Dr. Norman Prinsky

Associate Professor, Emeritus

Augusta State University

Humanities 2002

Notes and Questions on Mahasweta Devi’s Short Story “Breast-Giver” (Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak Translation)

Original and English Translations

The short story is titled in the original Bengali “Stanadayini” and appeared first in Stanadayini o Onnanno Golpo (Nath Brothers, 1979) and has been reprinted in Mahasweta Devir Shreshtha Galpo [The Best Stories] by Mahasweta Devi (Kalakata; De’ja Pabalisim, 2004 and reprinted; ISBN 8129502895; 9788129502896). It has been translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in Spivak’s In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics (Methuen, 1987) and Breast Stories by Mahasweta Devi, translated with introductory essays by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Seagull Books, 1997 and reprinted). It has also been translated, as “The Wet Nurse,” by Ella Dutta in Truth Tales: Contemporary Stories by Women Writers of India, edited by Kali for Women (New York: Feminist Press, 1990; pp. 25-62).

Paragraph Numbering in the Spivak Translation (220 Paragraphs in the Spivak’s English Translation, Used in the Norton Anthology of World Literature as well as the Longman Anthology of World Literature)

Par. 5 “Instantly a crowd gathered” ; Par. 7 “In fact Kangali heard of his wife’s” ; Par. 11 “Everyone is properly amazed”; Par. 16 “Haldar-babu truly left Kangali”; Par. 18 “The Mistress really grieved”; Par. 22 “This produced a lot of talk”; Par. 27 “The couple discussed”; Par. 28 “Jashoda received a portfolio”; Par. 31 “Around the paved courtyard”; Par. 36 “Everyone’s devotion to Jashoda”; Par. 41 “It was always the sixteenth century”; Par. 44 “‘O Blessed Mother!’ Basini wept”; Par. 46 “Jashoda walked weeping behind the corpse”; Par. 53 “‘It’s for you to say’”; Par. 57 “‘She looks after the temple household’”; Par. 62 “‘The man brings, the woman cooks and serves’”; Par. 67 “Jashoda too left angry”; Par. 71 “Jashoda understood that her usefulness”; Par. 76 “Nabin said, ‘Shut up, Joshi’”; Par. 83 “Jashoda wiped her eyes and said”; Par. 90 “Nabin said, ‘No! That can’t be’”; Par. 95 “The same thing happened”; Par. 99 “Joshi became bemused”; Par. 103 “The [eldest] daughter-in-law went to ask”; Par. 110 “Jashoda said with her eyes closed”; Par. 113 “At night when the doctor came”; Par. 119 “Going out, he said to the eldest”; Par. 121 “He pooh-poohed the idea”; Par. 126 “Kangali cried a lot”; Par. 129 “Jashoda showed him her bare”; Par. 140 “How you played with these”; Par. 146 “Jashoda spoke with her eyes closed”; Par. 150 “In the night she sent Basini”; Par. 153 “Hospitals don’t admit people who”; Par. 156 “‘You can get cancer in’”; Par. 161 “‘Fifty!’”; Par. 166 “‘Sir!’”; Par. 171 “‘I see’”; Par. 176 “The second son was confused”; Par. 181 “Painkiller, sedative, antibiotic”; Par. 187 “‘What did he say?’” Par. 191 “His mother said”; Par. 196 “Patients much less sick than”; Par. 201 “‘Do people live this way?’”; Par. 206 “They have the telephone number”; Par. 211 “Jashoda understood that”; Par. 216 “Finally one night”

Paragraph Numbering in the Dutta Translation (246 paragraphs)

Person’s Names in India (Compare Person’s Names in Russian Society and Literature -- e.g., Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard)

Query: onomastics of the names of various characters

use of “babu” as honorific

different forms for Jashoda’s husband and Jashoda, corresponding to variations in the personal name of someone in English or Russian -- e.g., formal (Richard), familiar or nickname (Dick)

Kangalicharan (par. 1); Kangali (par. 1) Kangalicharan Patitundo (par. 10)

Mr. Haldar (par. 2)

Mr. Haldar’s new son-in-law (par. 2)

Nabin / Naren

Jashoda, Joshi (par. 37, 97)

Basini (pars. 42-44)

Eldest Haldar daughter-in-law (pars. 47 ff.)

Naren’s niece (par. 56) = Nabin’s niece (par. 87) = Golapi-auntie (par. 70); also par. 126

Naba (par. 68)

Golapi’s brother (par. 90)

Napla (par. 126)

Nepal ; Gopal ; Neno ; Boncha; Patal ; Nobay (par. 133); Gaur (par. 133) -- sons of Jashoda & Kangali ; Radharani, Altarani, Padmarani -- daughters of Jashoda & Kangali

General Notes and Questions

Thematic or content-function of the four numbered sections of the short story

Importance of Mahasweta’s having received a master’s degree in English literature at Calcutta University and becoming a professor of English at Calcutta College (par. 4 of the Sarah Lawall NAWL introduction)

Query: pattern or patterns in the use of English words interspersed within the Bengali text?

repetition of key word “mother”

Hindu gods mentioned in the short story: Gopal / Krishna ; Brahma (par. 28) ; Lionseated (goddess) (Durga) (pars. ); Kali (par. 6) ; Sita / Sati ; the Mother goddess (par. 13) and the Holy Mother (par. 94); Cow of Fulfillment (par. 20); Shiva (par. 34); the goddess Basanti ritual (par. 71) ; the goddess Jagaddhatri (par. 71)

Rpt ref especially to the Lionseated goddess (Durga): pars. 4

Verb tense shifts in the short story (cf. verb tense shifts in Voltaire’s Candide)

rep/ motif of “almanac” in the short story (as related to male-female relationships in Indian / Bengali society)

Specific Notes and Questions

Reference to a Studebaker (automobile) (par. 2); by 1970, the company and new models no longer existed

Query: the cook as “the incubus of Bagdad” (par. 3)

Query (not annotated): “chatterjee-babu” (par. 5)

Query: “the book of the Kali-worshippers” (par. 6)

Query: “the mother’s temple” (par. 7) = “The Lionseated” (par. 7) = Durga?

Query: “Why togged as a midwife” (par. 7); = colloquial “togs” = clothes; = “Why dressed as a midwife”

Spivak in various footnotes indicates that “kerutches” (par. 8), “blood-peshur” (par. 36), “injishuns” (par. 36), “elettriri” (par. 78) are the translator’s way of showing underclass Bengali pronunciations for these words in Bengali

Query: “the Lionseated, herself found by a dream-command a hundred and fifty years ago” (par. 11) [the time of section 1 is the 1950's; so 1950 - 150 = 1800] [Durga “found” in the 1800's?]

Query: Gopal brand vest (par. 11) vs. “get a Gopal in your dream . . . brought a stony Gopal from Puri” (par. 12)

Ironic ref to “milk of humankindness” of Haldarbabu (par. 12), with ref. to the requirement of Jashoda’s “profession”

Gopal = one of the names of Krishna (see fn 2 to par. 16)

Query: the Divine Mother (par. 16) (separate goddess or Durga?)

Query: onomastics of the names of Kangali’s and Jashoda’s children: Nepal-Gopal-Neno-Boncha-Patal and Radharani, Altarani, Padmarani (par. 36) ; cf. “Gopal, Nepal, and Radharani” (par. 16)

Spivak in a footnote indicates that the Indian film actresses named in par. 16 “have stereotyped the role of the self-sacrificing, long-suffering Indian wife and mother in commercial Hindi cinema”

Query: “felt the loss of fish and fish-head” (par. 18)

elliptical in “the boy” (par. 19, sentence 1)

Meaning of “Jashoda received a portfolio” (par. 28); British usage meaning being assigned a particular job

Query: “lights up her easychair” (par. 18); Dutta translation: “And so, sitting on a stool, Halderginni reigned supreme” (par. 33)

Query: “didn’t Mistress-Mother breed thirteen?” (par. 29) -- ref. to the Haldar matriarch, as shown by par. 33

how “your woman is the Mother of the World” (par. 33) connects to the story’s final paragraph(s)

query: “to run the household of her own Shiva” (par. 36)

Query: “keeping the fast of Shiva’s night” (par. 36)

Query: “‘drying their milk with injishuns’” (par. 36) = birth control medication?

Qyery: “and started walking around the girls’ school” (par. 37) = avoiding the place because they no longer think of them as female sexual prey

Query: “There dear, my Lucky!” (par. 37) -- addressed to the infant or the watching Haldar junior?

“let” (par. 49) = “rent”

Jashoda about 55 years old (par. 117) in about 1985, meaning she was born about 1930 or in the 1930's

“‘she has everyone’” (par. 125) = Jashoda has all her own Brahmin family, her own Brahmin children


Ironic symbolism of the name of the antibacterial soap (Lifebuoy)

Spivak in a footnote to par. 216 says that “Jashoda” is “the mythic mother of Krishna and in that sense the suckler of the world”