Sunday, 1 June 2008

Who was Maitreyi Devi?

Today I am curious about something I read about a long ago but forgot, Romanian anthropologist Mircea Eliade's (1907-1986) book Bengali Nights (1994) that was published in English only after her beloved Maitreyi Devi's (1914-1990) death.

Maitreyi was Tagore's discipline in Kolkata, who got involved with the Western scholar, and also herself a promising intellectual, poet and social activist. Eliade came to study with Maitreyi's father in Kolkata in 1930, and because of the tremendous trust the father had on her genius daughter, 16 at the time, he let her study together with the 23-year old university man from Europe.

Maitreyi and Mircea's knowing was not long and apparently did not proceed to sexual intimacy, yet Mircea took the liberty to write about the sexual fantasies Maitreyi's presence caused in him. He had published some of it in French, and Maitreyi only found out about this at the mature age of 57. She was then married and a woman of prominence. I read that she even took the trouble of travelling to the US to meet Eliade to discuss the feelings she had when finding out about the revelations in French. Eliade had then promised he will not publish any more on the topic during Maitreyi's lifetime.

In 1974, Maitreyi published her own version of the affair in Bengali, Na Hanyate (title refers to the soul that cannot be killed). She translated it in English too under the name It Does Not Die. What I gather from the reviews, it seems a more sober and analytical account of the love affair, full of analyses of Bengali society, family relations and the position of educated women.

All this tells something also about anthropology: Western anthropologists have often used their personal habitus to charm their informants, and proceeded to the level of intimacy that allows deeper knowledge to be gained. I do not doubt that Mircea Eliade's enchantment with brilliant and beautiful Maitreyi was not real, but what he did with their relationship after leaving India sounds like colonialist robbery. Ginu Kamani writes about the "terrible hurt" Maitreyi faced, but it is also a tale about talking back and responding in ways that may be quite unusual for an Indian woman to use.

There is no way of denying Maitreyi's full subjectivity in this decades-long saga. She became a Tagore scholar herself and travelled to the University of Chicago, where Eliade worked at the time to give a lecture. She had appeared at his office unannounced and found blankness in his eyes where love had once been. Her husband had encouraged her to do this. In many ways, she seems like a woman who was in control of her life, and was not afraid to face possible emotional turbulence. In the 2000s globalizing world led by American ways of conflict resolution, the only imaginable solution I can think of is an expensive trial. All prominent Finnish celebrities and especially wannabe ones love doing it too, so why not Indians?

Love doesn't have "informants", but anthropology always does. Good fiction doesn't have "informants" either. The possibility of someone becoming hurt should always be eliminated, it's one of the basic tasks of the writer. This is a very curious case, when looking at the book covers I am surprised by the similar layouts. Wonder if this love anyhow has the power to survive somewhere in the sphere of immortal souls? After all the dramaturgy and literary gossip, this is still an enchanting tale about transnationalism.


Helena Oikarinen-Jabai said...

mielenkiintoinen juttu Anu!
Kävin lukemassa plogiasi, kun yritän tehdä omaan. Tämä on joi toinen yritys ja onnistuin hukkaamaan sivuni totaalisesti. Yritän sukkuloida täältä sivuiltasi eteenpäin, jos tekeleeni löytyisi.
Hauskaa sunnuntai-iltaa!

Anonymous said...

Hi.I am Sanjana Farah Chowdhury. I love to read books.I have been reading the novel "It Does Not Die" for last 2 days n today morning I finished it. It fill up my heart with a indefinable feelings, this feelings was strong enough to make me search about Maitreyi & Mircea in the net. Belive me I never done anythng like this before. Right now "Bengoli Night" is in my hand & i beleive after finishing this i will complete the enchantng journey of love between two awsome personalities.Nice to read this article over here.

Anonymous said...

Hi.I am Sanjana Farah Chowdhury. I love to read books.I have been reading the novel "It Does Not Die" for last 2 days n today morning I finished it. It fill up my heart with a indefinable feelings, this feelings was strong enough to make me search about Maitreyi & Mircea in the net. Belive me I never done anythng like this before. Right now "Bengoli Night" is in my hand & i beleive after finishing this i will complete the enchantng journey of love between two awsome personalities.Nice to read this article over here.

camelia said...

I'm Camelia. I'm 24 and I'm Romanian. "Bengali Nights" or "Maitreyi" in Romanian version has been my favorite book since I was a teen. When I was mature enough to know that there is always the other side of the story I searched and read Maitreyi Devi’s book. And that is when I understood the weight of the paradigm of these two people and of their lifelines.
Eliade grew up in a country which was at the crossroad between primitivism and western civilization; the system of values back then was based on European standards; the Romanian background of spirituality and ethics was very weak, due to three centuries of Ottoman domination. Any transcendental experience connected to a tree was considered superstition; but superstitions are the base of religion, they’re like amateur religious attempts to connect with time and nature and life.
Maitreyi was brought up in a country that had long crossed the line of amateurism and developed concepts like pantheism; she was the daughter of a renowned philosopher and had her Robi Takkur to recognize her talents.
Meanwhile Eliade gained an arrogant intellect and a not as rich emotional background. Maitreyi chose to give herself away for their love (I know it sounds melodramatic, but I don’t know how else I can put it), not necessarily physically, but spiritually for sure, while Eliade was wondering between two different systems of values, he was redefining himself. And he’s totally not ready to understand what’s happening within himself. He takes as spiritual rubbish half of Maitreyi’s beliefs and habits. He only sees pieces, but not able to understand the whole, the nucleus of her being. When he’s sent out of the house, he’s slowly giving up on something too big for him to bear. So he’s going on with his life, probably haunted by doubt, exploiting, not enriching, the sacred he experienced. He profanes but he's lucid enough to see it and to admit it. I do agree with you, that is somehow colonialist robbery, but the man was heartbroken and I think he reached a desperate point.
Nevertheless, none of the two speaks out openly and truly. None of them admits mistakes, they're both explain their actions, they ornate and situate their stories and mildly emit sharpen arrows to eachother.

Rahat said...

hello all the lovers of Bengali nights
i am a Bengali guy
in this 21st century
living in a foreign land
loving a Romanian gal for some time now.. but this two books give me something
something to realize love does happen
even u are 10000 miles away
i intend to read both of the books and may be wanna make a movie some day.. but above all i wanna be with the woman i love

Anonymous said...

does anyone know some famillies numbers of maitreyi deli?
if u do, pls write me on

thank u a lot

Anonymous said...

Maitreyi died in 1995 I believe...I think from his family only his 2 children are alive but I don't know were to look for them aither; the book of Eliade was the book of my adolescence...I dicovered India trough his eyes like every romanian does, he wrote it in our hearts!!!!!!

tasmia said...

I'm Tasmia , from Bangladesh.
i read "nohonnote" or "It Does Not Die" in 2003,when i was just 16 years old..
it touched me so deeply...i cannot explain..the book just shook me! i smiled when they were loving each other...& i cried when they got separated.
i read so many novels since then but no novel could leave such impact as this one.
"i'll show you my real self by the shores of Ganga"- oh! this line of Mircha!
i remember i used to pray to God, so that Mircha & Moitrey could meet in their after lives...!
Since then i'm looking for the pictures of their young age. Could anyone help me in this regard?

Anonymous said...

Hi Tasmia,

This is Fariha. Im a Bangladeshi as well,living abroad. I heard about the two books when I was a teen, I even saw the translated version of La Nuit bengali on our book shelf but never even bothered to turn the pages. I have just finished reading the English version, Bengal Nights and I too am looking for the pictures of their youth (and thats how I ended up on thissite!) but havent been able to find one yet! When I was reading the book... near the end, I was praying they get back together even though I knew the story before!! They are both equally inttelectual and in my opinion would have been perfect match for each other.
I can not wait to read the book by Maitreyi devi now!

Monish R Chatterjee said...

For Anonymous, March 17, 2009

I used to know Maitreyi Devi's nephew (her younger brother's son), Dr. Soura Dasgupta, who was a faculty member in the Electrical & Computer Engineering department at the University of Iowa (UI), Iowa, City, Iowa, USA, during 1985-86, when I was a visiting faculty in the same department.

Dr. Dasgupta is still a faculty member at UI.

Monish R. Chatterjee, Ph.D.
Professor, ECE
University of Dayton
Dayton, OH 45469

Karina Prussia said...

Does anybody by any chance posses a digital copy of Maytreyi Devi's book "It does not die"? I would appreciate a lot if somebody emailed me a copy to I can't find an e-book.
Karina. Konigsberg, Prussia

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maitreyi said...

I'm a Bangladeshi woman, read both of the novels during my early 20s (in 2005/6 probably), when I was madly in love with a British I met over the internet. Approximately after 3 years we stopped communicating; apparently for no reason or for many reasons that Devi family would have never accepted him..a christian who grew up in a totally different culture and learned different values. He also was unable to understand what was going on in my side. However, whenever I read these novels, I can relate myself so much to the character of Devi..Devi and Eliade's novels are few of the books that made me cry helplessly.

Anonymous said...

When you say that she found blankness in his eyes, where there was love before, that's not true. He was almost blind when they met, and he could not see her, but she clearly recognized him as the soul she fell in love with, to her this was a reunion of their immortal souls, not just meeting a former lover who misused their relationship. I read both books and I feel that while Eliade surely exaggerated in his account, she isn't telling the whole story either. There is a sense of longing in both books, and probably them 2 were the only ones who possessed the truth that binds their stories together and completes them.

Bushra Begum said...

I am from Bangladesh and I been living in New York City since I was seven. I read Bengal Nights and fell in love with the story. After reading it I researched both Devi and Eliade because I was looking for a happy ending for them. I wanted to find out that they met sometime later and had a long a life together. But unfortunately it didn't work out that way. Anyways I am moved by the book and can't wait to read "It Does Not Die".

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Anonymous said...

Maitreyi Devi died in 1990, not 1995. And yes, I agree, that the real story was something in between their accounts.

Her sister was Chhobu/Chitrita Devi. DOn't know if she is still alive. She had a daughter, Suneepa Dutta.

Maitreyi's daughter is Madhusree Dasgupta who founded a school called Dolna. She was an exceptionally beautiful lady in her younger years.

You can find some interesting stuff here in this link.

M Devi started an orphanage called Khelaghar. You can read more about that in this blog.

shamik said... An essay on this for the curious.