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As a middle school kid, we all loved how Mahadevi Verma painted a vivid picture in our heads with her storytelling in Neelkanth and Gillu. We remember her as a writer of prose and poetry but through her journey she proved that she was much more than these distinctions. 

Early Life

Mahadevi Verma was born in Faarukhabad on the 26th of March, 1907. Her father was an English professor, who helped her understand western ideologies; on the other hand her mother was from Jabalpur who taught her Sanskrit and Hindi. She left an imprint of recitations of religious compositions of bhakti saints on a young Mahadevi, one of them being of Meerabai.

Image Source: Hind Patrika

Many years down the line, as destiny would have it, Verma won the recognition of a “modern Meera”. An interesting parallel could be drawn between the two, as Meerabai and Mahadevi Verma were both women who renounced their spousal roles in pursuit of their own personal identity.

Many years down the line, as destiny would have it, Verma won the recognition of a “modern Meera”. An interesting parallel could be drawn between the two, as Meerabai and Mahadevi Verma were both women who renounced their spousal roles in pursuit of their own personal identity.

Verma was married off at a tender age of 9. She was born in a progressive household therefore she finished her schooling at home and higher education at the Crosthwaite Girls College in Allahabad. She finished her education at a time when girls were trained to fit in the roles either of a wife or a mother, or both. As a competent student, she attained her master’s degree in 1932; but she did not settle for her marital fate that would have led her to get stuck in a vicious, patriarchal and domesticated world. Instead, she chose to make a career for herself in writing. 

Image Source: The Hindu

The famous friendship between Verma and her inspiration and childhood friend, poet Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, began in college. Chauhan encouraged her to write in Khari Boli. When other kids used to play and pass their time around, they used to sit under a tree and let their creativity flow. 

Professional Life

She went on to write poems, prose and essays that eventually fetched her great honors. She became the first woman to become a fellow at Sahitya Akademi in 1979. In 1988 she was granted Padma Vibhushan

She went on to write poems, prose and essays that eventually fetched her great honors. She became the first woman to become a fellow at Sahitya Akademi in 1979. In 1988 she was granted Padma Vibhushan

She was the principal, and later the vice-chancellor of Prayag Mahila Vidyapeeth, a girl’s college in Allahabad. To get women to smash the chains of subjugation, Verma harnessed both her intellect and talent to work for their emancipation. As a principal, Verma spent nearly three decades at that institution, shaping it to best meet the ill-served needs and priorities of its female students. She also served as an editor at Chand a liberal magazine that raised social issues in the Indian context. Mahadevi Verma was a preacher of the Buddhist philosophy. She extensively wrote about issues of great importance, such as, women’s issues, social reforms and politics. 

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Image Source: Femina

Feminist Contributions

Her work as a poet has often overshadowed her work as a feminist and social worker. 

Verma’s poems and essays marked the beginning of ‘feminist writing’ in Hindi. In her book, Shrinkhala Ki Kadiyan (Links in My Chains), she gives great emphasis to the atrocities faced by Indian women. Her essay, Hindu Stri ka Patniva (The Wifehood of Hindu Women) focused on how marriage was akin to slavery for a woman. They had no financial independence or an active voice; they were simply consigned to be a dotting wife and a caring mother.

Also read: Begum Qudsia Zaidi: The Woman Who Founded Hindustani Theatre | #IndianWomenInHistory

If we can bear the harsh truth, we would have to accept it with humility: that society has given to woman the most debased means for building up her life. She must live, having been made a means for the exhibition and enjoyment of man’s wealth,” Verma writes. 

In another essay, Ghar Aur Bahar (Home and The World), she writes, “As soon as women are married, the dreams of a happy home life become handcuffs and chains and grip their hands and feet in such a way that the flow of the life-force stops within them.

Her poems like Cha explored the subject of female sexuality. And the short story Bibia talks about a woman who experienced physical and mental abuse. The best known feminist prose was Ateet Ke Chalchitra (The Pictures of Past) a collection of short stories centered on the experience mainly of women, who touched Verma’s life deeply.

Her Legacy

She was a compassionate human being and was always inclined towards sheltering all kinds of stray animals. Mahadevi Verma made a name for herself in a male-centric literary and social world. She is remembered as a dignified woman, who wore khadi saris and wrote poems. She pushed her own frontiers and those of the women around her into untracked private and public spaces. 

She passed away on 11th of September, 1987 but her legacy forged a path for women and her work still continues to affirm that women should not accept their subaltern fate in the society.

Also read: Eunice De Souza: The Woman Who Dominated The Poetry Skyline | #IndianWomenInHistory

References

  1. The Print
  2. Jagran Josh
  3. The Statesman
  4. Mahadevi Varma: Political Essays on Women, Culture, and Nation by Anita Anatharam

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