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JYOTIRMOYEE DEVI (1894–1988)


Jyotirmoyee Devi was born in the Princely State of Jaipur in 1894. Her father, Abinash Chandra Sen, was the eldest son of a Bengali family that had lived in Jaipur since 1857; his father Sansar Chandra Sen had begun as a schoolmaster and risen to the post of Dewan to the Maharaja. Jyotirmoyee grew up in Rajasthan, receiving little formal education but observing keenly all that she saw around her. She also read extensively in her grandfather’s well-stocked library. At the age of 10 she was married to a lawyer, Kiran Chandra Sen, and went to live with him in Patna. He encouraged her to read English, and helped her get hold of books; they were a literary family who mixed with many of the leading figures of Bengali literature.

Yet in spite of this encouragement Jyotirmoyee might never have written had she not tragically lost her husband at the end of World War I. Barely 25 with six small children, she returned to her parent’s house, leaving one child with her husband’s family. There she lived under the rigid rules of orthodox Hindu widowhood. Jyotirmoyee turned to literature for solace. She read John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women, and this led her to think deeply on the question of women’s rights. Conservative in her own behaviour, she nevertheless made it a rule always to treat her sons and daughters equally. She now began to write the trenchant, luminous Bengali short stories for which she is remembered. Set in Rajasthan, Delhi and Bengal, they are unsentimental yet deeply sympathetic. She also has non-fiction to her credit, writing especially about the rights of women and Dalits. Her collection of short stories, Sona Rupa Noy (Not Gold and Silver) won the Rabindra Puraskar in 1973. ‘Her novel The River Churning shows her elusive ability to write a complex, multi-layered narrative while living in the cocoon of widowhood.’
 
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