“Napoleon fell in love with Josephine and surrendered himself to this attraction so much that when he should have been waging a war on the battlefront, he was drowning in the memories of Josephine...the opportunity was lost and this mistake was one of the gravest of his life...France’s history was forever altered.”

— Excerpt from the novel 'Hide and Seek', translated by Saudamini Deo

At the age of 14, Dineshnandini fell in love with a man she’d never met, the 45-year old handsome widower Mohan Singh Mehta, known in Udaipur for his glamorous and aristocratic lifestyle. It was due to the cold indifferent rejection from this man that, like France, Dineshnandini’s history was forever altered. She later wrote that her literature, which spans 10 collections of prose songs, 11 poetry collections, 10 novels, and four short story collections, began from this unrequited love.

After an attempted suicide, she began suffering from hysteria, and her opisthotonus – a state characterised by severe muscular spasms – was misunderstood by her father to be a sign of his daughter’s spiritual powers and visions of god. She came to be known as a bal-yogini (child-ascetic) in local circles and the press often reported on her supposed magical powers.

Dineshnandini’s daughter Neelima Dalmia Adhar writes in her book Father Dearest that this was the first of many rifts in her psyche. The second significant rift that her daughter mentions took place when she took to writing letters to Jawaharlal Nehru under the pseudonym of Nero, the indifferent and cruel emperor of Rome.

Nehru replied to her, “Come and meet me, mysterious one. I don’t know who you are or what your name is, what you look like, or why you write to me.” They did meet after two long years of correspondence, when Dineshnandini expressed a desire to be more politically active. Nehru promised to write a letter of recommendation to Maulana Azad that would begin her political career.

“The country was already partitioned, Gandhi was deep in this sorrow when he was killed...India’s spine had been broken into two. In this process, there was so much bloodshed and violence that the water of the Ganges turned red, the Jhelum and Satlaj drowned in the flames of the dawn. The unity between Hindus and Muslims cracked in such a way that even after years of independence and innumerable changes, the fissures have remained unchanged [...] Violence at every corner, communal riots everywhere – now a new community has formed, a community of rioters.”

— Excerpt from the novel 'This Too Is A Lie', translated by Saudamini Deo

Overtaken by marriage

It is not known when and why she abandoned her political desires, but soon afterwards, Dineshnandini accepted the proposal to become the sixth wife of the famous industrialist Ramkrishna Dalmia, founder of the Dalmia group, whose interest in business ranged from banking, insurance, aviation, media, railways, textiles, etc. He was neither divorced nor separated from those of his earlier wives who were still living, and it was perhaps this marriage that made the most decisive rift in Dineshnandini’s psyche.

During their sexual encounters, Dineshnandini started embodying the role of Narbada, Dalmia’s first wife who had died decades earlier of tuberculosis at the age of 16. According to Dineshnandini, her husband Ramkrishna had been searching for Narbada since her death and had many lovers and wives in the futile and brutal hope of finding her again.

During a marriage marked by many crises, one of the final blows came when Dalmia – a nemesis of Nehru’s – was sentenced to two years of imprisonment in Tihar Jail during the Bharat Insurance Company trial under the Congress government. It was the fall of an empire that Dineshnandini could never have imagined.

It was also during this period that her closeness to her children’s mathematics tutor Raj Narain became a talking point of the large household, leading Dalmia to pay his servants to spy on her. In turn, her servants, in a dramatic attempt to tarnish her image, poisoned the food she cooked for Dalmia, who was in hospital at the time on parole. Dalmia essentially severed his relationship with her after the incident and Raj Narain, after having been forced to resign, disappeared forever from the premises of Dalmia’s glass factory in Ghaziabad.

But Dalmia continued to spy on Dineshnandini and the seven children he had with her, receiving a daily report of all telephone calls. Her daughter refers to the inhabitants of Dineshnandini’s house as inmates.

“My mother was not happy with my birth. My father’s first wife’s first child was also a girl, so obviously my mother wanted to gift him a moonlike son but instead my damned self was born. All the dreams of my mother shattered into pieces. Nothing special happened on my birth…the daily life of the haveli went on as usual as if nothing at all had happened.” 

— Excerpt from the novel “'This Too Is A Lie', translated by Saudamini Deo

Awards and oblivion

In light of Dineshnandini’s tumultuous personal life, it is almost incredible to witness her uninterrupted parallel literary life, in which the overarching themes were romantic love, man-woman relationships, women’s position in a patriarchal society, and the conflicts of Indian politics and society. Apart from writing, she also edited for some time the famous Hindi literary magazine Dharmayug, before starting her own magazine Richa in 2003 which she continued to edit and write for until her death in 2007 at the age of 79.

Her last short story collection, Mantrapurush aur Anya Kahaniyan, was published posthumously in the same year. For her services to literature, she was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the Sahitya Akademi award, Sahityashri, Premchand award, Maithilisharan Gupta award, among many others.

Still, she was overshadowed by the image of her famous husband, and her writings have received little mainstream critical evaluation. Almost nothing of her work has been translated into English or other Indian languages. How will Dineshnandini be remembered decades later in the literary landscape of India and the world?

She once wrote in one of her songs, “If someone ever asks, who was Dinesh? Say that she was the beloved.”

Also read the first two pieces in the series:

Re-reading Bhuvaneshwar, the absurdist Hindi writer who lived in railway stations and trains

Revisiting the works of Rajkamal Chowdhary, the writer whom Hindi literature could never categorise