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Womanscape in Mahadevi and Mridula

Lakshmi Kannan

Translated by Neera Kuckreja Sohoni
Katha, Delhi, 2003, pp. 147, Rs. 200.00

Translated by Manisha Chaudhry
Kali for Women, 2003, pp. 230, Rs. 250.00


In her Preface, Mahadevi Varma says that in these essays she has ‘tried to view the inequitable situation of the Indian woman from various perspectives. It is therefore natural that these essays should reek of radicalism.’ They do. They reach us across a span of seven decades or more with a searing intelligence, amazingly contemporary in tone and insight, and with a crisp quality of mind. Through the translator's Preface we get a glimpse of Varma and the richness of her full life, lived with an unswerving sincerity of purpose. Born to educated, liberal parents who put a pre­mium on her education at a time when women were deprived of it, she reached out to help her less privileged sisters with remarkable empathy. Being at the helm of the Chayavaad literary move­ment, winning many laurels and keeping com­pany with some of the most distinguished writ-ers of her rime in no way weakened her concern for the lot of lesser mortals cutting across a class divide. Disquieted by the plight of women labourers with small babies on their arms, she taps alive the conscience of a nation with the line: ‘it seems as though the hurt motherhood of the en­tire universe is letting out a moan through her parched lips.’ The essays critique culture, society and religious mores calling for a new social order for women and for an attitudinal change. Women in myths are explored in the process, from Maitreyi, the learned wife of Yaagyavalkya, Yashodara, the wife of the Buddha to Sita, wife of Rama.  She points to their dignity and independent spirit even in the face of tragic circumstances. In 'The Modern Woman' she is unsparing about women who are rather narcissistic in their obsession with the enhancement of their looks. '‘No thinking person will be able to call them liberated’ she declares even while she is sympathetic to the many contradictions and ambivalence in their lives. Varma identifies three categories of the modern woman. The first gave unprecedented help to men in the dynamics of the political Movement; the second use their education to be self-sufficient and also work for public welfare; and the third uses their affluence to redefine the domestic scene. But it all comes at a cost for she stands isolated and misunderstood as an ‘aberration’. In Varma's binary vision ‘the credit for bringing about a radical change in ...

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