The Literary Wonder Woman – Ashapoorna Devi

Jyoti Shekar

Stories are a great source of inspiration. And sometimes, they can give us a refreshing burst of energy to win over anything that we want; especially real life ones. At Eyra, we aim to bring you stories of truly inspirational women, who we can look up to and easily follow.


One such story is of Ashapoorna Devi. Born in 1909, she was one of the major contributors to Bengali literature. She had written over 242 novels and novelettes, 37 collections of short stories, and 62 books for children. She has written over 3000 short stories.

She lived up to 86 years of age. She was brought up in a conservative, patriarchal family – very typical of those times; actually in some areas, even today. The boys of the family went to school while the girls were kept at home. The most amazing thing about Ashapoorna Devi is that she did not attend school at all! Not even home-schooled properly. She was just self-educated. Her mother loved reading, but due to a very dominant grandmother, Ashapoorna Devi and her sisters did not get to study. But she and her sisters learnt to read and write at home from the magazines and books that used to silently come for her mother.

Her journey as an author started when she was 13 years old and sent a poem Bairer Dak to Sishu Sathi. Her work was appreciated and solicited. She led a conservative life as a housewife, a mother and a grandmother till the end. But her works were all very progressive and portrayed the condition of women in those times with very strong female protagonists who fought the situation.

One would think the basic prerequisite for writing a good literary work is to know how to write!! And that was an obstacle which Ashapoorna Devi did not allow to stop her ambitions to be a writer. She self educated and became a big name in the literary world. The author has won several prestigious awards for her works. In 1976, she was honoured with the prestigious Jnanipath Award and the Padma Shri by the Government of India. She was also bestowed with D.Litt. by more than a few universities. She was also the recipient of Deshikottama from Vishwa Bharati University in 1989. Furthermore, the Sahitya Akademi conferred its highest honour – the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship – to her in 1994.

Her most notable work was the trilogy of novels – Pratham Pratishruti (1964), Subarnolata (1967) and Bakul Katha (1974). These are all stories with strong female protagonists of three generations who fight patriarchy in their own ways. Though she authored a lot of children’s books, her main focus remained feminist literature set within the barriers of situations women faced during the time, hence very practical.

Though her writings are in Bengali, there are translations of her work available such as:

  • The First Promise by Indira Chowdhury
  • The Wife And The Beloved And Other Stories by Sanjukta Das
  • The Matchbox by Monabi Mitra
  • The Mystery That Is Woman by Ruma Chakravarti
  • Shake The Bottle And Other Stories by Anurava Sinha

For me, the takeaway from her story is not to let anything be an obstacle. We keep holding ourselves back due to lack of opportunities or lack of support, and here is one lady who did not even let her lack of schooling get in the way of becoming an author!

*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*

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