Mahasweta Devi has just passed away. The internet is awash with obituaries, so I won’t add one of my own. This is just to say that she was precisely the sort of liberated and socially valuable woman that I respected, and I have seen very few in my lifetime. I say this despite her legendary foul mouth, her chain smoking of beedis, her two failed marriages, and because of the fact that she never had to bare her body or wear anything but saris to assert her independence and freedom of choice. ‘Feminists’ who are utterly materialistic, completely selfish, obsessed with exhibitionism and have nothing beyond shopping, dressing up, partying and abusing men to live for – no real purpose for being alive – might want to learn a thing or two from her, not just about how to be a remarkable woman, but, far more importantly, how to be worthy of the proud name of human. I saw her at close quarters only once, during my sojourn as a young volunteer at the Calcutta Book Fair in the mid-80s; I heard from an old boy who was escorting her in a cab, and when he started talking about her books, she burst into tears, saying ‘orey, era akhono amar boi porey!’ (Hey, these kids still read my books), and my sister the historian once got a great deal of unstinted help from her in connection with her research. A deep thank you to the departed soul, one of those rare few in this age I can call ‘noble’ and take inspiration from.
And now Hillary Clinton has won the Democratic Party’s nomination for the Presidentship of the United States. If she is elected, it will be a double whammy for the US to crow about – first black POTUS followed by the first woman. Maybe they will decide on a black woman soon? Tokenism, yes, but given the prominence and power of the post, tokenism of the highest significance. However, I read that while a large part of the electorate will probably vote for her because they want a woman in the Oval Office, a very large number of them have strong misgivings about her worthiness as a candidate, because she is widely unpopular as a person, and considered to be too much of a Washington insider to be likely to bring about major policy changes that have long been hoped for. We Indians could tell them that profiles don’t really matter – we have had Dalits and Muslims for Presidents, lived under a woman Prime Minister for nearly two decades, and several women are running several states at this moment. Their caste, religion and gender really don’t make much of a difference.