Mahadevi Verma, one of the chief exponents of Chhayavad poetry, is also remembered for her treasure trove of pen-portraits of people who accidentally became a part of her life. Known as the adhunik Meera, she was honoured with several awards like the Gyanpeeth and Sahitya Akademi Awards, to name a few.
Another facet of the author’s life was her motherly love for animals. Being a strong advocate against animal cruelty, she penned a gamut of stories on her pets who unexpectedly stepped into her life.
My own experiences are quite relatable. When in Patna, I used to notice people selling birds in our lane. Pigeons, parakeets and sparrows would peep out of their cages and cry when carried from one part of the city to another. On my insistence, my parents once bought me a parrot and I set it free after tending to it for almost two months. We have had other species of birds at home too. Fish and dogs became our regular guests as well. We lost them one by one though. But believe me, the sorrow of losing pets is nothing when compared to the memories of the quality time spent together. Mahadevi Verma’s animal stories revolve around this theme and have a personal touch.
Here are some stories that you may find interesting. A word of recommendation — try reading the original stories in Hindi to savour the flavour of the text!
1. Neel kanth:
Picture for representation only. By Worm That Turned (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
There is a doubt lurking in the minds of Mahadevi’s well-wishers that Neel kanth and Radha are not pea-chicks as claimed by the trader. As Neel kanth matures, he assumes the role of the master of the house, even going to the extent of killing the snake who dares to kill the rabbit. Enter Kubja, Radha’s rival; and Neel kanth’s happy abode turns upside down. Neel kanth passes away and Kubja meets her end at the hands of Kajli, the cat. Radha, in the hope of finding Neel kanth some day, perches on the branch of the Ashoka tree and calls her heart out to him.
Mahadevi never used to rear animals at home. This was primarily the reason for her being hesitant to accept Gaura from her sister. Nevertheless, she welcomed Gaura. As it became increasingly difficult for her servants to milk Gaura, Mahadevi was forced to temporarily hire a milkman. Little did she know about the temperament of the jealous milkman who mixed a pin in the food of the innocent bovine to eliminate competition. As Gaura’s health worsened, she just couldn’t budge from her position. Lal Mani, her calf, would play around her and even cajole her to feed him being unaware that he would soon be losing his mother forever.
Picture for representation only. Source: Flickr
Sona, as the name suggests, was one of Mahadevi’s favourite pets — the deer. She was so used to Mahadevi’s presence that her absence made Sona completely restless. During Mahadevi’s annual trip to Badrinath, Sona and the other animals had to be left alone with the servants. Unable to bear the pangs of separation, Sona would head to the woods nearby in search of the author. This became a cause of concern for the servants who tied her with a rope to prevent her from straying. With each passing day, Sona tried hard to unfasten herself. During one such attempt, she ventured a bit too far! When Mahadevi returned home, all animals sans Sona greeted her. Sona had passed away!
Durmukh the rabbit was fierce, competitive and violent. He spared none while launching an attack with his teeth. To tranquilize the beast, Mahadevi brought home his mate — Himani. Surprisingly, it had no effect. In due course of time, Himani gave birth to six rabbits. So savage was Durmukh that he killed three of the newborns and hurt Himani who was trying to stop him. Durmukh, as Mahadevi puts it, breathed his last while attacking a snake that had managed to trespass into his territory.
Picture for representation only. Augustus Binu [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Gillu, the squirrel was found lying wounded by Mahadevi in her garden. A pair of crows had done the deed, she was sure. She took him to her bedroom that remained his sojourn for the next two years. When Mahadevi was injured in a car accident, Gillu sacrificed his fair share of cashew nuts. On her homecoming, she noticed a heap of cashew piled up on his swing. Gillu was so far the only animal to have eaten out of her plate and that was something Mahadevi fondly recounted. On the fateful day, the author noticed Gillu’s clutched paw turning cold. She tried switching on the heater but to no avail. Fate ultimately had the last laugh! Gillu was gone.
Born of an Alsatian mother and a Butiya (Himalayan sheep dog) father, Neelu is known for his amicable ways. When people throw food at him, he considers it below his dignity to partake even a morsel of it. The most preferred spot where he is likely to be found is the veranda outside Mahadevi’s room. He is also the first one to signal Mahadevi that a guest has arrived. In the story, Mahadevi considers Neelu the most sensitive of all animals she has encountered so far!
Mahadevi’s character sketches vividly portray the swell and surges of the animals’ hearts. They are replete with anecdotes that clearly elucidate that animals care and have far more sensibility than humans. If Mahadevi’s stories touch your soul, do read her poetry collections; particularly Neerja. ‘Been bhi hu mai teri ragini bhi hu’ is one of my favourite poems!