Precocious, a poet, a philosopher's daughter, Maitreyi Devi was sixteen
years old in 1930 when Mircea Eliade came to Calcutta to study with her
father. More than forty years passed before Devi read "Bengal "
"Nights," the novel Eliade had fashioned out of their encounter, only
to find small details and phrases, even her given name, bringing back
episodes and feelings she had spent decades trying to forget. "It "
"Does Not Die" is Devi's response. In part a counter to Eliade's
fantasies, the book is also a moving account of a first love fraught
with cultural tensions, of false starts and lasting regrets.
Proud of her intelligence, Maitreyi Devi's father had provided her
with a fine and, for that time, remarkably liberal education -- and
encouraged his brilliant foreign student, Eliade, to study with her.
"We were two good exhibits in his museum," Devi writes. They were also,
as it turned out, deeply taken with each other. When their secret
romance was discovered, Devi's father banished the young Eliade from
Against a rich backdrop of life in an upper-caste Hindu household,
Devi powerfully recreates the confusion of an over-educated child
simultaneously confronting sex and the differences, not only between
European and Indian cultures, but also between her mother's and father's
view of what was right. Amid a tangle of misunderstandings, between a
European man and an Indian girl, between student and teacher, husband
and wife, father and daughter, she describes a romance unfolding in the
face of cultural differences but finally succumbing to cultural
constraints. On its own, "It Does Not Die" is a fascinating story
of cultural conflict and thwarted love. Read together with Eliade's
"Bengal Nights," Devi's "romance" is a powerful study of what
happens when the oppositions between innocence and experience,
enchantment and disillusion, and cultural difference and colonial
Maitreyi Devi (1914-1990) was a poet and lecturer, founder of the
Council for the Promotion of Communal Harmony in 1964 and vice-president
of the All-India Women's Coordinating Council. Her first book of verse
appeared when she was sixteen, with a preface by Rabindranath Tagore.
Her publications include four volumes of poetry, eight works on Tagore,
and numerous books on travel, philosophy, and social reform.
"In two novels written forty years apart, a man and a woman tell stories of their love. . . . Taken together they provide an unusually touching story of young love unable to prevail against an opposition whose strength was tragically buttressed by the uncertainties of a cultural divide."--Isabel Colegate, "New York Times Book Review"
"Recreates, with extraordinary vividness, the 16-year-old in love that she had been. . . . Maitreyi is entirely, disarmingly open about her emotions. . . . An impassioned plea for truth."--Anita Desai, "New Republic"
"Something between a reunion and a duel. Together they detonate the classic bipolarities: East-West, life-art, woman-man."--Richard Eder, "New York Newsday"
"One good confession deserves another. . . . Both books gracefully trace the authors' doomed love affair and its emotional aftermath."--Nina Mehta, "Chicago Tribune"
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 affair. Imagine making a trip to Europe as an adult and finding people who know intimate details of your teenaged years. Such was the experience of Devi (who died in 1990, an accomplished poet and scholar) when she found that Eliade, a renowned scholar of religion, had written a "semi-autobiographical" (he uses her actual first name in his story) account of his time with her family in Calcutta in the 1930s. When she heard that the young man with whom she had first felt the pangs of passion - but, in her account, had next to no physical contact - had portrayed their relationship as a wild, sexual affair that ended when her staunchly traditional family learned of it, her pleasant memories of the events turned to anger: This man "whose memory I preserved in the depth of heart as a sacred trust...has been selling my flesh for a price." Now, after Eliade's account has appeared in several languages and on film, Devi uses fiction to tell her side of the story. In lucid prose that calls into question the concepts of time, memory, and the adventuring spirit of the colonizing West, she undercuts Eliade's portrait of a curious, naive girl by showing just how cosmopolitan and precocious she was. After all, her first book of poems was published, with a preface by Rabindranath Tagore, when she was 16. She also denies that their affair led to beatings and disgrace. An engaging story from a talented and skillful poet, philosopher, and storyteller having her say about the tangled threads of passion and memory. (Kirkus Reviews)