verma was born in Uttar Pradesh’s Farrukhabad district to Govind Prasad Verma & Hem Rani Devi. While her father, an English professor in a college in Bhagalpur introduced her to western teachings & English literature, her mother invoked in her a natural interest in Hindi & Sanskrit literature.

Being brought up in a conducive environment, brimming with literature, young Mahadevi Verma inherently developed a passion for writing at a very young age. Though she wrote her first poem at the age of seven, she used to keep her stash of poetry and other writings hidden. It was only when her friend Subhadra Kumari Chauhan discovered her stash of writings, that her talent came at the forefront.

In her biography ‘Mere Bachpan Ke Din’, her contentment on her good fortune to be born in a progressive family is reflected through the lines: “When daughters were considered a burden, she had a good fortune that she was born in a different thinking family. Her grandfather wanted to make her savvy. Her mother was a religious person but had a deep knowledge of Sanskrit and Hindi. Mahadevi’s mother only encouraged her to write poems and to take interest in literature.”

Though she was married off at the young age of nine, she continued her higher studies at Allahabad’s Crosthwaite Girls College and by the time she passed matriculation, she had already made a name for herself in the literary realm.

One of the key pioneers of Chhayavaad:

Mahadevi Verma is revered as one of the most proficient writers in Hindi Literature known, in particular, for her works in neo-romanticism.

She is one of the four pioneer Hindi laureates alongside Jay Shankar Prasad, Sumitra Nandan Pant, and Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’, who were at the helm of the Chhayavaadi poetry movement, a powerful literary movement of romanticism in modern Hindi poetry during the period 1914–1938.

She was also the first female poetess to be associated with the genre of neo-romanticism, in a conservative society that viewed women as nothing more than homemakers.

Icon of women empowerment:

Mahadevi Verma was fiercely independent, free-spirited with a very strong viewpoint when it came to the rights of women.

Back in the 1930s, Mahadevi Varma, wrote a series of powerful essays on the oppression of women, for journals such as Chand, which were subsequently compiled in a series of essays called ‘Shrinkhala ki Kadiyan’. The volume got published in 1942, years before Frenchwoman Simone de Beauvoir advocated the concept of feminism in her influential book, ‘The Second Sex’ (1949),

The works of Mahadevi Verma spoke volumes about the necessity to empower women and fight against gender inequality prevailing at that time.

In her famous essay, ‘Ghar Aur Bahar,’ she writes about the marital challenges that a woman undergoes on daily basis. In another essay, called ‘Hindu Stri Ka Patnitva’ she touched upon similar topics of women’s oppression.

One of Mahadevi Verma’s poems, ‘Çha’ is a pioneering and powerful work on women’s sexuality which was perceived to be very bold at that time.

Friendship with Subhadra Kumari Chauhan:

Mahadevi Verma created for herself an alternate-family comprising fellow women writers connected by passion more than blood bonding.
Her friends also comprised marginalized people like Alopi the sightless vegetable seller; the impoverished nine-year-old Ghisa, who had no books but a thirst for reading; Bhaktin the tormented widow, among others.

However, her biggest companion and inspiration was her dear friend, Subhadra Kumari Chauhan. She was the one to discover her childhood stash of poetry and encourage her to come out of her shell. The two of them would sit atop trees for hours together and transcend into their poetic paradise.

In her book ‘Path Ke Saathi’, Mahadevi Verma painted vivid portraits of Chauhan and Nirala, among other writers.

Famous works:

Some of her most revered works include ‘Smriti ki rekhaen’; ‘A Pilgrimage to the Himalayas’, ‘Other Silhouettes from Memory’, and ‘Mera parivaar’ beside the evergreen pieces of poetry including Nihaar (1930), Rashmi (1932), Niraja (1934), and Sandhya geet (1936), all collected in Yama (1940).

One of her most endearing works, also the favorite among children is the short story, ‘Gilu’, the story of an injured squirrel.

Awards & Honours:

Mahadevi Verma became the first woman to receive the Sahitya Akademi fellowship. Her works hold a significant place even in today’s time.

In her life, she has been recognized with prestigious awards including the Padma Vibhushan and Padma Bhushan.

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