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 their home.
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 withEliade'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 arrogance collide.
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. 1 halftone