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Thursday, March 31, 2011

First Indian Woman To Receive Jnanpeeth Award

                                                                 
Ashapoorna Devi also Ashapurna Debi or Asha Purna Devi, is a prominent Bengali novelist and poet. She was born in 8 January 1909. She has been widely honoured with a number of prizes and awards. She was awarded 1976 Jnanpith Award and the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 1976; D.Litt by the Universities of Jabalpur, Rabindra Bharati, Burdwan and Jadavpur. Vishwa Bharati University honoured her with Deshikottama in 1989. For her contribution as a novelist and short story writer, the Sahitya Akademi conferred its highest honour, the Fellowship, in 1994. She died in 1995. 

ASHAPURNA DEVI – the legendary doyenne of Bengali literature was born on 8 January 1909, at her maternal uncle’s place at Potoldanga in North Calcutta.

Her early childhood finds her in a traditional and extremely conservative family at Vrindaban Basu Lane amongst a large number of relatives. Due to the domination of her grandmother who was a staunch supporter of old customs and conservative ideals, the female children of the house were not allowed to go to school. Private tutors were employed only for the boys. It is said that baby Ashapurna used to listen to the readings of her brothers sitting opposite to them and that was how she learnt the alphabets.


Ashapurna’s father Harendra Nath Gupta was a famous artist of the time who used to work for the C. Lazarus & Co. as a designer , Sarola Sundari, Ashapurna’s mother came from a very enlightened family who was a great book lover. It was her “intensive thirst” for reading classics and story books which was transmitted to Ashapurna and her sisters in their early age.


Due to shortage of space Harendra Nath shifted his own family to a new house at 157/1A, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Road (beside Khanna Cinema Hall), which provided freedom to Sarola Sundari and her daughters to read more and more according to their heart’s desire. In order to satisfy Sarola Sundari’s tremendous urge of reading there had been a continuous flow of various books and magazines from the different libraries of the time. As there was no dearth of leisure for the daughters and no bar to read adult books from very tender age. Ashapurna and her sisters had built up a love-relationship with books. Though Ashapurna had no formal education as such, she was no less self-educated.


Another fact was very remarkable which needs mention. The period in which Ashapurna was growing up was socially and politically a restless one. It was passing through a phase of agitation which resulted in a nationwide awakening. Though the children of Harendra Nath were far away from the direct touch of the outside world, they were quite sensitive to the restlessness going on throughout the country led by Gandhiji; and other political leaders who were ready to sacrifice their lives to bring independence. Thus different factors were responsible for nourishing specific culture which guided Ashapurna from her early childhood to youth, and carried her to a definite platform through various experiences and ideals of life.


According to Ashapurna –she and her sisters used to compete with each other by Composing and reciting poems. This gave rise to an unusual tenacity which inspired Ashapurna to send a poem to Sishu Sathi secretly to the then editor Rajkumar Chakravorty for publishing. The year was 1922, Ashapurna was thirteen and the name of the poem was “Bairer Dak”(The Call from the Outside). The poem was not only published, there was request from the editor to send more poems and stories. That was the beginning which developed into a never-ending flourish for Ashapurna culminating into a permanent place for her into the realm of literature.

Ashapurna got married in 1924 when she was just fifteen. She had to go to Krishnanagar to her in-law’s place leaving behind Calcutta of which she was so fond. She was married to kalidas Gupta. Since this period we find them changing places quite frequently. Three years later in 1927 the whole family settled in Calcutta for good at first in Ramesh Mitra Rload, Bhowanipur and later in a bigger house at 77 Beltola Road, where they lived till 1960. They had however, to shift with their own family to a separate flat near Golpark together with their only son Susanta, daughter-in-law Nupur and a granddaughter Satarupa. Later in 1967 another grand daughter Satadeepa was added to the family. Finally in 1970 Kalidas Gupta and Ashapurna built their own house in Garia at 17 Kanungo Park.Ashapurna lived there till she died on 13 July 1995.


Along with the normal chores of domestic life Ashapurna was making a room of her own through sheer power of will which realized her a significant place in the world of creative literature.

As mentioned earlier that publication of the poem ‘Bairer Dak’ marked the beginning of the odyssey of one of the most prolific creative geniuses of Bengali literature to whose credit go 242 novels and novelettes, 37 collection of short stories, 62 books for children. The number of her short stories runs into over 3000.

In the beginning of her writing career Ashapurna wrote only for the children – Chot Thakurdar Kashi Yatra was the first printed edition published in 1983, followed by others, one after another throughout her literary career.


In 1936 she first wrote a story for adults – “Patni O Preyoshi” published in the Puja issue of Ananda Bazar Patrika. “Prem O Prayojan” was her first novel for adults published in 1944.

Since this period her writing continued as a never-ending process. Most of her writings marked a spirited protest both for men and women, against the inequality and injustice stemming from the gender-based discrimination and narrowness of outlook for both ingrained in traditional Hindu society, Ashapurna Devi’s stories lay threadbare the oppression women have to face and made a fervent appeal for a new social order though not subscribing to the modern theoretical feminism of western mode. Her magnum opus – the trilogy – pratham Pratisruti (1964), Subarnalata (1967) and Bakul Katha (1974) symbolizes an endless struggle for women to achieve equal rights.


Upon her death she was at the peak of fame leaving behind an inexhaustible fund of unique literary creations which gained her respect and appreciation from all her readers. Ashapurna Devi had been widely honoured with a number of prizes and awards, the list of which follows this script.

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