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A classic of unmatched lyrical beauty by the 'modern Mira'
For Mahadevi Varma, her animal companions were her chosen family. This family comes alive in Mahadevi's lyrical prose, depicting the animals' relationships with her, each other, and the human inhabitants of her home and her school. Rescued peacocks, squirrels, dogs, rabbits, and deer romp through these pages, each an unforgettable individual of many moods. Charming hand-drawn illustrations complement the delightful writing. Together, these portraits reveal an urban modernity permeated by nature.
In this first-ever translation of a little-known classic, Ruth Vanita brilliantly captures Mahadevi's empathetic imagination, sparkling wit, and intense observation of detail. In her introduction, Vanita illuminates Mahadevi's feminist and literary legacy, her powerful indictment of human cruelty, and how her prose sprang from the fount of her feelings for animals.
FROM THE BOOK
'As [Neelkanth the peacock] stepped forward and backward, left and right, he would pause at some invisible point where rhythms meet . . . I cannot say how Neelkanth came to know that I liked his dancing very much, but one day, as soon as I approached the aviary, he suddenly descended from his swing and, spreading out the circular rainbow umbrella of his feathers, he stood in a dance pose.'
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'Animals recognize humans' unpretentious affection but not high and low social status. I absorbed this truth from Sona [the doe] by osmosis. What had Sona to do with the grave and solemn Guru-ji [Mahadevi] of the girl students? . . . If Sona felt it necessary to jump over my head to express her affection, she would do so. It was impossible for her to be impressed by my status or circumstances.'
Mahadevi Varma (1907-1987) is the greatest woman poet to have written in Hindi in the twentieth century. She did an MA in Sanskrit from Allahabad University and became residential principal (later, vice chancellor) of the pioneering women's institution, Prayag Mahila Vidyapeeth. She worked in the Gandhi-led movement for independence, and edited several journals, most notably the women's magazine Chand. She was one of the four pillars of the Chhayavad movement in Hindi poetry and the author of several collections of poems, such as Nihar (1930), Rashmi (1932), Nirja (1933), Yama (1939), and Deepshikha (1942). She wrote several prose works, including reminiscences, pen portraits, essays on women's predicament, and works of literary criticism, such as Sahityakar ki Astha (1962). She translated numerous works from Sanskrit to Hindi.
Mahadevi founded a trust to support writers in need. In 1979, she was the first woman to be made a fellow of the Sahitya Akademi. Among other awards, she received the Jnanpith in 1982, the Padma Bhushan in 1956, and the Padma Vibhushan posthumously in 1988.