Maitreyi Devi was sixteen years old in , the year Mircea Eliade, then twenty-three, came to Calcutta to study with her father. A counter to Eliade's fantasies, it is also a moving story of what happens to young love when enchantment and disillusion, cultural difference and colonial arrogance collide. I first saw a paperback version of Eliade's Bengal Nights in I recognized Eliade's name from texts assigned in a survey course on World Religions that I had taken as a university freshman, and I also recognized the title because I was aware that a French film with that same title had been made in , in Calcutta.

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Maitreyi Devi was sixteen years old in , the year Mircea Eliade, then twenty-three, came to Calcutta to study with her father. A counter to Eliade's fantasies, it is also a moving story of what happens to young love when enchantment and disillusion, cultural difference and colonial arrogance collide. I first saw a paperback version of Eliade's Bengal Nights in I recognized Eliade's name from texts assigned in a survey course on World Religions that I had taken as a university freshman, and I also recognized the title because I was aware that a French film with that same title had been made in , in Calcutta.

Seeing that the book was about a "passionate love affair" between a Western man and an Indian woman, I purchased the book. Inter-racial relationships pique my curiosity, as I navigate my own thriving marriage with a Westerner. Reacting to Eliade's book as though it were about a woman like myself, I felt flabbergasted and horrified at first, and then felt contemptuous and indignant that this book could be considered "literature. It took me weeks to finish reading the book; I would have abandoned it were it not for Maitreyi Devi's "response", which I was bent on reading.

It overwhelmed me. An Indian woman had written a book with a very sure voice -- a book filled with accounts of her life, her desires, her interests, her biases -- without embarrassment, without regrets, and without any harm having befallen her. I was riveted by the boundary-less form of her narrative, dipping in and out of poetic prose and historical reminiscence.

I was amazed by the frankness with which she described her passionate feelings, her critique of her father and family, and her strong sense of self. I was exhilarated by her single-minded goal of going halfway across the world to confront a European man she hadn't seen or heard from in forty two years, then just as passionately putting pen to paper and thoroughly discrediting his version of their relationship, without fearing the disparity in their "status.

Na Hanyate, the original title of the Bengali version of Devi's book, is a spiritual reference, alluding to the immortality of the soul, which does not die even when the body dies.

I have never read such a book written by an Indian woman from India, and especially by one of her generation. I was deeply moved and troubled. More than a "counter to Eliade's fantasies," It Does Not Die delineates a complex character who embraced a complex experience without posturing, without apologies or excuses, and who, unlike Eliade, had the courage to contact an old friend after scores of years.

Eliade's novel was first published in Romanian in Bucharest in under the title Maitreyi. It was written specifically for a literary prize, following the years which he spent in India as a student of philosophy under Maitreyi's father.

Maitreyi was taken to be an autobiographical novel of Eliade's passionate, but failed, romance with a young Bengali girl. The book sold very well in Romania, garnering Eliade both fame and money. Eliade had published two novels before Maitreyi, both written while in India, but it was Maitreyi that propelled him into a literary career which ran parallel to his scholastic career for the rest of his life.

As Eliade relocated himself first in Western Europe and then in the United States, interest in his novels grew alongside his scholastic reputation. Maitreyi was translated into Italian in , German in , French in , and Spanish in An English version, however, was not commissioned until , when Carcanet Press in England assigned a translation from the French.

Maitreyi Devi was sixteen in when Eliade was invited to live in her father's house. Her "romance" with Eliade lasted a few months. When her parents realized that the two were tangling amorously, Eliade was asked to leave the DasGupta residence and ordered by Professor DasGupta never to contact Maitreyi again.

At the age of twenty she was married to a Bengali man. She had two children, published volumes of poetry and prose, wrote many books on her mentor Tagore, and later in life set up orphanages for needy children. The first that Devi heard of Eliade's Maitreyi was from her father, who visited Europe in or , informing her on his return that Eliade had dedicated a book to her.

Beginning with travels in Europe in , Devi ran into Romanians who, upon hearing her name, claimed to know who she was. But it was not until , when a close Romanian friend of Eliade's, Sergui al-Georghe, came to Calcutta, that Devi finally understood that Eliade had described a sexual relationship between them in his book. She subsequently had a friend translate the novel for her from the French and was shaken by his depictions.

Devi's first written response was a series of poems in the final months of , published in a slim volume titled Aditya Marichi Calcutta: Nabajatak Printers, From a personal letter she wrote to Eliade's translator Mac Linscott Ricketts, it becomes clear that the title, which means "Sun Rays" in Bengali, was an affectionate nick name given to Eliade by Devi's father.

In , Devi arranged to be invited by the University of Chicago to give lectures on Tagore and showed up at Eliade's office unannounced. She had several meetings with him over the two months that she was there, condensing them into the one meeting described at the end of her book.

C onfrontations directed by women at their male lovers interest me, as do interpersonal confrontations of most kinds. From my experience of being in a culturally mixed marriage, I know that cultural differences can have tremendous impact on behavior. My background is replete with strong taboos against confrontation -- my upbringing in India contained the tacit understanding that women didn't challenge or contradict those who held power over them.

Two of the most bitter women in my life were my grandmothers. I didn't understand either of them as a child. I understand now that they had plenty to be angry about, plenty that made them hard-hearted and unpredictable in their affections. I fantasize about what might have been different in their lives if they had had the permission, or the option, to confront those responsible for the harsh constraints of their lives.

Maitreyi Devi was a contemporary of my grandmothers. Born in , she was seventy-six when she died in For her time, she was remarkably well-educated, and she was encouraged to express herself artistically.

She was already attending university and was an accomplished poet at sixteen, and a favorite of Rabindranath Tagore, whom she referred to as Gurudev sacred teacher , following the custom of other Indians. That she had a romance at the age of sixteen with a foreign man is remarkable enough for that era. That she may have had sexual intercourse with him or anyone else before marriage is a sign of the permission that she felt she had, to take such a risk in the face of the kinds of horrors family and society routinely had in store for women who crossed that line.

The early permission to explore must have been rooted in the same conviction that directed her, forty years later, to confront the man who claimed to have ruptured her virginity. Eliade strikes me as a solid colonial-era Indologist, in spite of the disagreements he had with other Indologists of the time.

India and Indian philosophy became his personal mission, and he was rewarded throughout his lifetime for elucidating this culture to the West. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, on the meaning of India for him: "India fascinated me, it drew me like a mystery through which I seemed to foresee my destiny A different perspective on the Eliade of those early years reveals a man obsessed with upstaging his male mentors "It was a tragic paradox that, although I had barely entered the university, I had criticized violently and alienated permanently the professor I most admired, the man I had chosen as my model and whose life and work had played an almost "magical" role in my life I asked myself if it could be some strange demonic force, if I was cursed to repay with misfortune those I loved and who loved me.

Eliade set up the eminent scholar Professor DasGupta as his mentor in India, and then went on to offend him thoroughly by blatantly violating the guest-host and teacher-student relationship by first imagining, then acting on, the fantasy that DasGupta wanted Eliade to marry his daughter. Perhaps Maitreyi was only an incidental player caught in Eliade's pattern of seduction, betrayal and usurpation. When it was all over and Eliade was taking stock of his Indian encounter, this is how he rationalized it: " I was beginning to understand the reason for the events that had provoked my breakup with Dasgupta.

If 'historical' India were forbidden to me, the road now was opened to 'eternal' India. I realized also that I had to know passion, drama, and suffering before renouncing the 'historical' dimension of my existence and making my way toward a trans-historical, atemporal, paradigmatic dimension in which tensions and conflicts would disappear of themselves Devi writes in a letter what I too might have felt if an old boyfriend showed up as an Indologist: "Though he seems to be a great Indologist to you he has not understood Indian society at all.

I do not know how he has become such a legend in Europe, his base is very weak. His outlook is as mundane as a common Westerner. J ust out of curiosity, I decided to look through the reviews of the two books, to see if anyone else besides myself had been struck by the unusual nature of Devi's book. What I found in the reviews, instead, was a kind of "contest" made out between the two books to determine which of them was better written, more truthful, more virtuous, more worldly, and so on.

Petersburg Times, May 8, Hardly a single reviewer in the United States seems to have attempted any kind of research on the immense hurdles faced by a woman like Devi in writing a book like It Does Not Die. Hardly anyone, and certainly not the University of Chicago Press, has provided any background on how Devi's book was received in India, though they don't fail to mention about Eliade's book that, "Translated into French in , Bengal Nights was an immediate critical success" and what kind of infamy and respect accrued to the author.

Only one American reviewer, who was a personal friend of Devi's, mentions that It Does Not Die was an overnight bestseller in India from its first Bengali edition. And she provided a brief, understated insight: "Dictates of modesty for Bengali women, and [Devi's] position as a person of no small standing in her society, compel her to circumspection, even odd years later.

A stonishing as it might sound given the sleight-of-hand dictated by marketing decisions at the University of Chicago Press, Devi's "response" was written to stand on its own. There is little elaboration on the fact that Devi's book was out in India twenty years before its publication in the US, and that in all those years Eliade's book was not available in English, and therefore, for all intents and purposes, didn't exist for Indian audiences.

A few copies of the French translation of Eliade's book might have been available here and there, but with little effect. Maitreyi Devi's book stood alone, succeeded on its own, was judged on its own, for twenty years with Eliade's book available neither as a reference, nor as a "version" of the romance. The book won an Indian Academy Award! The author drew over a thousand people a night to her readings.

She gained fame and fortune! Can any review of Devi's book in this country be complete without such basic information? Can the "world-renowned scholar" Eliade not be matched by the "internationally acclaimed, best-selling author" Devi? Why the stingy bio on the part of the University of Chicago Press?

Instead of thorough reporting on the autonomous existence of her book, what we see in this country, as pointed out by Udayan Mitra in "The Imperialism of Culture" is that: "the reader is presented with the two volumes, with the history of difference erased from immediate consideration Another part of the story between Devi and Eliade that has not been illuminated is the effort made by Devi to ensure that no English translation of Eliade's novel be available within her lifetime.

In , in Chicago, as a consequence of her confronting Eliade about the lies he wrote about her in his book, Eliade promised Devi that an English translation of his novel would never be made in her lifetime. Thanks to the kindness of Eliade's translator Mac Linscott Ricketts, I can quote Devi's own words from a series of letters she sent him in the years "[Eliade] promised to me that never never he will allow an English version to be published and he said he will also write that in his tastament [sic] that this book shall never be published in English He said it was a fiction and that there are other persons of the same name as I!

Well what can you say to this! Such calumny! You may convey to him my views and also remind him his word of honour. He told me he will send me this epilogue to check. But as usual he has not kept this promise also. Now I know from your letter that he has omitted the whole episode from his memoir - why?

Here was his opportunity to say that most of the things he wrote about me were not true and absolve me of the guilt.

He promised that he will write this was a phantasy but he has not done so. He has kept the point deliberately hazy. Why does he not keep his word? If you are his well wisher you should warn him.


A Terrible Hurt:

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It Does Not Die: A Romance

Turnabout is fair play. The woman mythologized as an enigmatic Indian maiden by Romanian scholar Mircea Eliade in Bengal Nights see below offers her own novelized version of their supposed torrid Although the writing style of the book dates it, the rebuttals Devi provides to Eliade's Orientalist claims about her nature are extremely pointed. When paired with Bengali Nights, it makes for an interesting discussion of interracial, intercultural, and intergender relations. Her first book of verse appeared when she was sixteen, with a preface by Rabindranath Tagore.


Love in The Bengali Night Does Not Die: Maitreyi Devi and Mircea Eliade

For a powerful narrative set in postcolonial India, told by two powerful minds, one pair stands to be compared and contrasted. Together, they recount two compelling yet competing versions of the same passionate love story that never saw its happy ending. At once blurring the boundary between memoir and poetry, the sacred and profane, traversing continents and decades to do it, in the end, both break your heart. Here they are — the University of Chicago Press editions — a semi-autobiographical novel in orange and a memoir full of poems in violet:. An abstract. In India, a young Romanian scholar begins an affair with a Bengali teenager, the daughter of his host and mentor. As tensions mount between colonists and colonized, the heat of an inevitable independence movement rising, both lovers are forced to abandon their love right as their relation reaches its apex, leaving devastated lives in their wake.


It Does Not Die

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