It would not be an 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 one of the first Indian poets to dare not only to address, but to address in detail the relevant issue of women’s empowerment. .
Genesis: A competent writer since childhood
Mahadevi Verma was born in Farrukhabad district in Uttar Pradesh to Govind Prasad Verma and Hem Rani Devi. While her father, an English teacher at a college in Bhagalpur, introduced her to Western teachings and English literature, her mother aroused in her a natural interest in Hindi and Sanskrit literature.
Growing up in a conducive environment, brimming with literature, the young Mahadevi Verma developed a passion for writing from an early age. Although she wrote her first poem at the age of seven, she used to hide her stash of poetry and other writings. It was only when her friend Subhadra Kumari Chauhan discovered her reserve of writings that her talent took center stage.
In his biography ‘Mere Bachpan Ke Din’, her contentment at having been fortunate enough to be born into a progressive family is reflected in the following lines: “When girls were seen as a burden, she was fortunate enough to be born into a family with different thinking. Her grandfather wanted to make her wise. His mother was a religious person but had a deep knowledge of Sanskrit and Hindi. Mahadevi’s mother only encouraged her to write poems and take an interest in literature.
Although she was married at the age of nine, she continued her graduate studies at Crosthwaite Girls College in Allahabad and by the time she graduated she had already made a name for herself in the literary field. .
One of the main pioneers of Chhayavaad:
Mahadevi Verma is revered as one of the most competent writers in Hindi literature, known, in particular, for her neo-romantic works.
She is one of four Hindi Pioneer Laureates alongside Jay shankar prasad, Sumitra Nandan Trousers, and Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’, who were at the head of the Chhayavaadi poetry movement, a powerful literary movement from Romanticism to modern Hindi poetry during the period 1914-1938.
She was also the first poet to be associated with the neo-romantic genre, in a conservative society that viewed women only as housewives.
Women empowerment icon:
Mahadevi Verma was fiercely independent, free-spirited with a very strong point of view when it comes to women’s rights.
In the 1930s, Mahadevi Varma wrote a powerful essay series on the oppression of women, for journals such as Chand, which were later compiled into a series of essays titled ‘Shrinkhala ki Kadiyan’. The volume was published in 1942, years before Frenchwoman Simone de Beauvoir advocated the concept of feminism in her influential book, “The second sex” (1949),
Mahadevi Verma’s work spoke volumes about the need to empower women and tackle the gender inequalities that prevailed at that time.
In his famous essay, ‘Ghar Aur Bahar’, she writes about the marital challenges that a woman experiences on a daily basis. In another essay, titled “Hindu Stri Ka Patnitva” she touched on similar topics on the oppression of women.
One of Mahadevi Verma’s poems, ‘This’ is pioneering and powerful work on women’s sexuality that was seen as very daring at the time.
Friendship with Subhadra Kumari Chauhan:
Mahadevi Verma created for herself an alternative family comprising other writers linked by passion more than blood.
His friends also included marginalized people like Alopi the blind vegetable seller; poor nine-year-old Ghisa, who had no books but a thirst for reading; Bhaktin the tormented widow, among others.
However, his greatest companion and inspiration was his dear friend, Subhadra Kumari Chauhan. It was she who discovered her reserve of childhood poetry and encouraged it to come out of its shell. The two would sit on top of trees for hours together and transcend each other in their poetic paradise.
In his book ‘Ke Saathi Path’, Mahadevi Verma painted living portraits of Chauhan and Nirala, among other writers.
Some of his most revered works include “Smriti ki rekhaen”; “A pilgrimage to the Himalayas”, “Other silhouettes of memory”, and ‘Mera parivaar’ alongside evergreen pieces of poetry, including Nihaar (1930), Rashmi (1932), Niraja (1934), and Sandhya (1936), all collected in Yama (1940).
One of his most endearing works, also a children’s favorite, is the short story, ‘Gilou’, the story of an injured squirrel.
Prizes and distinctions:
Mahadevi Verma became the first woman to receive the Sahitya Akademi scholarship. His works occupy an important place even today.
In her life, she has been honored with prestigious awards including the Padma Vibhushan and Padma Bhushan.