Ashapurna Devi, a prominent Indian novelist and poet in Bengal was born on 8th January 1909. For her contribution as a novelist and short story writer, the Sahitya Akademi conferred its highest honour, the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship upon her in 1994.
During her lifetime, Ashapurna composed more than thirty novels, poetry, ten volumes of collected works, besides children’s fiction. However, it was her powerful trilogy which catapulted her to fame and glory.
The three novels (written between 1964-1974) Pratham Protisruti, Subarnalata, and Bokul Katha depict the women’s liberation from colonial to independent India.
She was born on 8th January 1909 in a traditional Bengali family in north Calcutta. Her father Harendra Nath Gupta, a famous artist and mother Sarola Sundari belonged to a liberal family.
Theirs was a joint family with a great dichotomy between male and female children. While the girls of the household were forced to remain unlettered and unschooled, the boys were taught by private tutors.
Although she missed out on formal education yet Ashapurna educated herself enough for people to sit up and take notice. Asha managed to learn the Bengali alphabets by regularly listening to the readings of her brothers.
At age 15, Ashapurna married Kalidas Gupta and had to juggle household chores with her literary creativity.
Initially, she wrote only for children. Her Chhoto Thakurdar Kashi Yatra (Great Uncle Goes to Varanasi) was a hit in the genre of children’s literature.
In 1936 she made her debut in adult fiction. Her story Patni O Preyoshi was published in the puja bumper edition of Ananda Bazar Patrika. In 1944, came Prem O Prayojan, her first adult novel.
Through the entire gamut of her literary works, the focus is on gender bias (discrimination) and the sexist mindset of men. Her short stories, as well as larger novels vividly portray the emergence of quintessential middle-class Bengali women – their repression, angst, growing awareness, awakening of conscience and the final revolt.
For her significant contribution to the field of literature especially feminist literature, Ashapurna Devi was bestowed the Jnanpith Award as well as the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 1976. She was conferred D.Litt by the Jadavpur Burdwan and Jabalpur universities. Vishwa Bharati University ,(Shantiniketan, Bolpur, West Bengal) decorated her with Deshikottama in 1989. She also won a Sahitya Akademi fellowship in 1994.
Ashapurna Devi passed away on 13th July 1995. Her literary creations – translated in several vernaculars – remain part of school curriculum. In 1998, the Indian Postal department issued a stamp on her – as a joint recipient of the prestigious Jnanpith award.
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