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Women writers in Bengali literature have enriched the literary landscape of India with their Promethean creativity. Here I present my five favourite female authors from Bengal.
“She reads books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.” – Annie Dillard
Being a typical Bong girl I was always gifted with an opportunity to feel the essence of Bengali literature, either by observing the fully packed shelves of my father’s collection of Bengali books or by hearing mother’s goodnight tales of great Bengali people or by reading the Bengali poems and stories included in academic courses. As a bibliophile by heart I never lost the chance to enrich my literary famishment with Bengali literature. Starting from books for children written by Upendrakishore Rai Chaudhuri, Satyajit Ray and others, novels for teenagers written by Buddhadeb Basu, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, every miraculous piece of Bengali literature has shaped my feelings, emotions, perspectives and opinions to a great extent.
In this exhilarating journey to explore the literary treasures of Bengali culture I have read numerous books written by women writers in Bengali and every time my belief in the power of women escalated a level up.
I think that every lover of Bengali literature must read the work of the following stupendous women writers who combined aesthetics with issues to produce some of the most compelling literature of all times.
One of the most celebrated women writers in Bengali literature, Ashapoorna Devi’s world of writing is an extension of the worlds of the mothers, daughters and brides of our society. All of her lively characters did justice to her efforts, whether a beloved mother with an unborn life in her womb or as an elderly women witnessing the changes in her surroundings, sitting in a prison cell. She questioned the orthodox and contradictory expectations from women in contemporary society. She also highlighted how the desires of women were demolished by household chores and other domestic activities, and this is one of the distinctive feature of her writings.
Some of her notable works are Prothom Protishruti, Subarnolata, Bakul Katha, Satyabati, Rajkumarer Poshak, and Sudhu Tara Dujon.
Having raised her voice against the barbarities suffered by tribal people, Padma Shri and Padma Bibhushan recipient Mahasweta Devi was fascinated by the everyday happenings around her and devoted herself to empowering people from tribal communities. She believed that the right to dream must be the first fundamental right! Involvement in social activities, as well as her rebellious personality enhanced her landscape of imagination. She sharply criticised the government of West Bengal on the grounds that they snatched agricultural land from farmers during the Singur-Nandigram riot.
Hajar Churashir Ma, Aranyer Adhikar, Titu Mir, Sangharsh, Rudaali, Jhansir Rani, and Chotti Munda Evam Tar Tir are some her spectacular works.
Being a modern female author among the women writers in Bengali literature, she reflected the authentic canvas of our society in her works. She focused on issues of grave social concern in addition to portraying women from different classes of society. One can get a clear essence of feminism, a voice against social injustice and for gender equality in her novels. She always wrote about women who tried to harness their potential despite the presence of male egoism and their dependence on men.
Dahan, Onnyo Basanta, Nilghurni, Mitinmashir Samagra, Achin Pakhi, Kacher Manush, Bhalo Meye, Kharap Meye, Kancher Dewal and several other novels graced her collection of writings.
One of the most creative women writers in Bengali literature, Leela Majumdar primarily concentrated on children’s fiction. Her literary archive provides a kaleidoscope of detective, fantasy, ghost, and humorous stories. She recounts her childhood days in Shillong, life at Shantiniketan and at All India Radio in her book Pakdandi. She continued the legacy of the magazine Sandesh created by her uncle Upendrakishore Ray Chaudhuri which was the most popular children’s magazine in Bengali language.
She won the heart of literature lovers with her spectacular works like Holde Pakhir Palok, Podi Pishir Bormi Baksho, Boddi Nather Bori, Din Dupure, Bagher Chhok , Batash Bari, etc.
Nabaneeta Dev Sen is one of the most innovative women writers in Bengali literature. She took up the roles of short story writer, columnist and travel writer in all of which which she succeeded. Free-spirited nature and humour in gritty situations constitute the distinct features of her works. Reflections of real life situations, and absurd encounters portrayed with a personal touch find a place in most of her works. She is indeed a popular literary icon for women in India. Women are presented as active protagonists in her works which focus on their struggle and negotiations with power in a patriarchal society.
Her spellbinding works include Bamabodhmi, Bhalobasha Kare Koy, Thikana, Deshantar, Khagen Babur Prithibi Evam Anyanya, Prothom Pratyay, Ami and many more.
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