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1066 / TADEuSZ BOROWSKI 1067

around mine. I jerked away with a shriek and ran off. My heart pounded, my MAHASWETA DEVI
gorge rose. Nausea suddenly doubled me up. Crouching undcr the car I
vomited. Staggering, I stole away under the stack of rails. born 1926
I lay on the kind, cool iron and dreamed of returning to the camp, about
my bunk on which there is no straw mattress, about a bit of sleep among Author of more than a hundred books, including novels, plays, and collections of
comrades who will not go to the gas chambers in the night. All at once the short stories, Mahasweta Devi is the leading contemporary writer in Bengali, the lan-
camp seemed like some haven of quiet; others are constantly dying and guage of the state of West Bengal in eastern India, and of neighboring Bangladesh as
somehow one is still alive, has something to eal, strength to work, has a well. Translations of her work into other Indian languages and into English have
brougbt her national and international recognition. One of several modern Bengali
fatherland, a home, a girl ...
writers committed to social and political critique from a leftist perspective,
The lights twinkle spectrally, the wave of humanity flows endlessly-turbid,
Mahasweta (the Devi in her name is a term of respect attached to a woman's name in
feverish, stupefied. It seems to these people that they are beginning a new
Bengali) \oVrites about peasants, outcastes, women, tribal peoples who live in the for~
life in the camp and they prepare themselves psychologically for a hard est regions of India, and other marginalized groups struggling to survive and resisting
struggle for existence. They do not know that they will immediately die and their exploitation by dominant groups. Her Hction and plays are distinguished by a
that the gold, the money, the diamonds which they providently conceal in powerful, direct, unsentimental style and by the subtlety and sensitivity with which
the folds and seams of their clothing, in the heels of their shoes, in recesses she approaches the themes of struggle, resistance, and empowerment.
of their bodies, will no longer be needed by them. Efficient, business-like Bengali fiction from tbe 1930s onward reflects the growing radicalization of vari-
people will rummage in their intestines, pull gold from under the tongue, ous segments of Bengali society, including the rapidly growing middle class and the
diamonds from the placenta and the rectum. They will pull out their gold urban poor. Since the 1920s, when sharecroppers revolted against landlords and the
teeth and send them in tightly nailed-up cases to Berlin. British colonial government, Bengal has been the arena of a series of peasant upris-
ings and unrest among the masses. The region was devastated by il ffii:tn-made
The black figures of the SS-men walk about calm and proficient. The gen-
famine in 1943. When India was partitioned in 1947, the eastern portion of Bengal
tleman with the notebook in hand puts down the last check marks, adds up
(the former East Bengal) became East Pakistan, a part of the newly formed nation of
the figures; fifleen thousand. Pakistan, which had been conceived as a homeland for the Muslim populations of
Many, many trucks have driven off to the crematorium. tbe Indian subcontinent. As a resull, the whole of Bengal was torn apart by Hindu-
They are finishing up. The corpses spread on the ramp ,viII be taken by the Muslim communal riots and the massive displacement of populations. Exploited as
last t.ruck, the luggage is all loaded. "Canada," loaded with bread, jams, much in independent India as in the colonial era, the Munda and other tribal peo-
sugar, smelling of perfume and clean underwear, lines up to march away. ples in Bengal and the neighboring state of Bihar rose in revolt, and in the 1960s
The "kapo" finishes packing the tea cauldron with gold, silk, and coffee. urban students participated in peasant and tribal struggles in a movement known as
That's for the guards at the gates, they will let the commando pass without a the Naxalbari movement {after the village where it began}, only to be brutally sup-
search. For a few days the camp will live off that transport: eat its hams and pressed by the Bengal slale government. Yet another upheaval was caused by East
its sausages, its preserved and fresh fruit, drink its brandies and liqueurs, Pakistan's proclamation of independence from Pakistan as the new nation of
Bangladesh in 1970. Mahasweta and other major Bengali writers, such as Manik
wear its underwear, trade in its gold and luggage. Much will be taken out of
Bandyopadhyay (1908-1956), and Hasan Azizul Huq (born 1938), have responded
the camp by civilians to Silesia, to Cracow and points beyond. They will to these events with fiction that shifted the focus of modern Bengali literature from
bring cigarettes, eggs, vodka and letters from home. the lives of the educated, urban middle class to the politics of the exploitation of the
For a few days the camp will speak about the "50snowiec-B~dzin"trans- underclasses.
port. It was a good, rich transport. Mahasweta Devi was born into a family of distinguished and politically engaged
When we return to the camp, the stars begin to pale, the sky becomes artists and intellectuals in Dhaka (Dacca) in the former East Bengal (now Bangladesh).
more and more transparent, rises higher up above us: the night clears. It After graduating in 1946 from Santiniketan, tbe famous alternative school estab-
foretells a fine, hot day. lisbed by Rabindranath Tagore, she devoted several years to political activism in rural
Mighty columns of smoke rise up from the crematoria and merge into a Bengal, in collaboration with her first husband. During this time she held a variety of
huge, black river which rolls very slowly across the sky over Birkenau and jobs, including teaching. Throughout, Mahaswela wrolc mainly fiction but also
columns and articles for journals. In 1963, after receiving a master's degree in En-
disappears beyond the forests in the direction of Trzebinia. 7 The 50snowiec
glish literature at Calcutta University, she became a professor of English at a Cal-
transport is already being cremated. cutta college.
We pass an 55 detachment marching with machine guns to change the Although Mahasweta's early work was motivated by a concern for social justice, it
guard. They walk in step, shoulder to shoulder, one mass, one will. was not until the Naxalbari student-peasant uprisings of the 1960s tbat the lives of
"Und morgen die gauze Welt . ..". they sing lustily. tribal peoples and peasants became the primary focus of her Hction. At this time she
"Rechls ran!9 To the right march!" comes the order from up front. We adopted a pattern of activisl11 that she still maintains, participating in, observing, and
move out of their way. recording the struggles of oppressed groups in Bengal. Her experience with the Nax-
albari movement resulted in Hajar Churas;r Ma (Number 1084's motber, 1973), a
6. The capital of Cennany. 7. A lo\'o'O west of Auschwitz., near Krakuw. 8. And tomorrow the whole nationally acclaimed novel indicting organized violence on the part of the state. In
world (German); the last line of the Nazi song "The Rotten Bones Are Shaking,lt written by Hans Bau-
mann. The previous line reads "for today Germany belongs to us." 9. To the right, get going! (German).
Aranyer Adhikar (Rights over the forest, 1977), perhaps the most famous of her
1068 / MAIIASWETA DEVI
BREAST-GIVER / 1069
novels, she turned to the history of the Munda tribal revolt in Bengal and Bihar in Mahasweta Devi: muh-hah'-shway.tah Padmarani: pulid"mall-rah-,,,,e
the nineteenth century. Since 1984, when she gave up her academic position, she day'-vee
has devoted her time entirely to grassroots work among lribals and Qulcaslcs in rural Sarala: suh'-ro-Iah
Bengal and Bihar and also edits a quarterly journal, the main contribulors lo which Maniktala-Bagmari: mah-neek'-to-lah-
bahg'-mah-ree Saratchandra: shuh-ruht-chuhnd'-ruh
are people from these marginalized communities.
In "Breast~Giver" (ICStanadayini," 1980) Mahasweta focuses not so much on the Nabin: no'-been Savitri: shah-beet'-ree
resislance of lhe oppressed as on the dynamics of oppression itself. Theoretically a Slanadayini: sto'-no-dah'-ye-nee
Naxalbari: nuhk'-shuhl-bah'-ree
member of the highest of the Hindu castes, the brahmin Kangalicharan is a helpless
Neno: nay'-noh Tarakeswar: tah'-ruh-Iwysh-shor
victim of the rich patriarch Haldarbabu's clan. Forced lo becume lhe wage earner of
the household, Kangalicharan's wife, Jashoda, becomes a wel-nurse for the Haldar
family, who retain her services until she becomes useless to them. Mahaswcta's nar-
ralive is aimed at exposing the relentless collusion of patriarchal and capitalist ide-
ologies in lhe exploilalion of the disadvantaged. Themselves victims, the women of
the Haldar household are Jashoda's chief exploiters. The slalus of wage earner not Breast-Giver l
only fails to release Jashoda from the expectations of wifehood and mOlherhood but
saddles her with the ultimately self-destructive task of being "molher of the world."
Nevertheless, neither victimization nor its awareness fully robs Jashoda and Kan-
galicharan of their sense of agency and power. My aunties they lived in the woods, in the forest their home
Like the funeral wailer and the medicine woman in Mahasweta's short story . they did make.
"Dhowli" or the landless tribal laborer in "Draupadi," Jashoda, the principal charac-
Never did Aunt say here's a sweet dear, eat, sweetie,
ter in "Breast-Giver," is a working woman DC, as the narrator puts it, fll'rafessional
here's a piece of cake.
mother." As translator Gayatri Spivak has pointed out, in the story's tilIe the author
deliberately foregrounds the centrality of the female body in Jashoda's lransaclions Jashoda doesn't remember if her aunt was kind or unkind. It is as if she were
with her clients-she is not just a "wet-nurse," a provider of mil~ but a "breast- Kangalicharan's wife from birth, the mother of twenty children, living or
giver," a distinction further underscored by the grim ironies that unfold in the narra- dead, counted on her fingers. Jashoda doesn't remember at all when there was
tive of her career. The story offers new avenues for examining the points at which no child in her womb, when she didn't feel faint in the morning, when Kan-
gender and class oppression intersect.
gali's body didn't drill her body like a geologist in a darkness lit only by an oil-
IIDrcost-Giver" is representative of Mahasweta's fiction, in which the deceptive
surface of linear, seemingly realistic narrative is constantly undercul by mythic and lamp. She never had the time to calculate if she could or could not bear
satirical inflections. Not only is Jashoda the breast-giver named for Yashoda, the motherhood. Motherhood was always her way of living and keeping alive her
mother of the beloved cowherd-child-god Krishna, but in the course of the narrative world of countless beings. Jashoda was a mother by profession, professional
lhe professional mother merges With other Indian icons of motherhood-sacred mother. Jashoda was not an amateur mama like the daughters and wives of the
cows, lhe Lion-seated goddess, "mother India" herself. The story is open to compet master's house. The world belongs to the professional. In this city, this king.
ing, yet not mutually exclusive, analyses, in terms of Marxist and feminist economic dom, the amateur beggar-pickpockethooker has no place. Even the mongrel
and social theory, myth, or political allegory. While the many layers of meaning in on the path or sidewalk, the greedy crow at the garbage don't make room for
lIBreast-Giver" are accessible even in translation, much of the power of the original the upstart amateur. Jashoda had taken motherhood as her profession.
derives from Mahasweta's distinctive style and voice. In this story, as in the author's
The responsibility was Mr. Haldar's new son-in-law's Studebaker and the
otller works, classical Hindu myths connect with quotations from Shakespeare and
sudden desire of the youngest son of the Haldar-house to be a driver. When
Marx, and slang, dialect, literary Bengali, and English blend together. The result is a
powerful language that in many respects resembles modern Bengali usage, yet remains the boy suddenly got a whim in mind or body, he could not rest unless he
a unique creation of the author. had satisfied it instantly. These sudden whims reared up in the loneliness of
the afternoon and kept him at slave labor like the khalifa of Bagdad. 2 What
he had done so far on that account did not oblige Jashoda to choose moth.
PRONOUNCING GLOSSARY erhood as a profession.
The following list uses common English syllables and stress accents to provide rough equiva- One afternoon the boy, driven by lust, attacked the cook and lhe cook,
lents of selected words whose pronunciation may be unfamiliar to the general reader. since her body was heavy with rice, stolen fish heads, and lurnip greens, and
Arun: o~TOOn'
her body languid with sloth, lay back, saying, "Yah, do what you like." Thus
Harisal: ho-ree'-shahl
did the incubus of Bagdad get off the boy's shoulders and he wept repentant
Basini: bah'-shee-nee Jagaddhatri: jo-god-dall'-tree tears, mumbling, "Auntie, don't telL" Tlje cook-saying, 'What's there to
Basanti: bah'-shon-tee Jashoda: jo'-shoh-dah tem"-went quickly to sleep. She never told anything. She was sufficiently
Beleghata: bay'-lay-gah'-tah Kangalicharan Patitundo: Iwhn-gall'- proud that her body had attracted the boy. But lhe thief thinks of the loot.
Dakshineswar: dok'-khi-naysh'-wuhr lee-chuh-ruhn po'-tee-toon'-do
1. Translated by Gayalri ChaJu-avorty Spivak. Spivak hIlS italicized English words that appellred in the orig-
Haldarkartha: huhl'-duhr-kuhr-tah Kayastha: Iwhyuhs't..h inal Bengali text. 2. Or caliph ("ruler") of Baghdad; acconling to legend, he kept a djinn ("spirit") who
would do his bidding.
1070 I MAlIASWETA DEVI BREAST-GIVER I 1071

The boy got worried at the improper supply of fish and fries in his dish. He ing the Second War, when he helped the anti-Fascist struggle of the Allies
considered that he'd bc fuckeu if the cook gave him away. Therefore on by buying and selling scrap iron-then Kangali was a mcre lad. Reverence
another afternoon, driven by the Bagdad djinn, he stole his mother's ring, for Brahmins crawled in Mr. Haldar's veins. If he couldn't get chatterjee-
slipped it into the cook's pillowcase, raised a hue and cry, and gOl the cook babu in the morning he would touch the feet of Kangali, young enough to be
kjcked out. Another afternoon he Iiftcd the radio set from his father's room his son, and put a pinch of dust from his chapped feet on his own tongue.9
and sold it. It was difficult for his parents to find thc conneclion belween Kangali and Jashoda came to rus house on feast days and Jashoda was sent a
the hour of the aftcrnoon and the boy's behavior, since his father had cre- gift of cloth and vermillion when his daughters-in-law were pregnant. J Now
ated him in the deepest night by the astrological calendar3 and the tradition he said to Kangali-"Kangali! don't worry son. You won't suffer as long as
of the Haldars of Harisal. In fact you enter the sixteenth century as you I'm around." Now it was that he thought that Kangali's feet, being turned to
enter the gates of this house. To this day you lake your wife by the astrolog- ground meat, he would not be able to taste their dust. He was most unhappy
ical almanac. But these matters are mere blind alleys. Motherhood did not at the thought and he started weeping as he said, 'What has the son of a
become Jashoda's profession for these afternoon-wrums. bitch done." He said to the doctor at thc hospital, "Do what you can! Don't
One afternoon, leaving the owner of the shop, Kangalicharan was return- worry aboul cash."
ing home wjth a handfu I of stolen samosas and sweets under his dhOli.- But the doctors could nOl bring the feet back. Kangali returned as a lame
Thus he returns daily. He and Jashoda eat rice. Their three offspring return Brahmin. Haldarbabu had a pair of crulches made. The very day Kangali
before dark and eat stale samosas and sweets. Kangalicharan stirs the relurned home on crutches, he learned that food had come to Jashoda from
seething vat of milk in the sweet shop and cooks and feeds "food cooked by the Haldar house every day. Nabin was trurd in rank among the pilgrim-
a good Brahmin'" to those pilgrims at the Lionseated goddess's6 temple who guides. He could only claim thirteen percent of the goddess's food 2 and so
arc proud that lhey are not themselves "fake Brahmins by sleight of hand." had an inferiority complex. Inspired by seeing Rama-Krishna 3 in the movies
Daily he lifts a bit of flour and such and makes life easier. When he puts a couple of times, he called the goddess "my crazy one" and 'by the book of
food in his belly in the afternoon he feels a filial inclination toward Jashoda, the Kali-worshippers kept his consciousness immersed in local spirits. He
and he goes to slecp after handling her capacious bosom. Coming home in said to Kangali, "I put flowers on the crazy one's fect in your name. She said
the afternoon, Kangalicharan was thinkjng of his imminent pleasure and I have a share in Kangali's house, he will get out of the hospital by that fact."
tasting paradise at the thought of his wife's large round breasts. He was pic- Speakjng of this to Jashoda, Kangali said, "What? When I wasn't there, you
turing himself as a farsighted son of man as he thought that marrying a were getting it off with Nabin?" Jashoda then grabbcd Kangali's suspicious
fresh young trung, not workjng her overmuch, and feeding her well led to head between the two hemispheres of the globe and said, "Two maid ser-
pleasure in the afternoon. At such a moment the Haldar son, complete with vants from the big house slept here evcry day to guard me. Would I look at
Studebaker, swerving by Kangalicharan, ran over his feet and shins. Nabin? Am I not your faithful wife?"
Instantly a crowd gathered. It was an accident in front of the house after In fact Kangali heard of his wife's flaming devotion at the big house as
all, "otherwise I'd have drawn blood," screamed Nabin, the pilgrim-guide. well. Jashoda had fasted at the mother's lemple, had gone through a female
He guides the pilgrims to the Mother goddess of Shakti-power,7 his temper ritual, and had travelled to the outskjrts to pray at the feet of the local guru.-
is hot in the afternoon sun. Hearing him roar, all the Haldars who were at Finally the Lionseated came to her in a dream as a midwife carrying a bag
home came out. The Haldar chief started thrashing rus son, roaring, "You'll and said, "Don't worry. Your man will return." Kangali was most over-
kjll a Brahmin,8 you bastard, you unlhinkjng bull?" The youngest son-in-law whelmed by this. Haldarbabu said, "See, Kangali? The bastard unbelievers
breathed relief as he saw that his Studebaker was not much damaged and, to say, the Mother gives a dream, why togged as a midwife? I say, she creates as
prove that he was better human material than the money-rich, culture-poor mother, and preserves as midwife."
in-laws, he said in a voice as fine as the fincst muslin, "Shall we let the man Then Kangali said, "Sir! How shall I work at the sweetshop any longer. I
die? Shouldn't we take him to the hospital?"-Kangali's boss was also in the can't stir the vat 'vith my kerutches. 5 You are god. You are feeding so many
crowd at the temple and, seeing lhc samosas and sweets flung on the road- people in so many ways. I am not begging. Find me a job."
way was about to say, "Eh Brahmin!! Stealing food?" Now he held his tongue Haldarbabu said, ''Yes Kangali! I've kept you a spot. I'll make you a shop in
and said, "Do that sir." The youngest son-in-law and the Haldar-cruef took the corner of my porch. The Lionseated is across the way! Pilgrims come
Kangalicharan quickly to the hospital. The master felt deeply grieved. Dur-
9. Younger men lind women show respect to older persons and to those of higher social rank by touch.
ing their feet and (symbolically) plaCing dust from the feet on their own heads or lips. "Chatlerjeebljhu,"
or Chatterjee, is a brahmin family name; blJbu is a term of respect used for men of high castes or rank.
3. In traditional Indian belief, the position of the stars and planets at the time of conception and birth is I. Married brahmin women are given gifts of doth and vermiliun (red cosmetic) powder, symbols of
one of the forces that shape the imH\lidu:lI's personality and life. 4. Untailored cloth worn as a g..trment good luck, in return for the blessings that they are thought to be capable of Riving pregnant women.
for the lower body by Indian men. "Samosas"; savory, hol snacks. 5. In Hindu communities, food 2. 1cmple priests divide up tile food offerings pilgrims and devotees bring to the temple. 3. A renowned
cooked by brahmins. wlM) are highest in the casle hierarchy because of their ritually pure slalus, is consid- Bengali mystic and spiritual teacher 0836-1886), who was a priest and worshiper of the fi~rcc and
erel1 10 Uc bcncficiul. 6. Durga, a martial goddess who rides a lion; her worship is popular throughout engimatic goddess Kali, to whom goats (Ire sacrificed. Some Kali worshipers enga~e in esoteric ritual
Bengal. 7. The goddess, worshiped as the mother of the universe, is said to be a personification of practices, including breaking the Hindu ritual taboo against consuming alcuhol. 4. Chaste women
Shakti, the energy of the cosmos. 8. A member of the priestly elite castes. Killing a brahmin is the are thought to be capable of saving their husband's lives by the power Ihey accumulotc throuRh fusting
worst offence a Hindu can commit. and performing other rituals uf austerity and {leVOlion. 5. Crutches.
1072 I MAHASWETA DEVI
B R EAST-C lVER / 1073

and go. Put up a shop of dry sweets. 6 Now there's a wedding in the house. spreads in his body at the thought that perhaps she is appearing in his dream
It's my bastard seventh son's wedding. As long as there's no shop, I'll send as Jashoda just as she appeared in Jashoda's as a midwife. The fifty percent
pilgrim-guide says to him, "Male and female both get this disease. Bind the
you food."
Hearing this, Kangali's mind took wing like a rainbug in the rainy season. root of a white forget-me-not in your ear when you take a piss."
He came home and told Jashoda, "Remember Kalidasa's pome? You eat Nabin doesn't agree. One day he tells Kangali, "As the Mother's? SOil I
because there isn't, wouldn't have got if there was? That's my lot, chuck. won't make a racket with Shakti-power. But I've thought of a plan. There's
Master says he'll put up a shop after his son's wedding. Until then he'll send no problem with making a Hare Krishna racket. s I tell you, get a Gopal in
uS food. Would this have happened if I had legs? All is Mother's will, dead"? your dream. My Aunt brought a stony Gopal fr0111 Purl. 9 I give it to you. You
Everyone is properly amazed that in this fallen ageS the wishes and wills of announce that you got it in a dream. You'll see there'll be a to-do in no time,
the Lionseated, herself found by a dream-command a hundred and fifty money will roll in. Start for money, later you'll get devoted to Gopal."
years ago, are circulating around Kangalicharan PaLitundo. Haldarbabu's Kangali says, "Shame, brother! Should one joke with gods?"
change of heart is also Mother's will. He lives in independent India, the "Ah get lost," Nabin scolds. Later it appears that Kangali would have done
India that makes no distinctions among people, kingdoms, languages, vari- well to listen to Nabin. For Haldarbabu suddenly dies of heart failure.
eties of Brahmins, varieties of Kayasthas 9 and so on. But he made his cash Shakespeare's welkin l breaks on Kangali and Jashoda's head.
in the British era, when Divide and Rule 1 was the policy: Haldarbabu's men-
2
tality was constructed then. Therefore he doesn't trust anyone-not a
Panjabi_Oriya_Bihari_Gujarati-Marathi-Muslim. 2 At the sight of an unfortu- Haldarbabu truly left Kangali in the lurch. Those wishes of the Lionseated
nate Bihari child or a starvation-ridden Oriya beggar his flab-protected that were manifesting themselves around Kangali via-media Haldarbabu dis-
heart, located under a forty-two inch Gopal brand vest, does not itch with appeared into the blue like the burning promises given by a political party
the rash of kindness. He is a successful son of Harisal. When he sees a West before the elections and became magically invisible like the heroine of a fan-
Bengali fly he says, "Tchah! at home even the flies were fat-in the bloody tasy. A European witch's bodkin pricks the colored balloon of Kangali and
West' everything is pinched-skinny." All the temple people are struek that Jashoda's dreams and the pair falls in deep trouble. At home, Gopal, Nepal,
such a man is filling with the milk of humankindness toward the West Ben- and Radharani whine interminably for food and abuse their mother. It is
gali Kangalicharan. For some time this news is the general talk. Haldarbabu very natural for children to cry so for grub. Ever since Kangalicharan's loss
is such a patriot that, if his nephews or grandsons read the lives of the of feet they'd eaten the fancy food of the Haldar household. Kangali also
nation's leaders in their schoolbook, he says to his employees, "Nonsense! longs for food and is shouted at for trying to put his head in Jashoda's chest
why do they make 'em read the lives of characters from Dhaka, Mymans- in the way of Gopal, the Divine Son. 2 Jashoda is fully an Indian woman,
ingh, Jashore?4 Harisal is made of the bone of the martyr god. One day it will whose unreasonable, unreasoning, and unintelligent devotion to her hus-
emerge that the Vedas and the Upanishads were also written in Harisal."5 band and love for her children, whose unnatural renunciation and forgive-
Now his employees tell him, ''You have had a change of heart, so much kind- ness have been kept alive in the popular consciousness by all Indian women
ness for a West Bengali, you'll see there is divine purpose behind this." The from Sati-Savitri-Sita through Nirupa Roy and Chand Osmani.' The creeps
Boss is delighted. He laughs loudly and says, "There's no East or West for a of the world understand by seeing such women that the old Indian tradition
Brahmin. [f there's a sacred thread 6 around his neck you have to give him is still flowing free-they understand that it was with such women in mind
respect even when he's taking a shit." that the following aphorisms have been composed-"a female's life hangs
Thus all around blow the sweet winds of sympathy-compassion-kindness. on like a turtle's"-"her heart breaks but no word is uttered"-"the woman
For a fcw days, whenever Nabin tries to think of the Lionseated, the heavy- will burn, her ashes will fly< / Only then will we sing her / praise on high."
breasted, languid-hipped body of Jashoda floats in his mind's eye. A slow rise Frankly, Jashoda never once wants to blame her husband for the present mis-
fortune. Her mother-love wells up for Kmlgali as mueh as for the children.
6. That i~. not dipped in syrup, used as offerings for the goddess. 7. Kangali misquotes a Sanskrit verse She wants to become the earth and feed" her crippled husband and helpless
attributed to KAlidasa (ca. 4th century C.E.), the eminent c1assil..:1J1 poet of lhe GuplS era. 8. Hindus children with a fulsome harvest. Sages did not write of this motherly feeling
believe thal the I,;urrcnt era is one of deterioration, the fourth and last phase in the pattern of fourfuld cus'
mic era cycles (rug"), by means of which time is measured in the Hindu tradition. 9. A high-ranking
north Indian caste of administrators and educators. 1. Refers to the British colonial government's pol-
ic)' of dealing with Hindu and Muslim communities as separate constituencies. Mohasweta satirizes the
rhetoric of politicians who claim that the independent nation of India has achieved equality For all ils 7, That is, the mother goddess. 8. A reference: to the worldwide Hare Krishna cult, an offshoot ofthe
members, regardless of differences in language. rcgionalaffiliation, economic class, or caste. 2. Parody traditional worship of che llimlu god Krishna in India. 9. A pilgrimage center and the site of the great
of a line in the Indian national anthem (written hy the Bengali outhor Rabindranalh Tagore), in which var- temple of Jagannalh, 11 form of Krishna. "Stony Gopa}": an image uf Krishna made of stone. I, Sky
ious regions of (prcindependence) India are named: "Punjab--Sindh_Gujarat_Maralha_DraviJa_Uwlla_ (archaic), 2. In the manner of the infant Krishna sucking at his mother Jashoda's breasL.
Vanga." 3. Harisal is in the eastern part of Bengal, in what was formerly East Bengal, later East 3. Actresses in popular Hindi rilms made in Bombay in the 1940s and 1950s, Sila, or Sati ("the chaste
Pakistan, and now Bangladesh, The British colonial guverl'llnent p;lrtit-ioned the older state of Bengal inCo wife"), the goddess Parvati, who sacrificed her life for- the sake of her husband Siva's honor; thus her name
n westenl and an eastern sl."Clion in 1905, 4. In eastern Bengal. 5. Baldar asserts the superiority of is a word denoting all chaste wives. In the Mahnbharata e~ic, the devoted effort of Savitri saves her hus-
Harisal, revealing the extent of his provincialism In the claim that the Vedas and the Upanisads, the oldest band, SatyavaJl, from death, Sita is the devoted, self-sacrificing wife of Rams, the hero of the RumiJ)'ana
Sanskrit sacred texts of the Hindus, were probably written in t1arisal (conlrary to the scholHrly opiniun epic, 4. A reference to the custom of Sad, in which virtuous widows were eneourl:tged to burn them-
that the VuLu were composc..-d by the Indo-Aryans who lived in northwestern India). 6. A symbol of seh-es on the funeral pyres of their husbands (Hindus cremHle their dead), SHti was officially banned in
1829 under Dritish rule.
brahmin caste identity, received at the time of religious initiation.
1074 I MAHASWETA DEV] BREAST-GIvER / 1075

of Jashoda's for her husband. They explained female and male as Nature and The Mistress was out of her mind trying to feed the boy. As if relieved to
the Human Principle. 5 But this they did in the days of yore-when they see Jashoda she said, "You come like a god! Give her some milk, dear, I beg
entered this peninsula from another land. 6 Such is the power of the Indian you. His mother's sick-such a brat, he won't touch a bottle." Jashoda
soil that all women tu rn into mothers here and all men remain immersed in immediately suckled the boy and pacified him. At the Mistress's special
the spirit of holy childhood. Each man the Holy Child and each woman the request Jashoda stayed in the house until nine p.m. and suckled the Mis-
Divine Mother. Even those who deny this and wish to slap current posters to tress's grandson again and again. The Cook filled a big bowl with rice and
the effect of the "eternal she"-"Mona Lisa"-"La passionaria"-"Simone curry for her own household. Jashoda said as she suckled the boy, "Mother!
de Beauvoir," et cetera, over the old ones and look at women that way are, The Master said many things. He is gone, so I don't think of them. But
after all, Indian cubs. It is notable that the educated Babus desire all this Mother! Your Brahmin-son does not have his two feet. I don't think for
from women outside the home. When they cross the threshold they want the myself. But thinking of my husband and sons I say, give me any kind of job.
Divine Mother in the words and conduct of the revolutionary ladies. The Perhaps you'll let me cook in your household?"
process is most complicated. Because he understood this the heroines of "Let me see dear! Let me think and see." The Mistress is not as sold on
Saratchandra 7 always fed the hero an extra mouthful of rice. The apparent Brahmins as the Master was. She does not accept fully that Kangali lost his
simplicity of Saratchandra's and other similar writers' writings is actually feet because of her son's afternoon whims. It was written for Kangali as
very complex and to be thought of in the evening, peacefully after a glass of well, otherwise why was he walking down the road in the blazing sun grin-
wood-apples juice. There is too much influence of fun and games in the lives ning from ear to ear? She looks in charmed envy at Jashoda's mammal pro-
of the people who traffic in studies and intellectualism in West Bengal and jections and says, ''The good lord sent you down as the legendary Cow of
3
therefore they should stress the wood-apple correspondingly. We have no Fulfillment. Pull the teat and milk flows! The ones I've brought to my
idea of the loss we are sustaining because we do not stress the wood-apple- house, haven't a quarter of this milk in their nipples!"
type-herbal remedies correspondingly. Jashoda says, "How true Mother! Gopal was weaned when he was three.
However, it's incorrect to cultivate the habit of repeated incursions into This one hadn't come to my belly yet. Still it was like a flood of milk. Where
byelanes as we tell Jashoda's life story. The reader's patience, unlike the does it come from, Mother? 1 have no good food, no pampering!"
cracks in Calcutta9 streets, will not widen by the decade. The real thing is This produced a lot of talk among the women at night and the menfolk got
that Jashoda was in a cleft stick. Of course they ate their fill during the Mas- to hear it too at night. The second son, whose wife was sick and whose son
ter's funeral days, but after everything was over Jashoda clasped Radharani drankJashoda's milk, was particularly uxorious. The difference between him
to her bosom and went over to the big house. Her aim was to speak to the and his brothers was that the brothers created progeny as soon as the
Mistress and ask for the cook's job in the vegetarian kitchen. 1 almanac gave a good day, with love or lack of love, with irritation or thinking
The Mistress really grieved for the Master. But the lawyer let her know of the accounts at the works. The second son impregnates his wife at the
that the Master had left her the proprietorship of this house and the right to same frequency, but behind it lies deep love. The wife is often pregnant, that
the rice warehouse. Girding herself with those assurances, she has once is an act of God. But the second son is also interested in that the wife
again taken the rudder of the family empire. She had really felt the loss of remains beautiful at the same time. He thinks a lot about how to combine
fish and fish-head. 2 Now she sees that the best butter, the best milk sweets multiple pregnancies and beauty, but he cannot fathom it. But today, hearing
from the best shops, heavy cream, and the best variety of bananas ean also from his wife about Jashoda's surplus milk, the second son said all of a sud-
keep the body going somehow. The Mistress lights up her easychair. A six- den, 'Way found."
months' babe in her lap, her grandson. So far six sons have married. Since "Way to what?"
the almanac approves of the taking of a wife almost every month of the year, "Uh, the way to save you pain."
the birth rooms in a row on the ground floor of the Mistress's house are "How? I'll be out of pain when you burn me. Can a year-breeder's' health
hardly ever empty. The lady doctor and Sarala the midwife never leave the mend?"
house. The Mistress has six daughters. They too breed every year and a half. "It will, it will, I've got a divine engine in my hands! You'll breed yearly and
So there is a constant epidemic of blanket-quilt-feeding spoon-bottle- keep your body."
oilcloth-johnson's baby powder-bathing basin. The couple discussed. The husband entered his Mother's room in the
morning and spoke in heavy whispers. At first the Mistress hemmed and
hawed, but then she thought to herself and realized that the proposal was
worth a million rupees. Daughters-in-law will be mothers. When they are
5. In several major schools of Indian philosophy Nature IJnd the Iluman Principle are conceiYCd as female
and male in sexual rehllionship. 6. Reference to the coming of the Indo-Aryan tribes into India from mothers, they will suckle their children. Since they will be mothers as long
west and central AIls, a theory advanced by Western scholars in the 19th and 20th centuries. as it's possible-progressive suckling will ruin their shape. Then if the sons
7. Saratchandra Chatterjee (1876--1938), the master of the sentimental middle-class novel in Bengali
fiction. 8. A fruit thnl is used for its medicinal properties, especially liS a laxative. 9. E"tabli,hed by look outside, or harass the maidservants, she won't have a voice to object.
the British East India Company in the 17th century, ir was the capital of Dritish India. It is now the capi
tal of the state of \Vest Ikngal and the center of Bengali culture. I. In Bengal, traditional Hindu
women become strict vegetarians after the death of their husbands tiS a sign of llusterity. 2. Fish is an 3. The magical cow of Hindu legend. said to be able to fulfill all wishes. 4. A wuman who gets pregnant
important part of the Bengali diet. every year.
1076 I MAHASWETA DEVI
BREAST-GIVER I 1077

Going out because they can't get it at home-this is just. If Jashoda becomes head-curry with the head of the goat dedicated to the Lionseated he tamed
the infants' suckling-mother, her daily meals, clothes on feast days, and that ferocious cannabis-artist and drunkard. 9 As a result Nabin inserted
some monthly pay will be enough. The Mistress is constantly occupied with Kangali into the temple of Shiva the King.' Jashoda, eating well-prepared
women's rituals. There Jashoda can act as the fruitful Brahmin wife.' Since rice and curry every day, became as inflated as the bank account of a Public
Jashoda's misfortune is due to her son, that sin too will be lightened. Works Department officer. In addition, Mistress-Mother gave her milk
Jashoda received a portfolio when she heard her proposal. She thought of gratis. When Jashoda became pregnant, she would send her preserves, con-
her breasts as most precious objects. At night when Kangalicharan started to serves, hot and sweet balls.
give her a feel she said, "Look. I'm going to pull our weight with these. Take Thus even the skeptics were persuaded that the Lionseated had appeared
good care !:tow you use them." Kangalicharan hemmed and hawed that to Jashoda as a midwife for this very reason. Otherwise who has ever heard
night, of course, but his GopaL frame of mind disappeared instantly when he or seen such things as constant pregnancies, giving birth, giving milk like a
saw the amount of grains-oil-vegetabLes coming from the big house. He cow, without a thought, to others' children? Nabin too lost his bad thoughts.
was illuminated by the spirit of Brahma the Creator" and explained to Devotional feelings came to him by themselves. Whenever he saw Jashoda
Jashoda, ''You'll have milk in your breasts only if you have a child in your he called out "Mother! Mother! Dear Mother!" Faith in the greatness of the
belly. Now you'll have to think of that and suffer. You are a faithful wife, a Lionseated was rekindled in the area and in the air of the neighborhood
goddess. You will yourself be pregnant, be filled with a child, rear it at your blew the electrifying influence of goddess-glory.
breast, isn't this why Mother came to you as a midwife?" Everyone's devotion to Jashoda became so strong that at weddings,
Jashoda realized the justice of these words and said, with tears in her eyes, showers, namings, and sacred-threadings they invited her and gave her the
''You are husband, you are guru. If I forget and say no, correct me. Where position of chief fruitful woman. They looked with a comparable eye on
after all is the pain? Didn't Mistress-Mother breed thirteen? Does it hurt a Nepal-Gopal-Neno-Boncha-Patal etc. because they were Jashoda's children,
tree to bear fruit?" and as each grew up, he got a sacred thread and started catching pilgrims
So this rule held. Kangalicharan became a professional father. Jashoda for the temple. Kangali did not have to find husbands for Radharani,
was by profession Mother. In fact to look at Jashoda now even the skeptic is A1tarani, Padmarani and such daughters. Nabin found them husbands with
7
convinced of the profundity of that song of the path of devotion. The song exemplary dispatch and the faithful mother's faithful daughters went off
each to run the household of her own Shiva! Jashoda's worth went up in the
is as follows:
Haldar house. The husbands are pleased because the wives' knees no longer
Is a Mother so cheaply made? knock when they riffle the almanac. Since their children are being reared on
Not just by dropping a babe! Jashoda's milk, they can be the Holy Child in bed at will. The wives no
Around the paved courtyard on the ground floor of thc Haldar house over a longer have an excuse to say "no." The wives are happy. They can keep their
dozen auspicious milch cows live in some state in large rooms. Two Biharis figures. They can wear blouses and bras of "European cut." After keeping
look after them as Mother Cows. 8 There are mountains of rind-bran-hay- the fast of Shiva's night by watching all-night picture shows they are no
grass-molasses. Mrs. Haldar believes that the more the cow eats, the more longer obliged to breast-feed their babies. All this was possible because of
milk she gives. Jashoda's place in the house is now above the Mother Cows. Jashoda. As a result Jashoda became vocal and, constantly suckling the
The Mistress's sons become incarnate Brahma and create progeny. Jashoda infants, she opined as she sat in the Mistress's room, "A woman breeds, su
preserves the progeny. here medicine, there bloodpeshur,2 here doctor's visits. Showoffs! Look at
Mrs. Haldar kept a strict watch on the free flow of her supply of milk. She me! I've become a year-breeder! Su is my body failing, or is my milk drying?
called Kangalicharan to her presence and said, "Now then, my Brahmin Makes your skin crawl? r hear they are drying their milk with injishuns. 3
son? You used to stir the vat at the shop, now take up the cooking at home Never heard of such things!"
and give her a rest. Two of her own, three here, how can she cook at day's The fathers and uncles of the current young men of the Haldar house
end after suckling five?" used to whistle at the maidservants as soon as hair grew on their upper lips.
Kangalicharan's intellectual eye was thus opened. Downstairs the two The young ones were reared by the Milk-Mother's milk, so they looked upon
Biharis gave him a bit of chewing tobacco and said, "Mistress Mother said the maid and the cook, their Milk-Mother's friends, as mothers too and
right. We serve the Cow Mother as well-your woman is the Mother of the started walking around the girls' school. The maids said, "Joshi! You came as
World." The Goddess! You made the air of this house change!" So one day as the
From now on Kangalicharan took charge of the cooking at home. Made youngest son was squatting to watch Jashoda's milking, she said, "There
the children his assistants. Gradually he became an expert in cooking plan- dear, my Lucky! All this because you swiped him in the leg! Whose wish was
tain curry, lentil soup, and pickled fish, and by constantly feeding Nabin a it then?" "The Lionseated's," said Haldar junior.

5. Brahmin women are important participnnts in Hindu women's riles of fertility and auspiciousness (sec 9. That Is, he tamed N:lbin with the power of the goddess inherent in the flesh of the goat that was ritu-
n. I, p. 1357). 6. In the Hindu triad of gods. 7. Songs of devotion (bhakti) to particular gods ure ally sacrificed to her. Nabin's consumption of alcuhol and cannabis (nmrijuana) is part of his esoteric reg-
popuLHr at aU levels of Hindu societ)'. 8. Cows that were tended but allowed to roam freely as sacred imen of Kali worship. 1. One of the three great gods uf the Hindu pantheon: he is also said to be the
milch (milk) cows. Biharis nrc people of the stale of Bihar, which borden West Bengal. spouse of Kali. 2. Blood prcilSure. 3. Injecllons.
1078 I MAHASWETA DEvl
DREAsT-GlvER I 1079
He wanted to know how Kangalicharan could bc Brahma without feet?
"Oh blessed Mother!," Basini wept. "\iVidowed, when you lost your crown,
This encroached on divine area, and he forgot the question.
you became the Master and protected everyone! Whose sins sent you away
All is the Lionseated's \vill!
Mother! Ma, when I said, don't eat so muchjackfruit, you didn't listen to me
at all Mother!"
3
Jashoda let Basini get her breath and lamented in that pause, "Why should
Kangali's shins were cut in the fifties, and our narrative has reached the you stay, Mother! You arc blessed, why should you stay in this sinful world!
present. In twenty-five years, sorry in thirty, Jashoda has bccn confined The daughters-in-law have moved the throne! \iVhen the tree says I won't
twenty times. '!be maternities toward the end were profitless, for a new bear, alas it's a sin! Could you bear so much sin, Mother! Then did the Lion-
wind entered the Haldar house somehow. Let's finish the busincss of the seated turn her back, Mother! You knew the abode of good works had
twenty-five or thirty years. At the beginning of the narrative Jashoda was the become the abode of sin, it was not for you Mother! Your heart left when the
mother of three sons. Then she became gravid 5 seventeen times. Mrs. Hal- Master left Mother! You held your body only because you thought of the
dar died. She dearly \vished that one of her daughters-in-law should have the family. 0 mistresses, 0 daughters-in-law! take a vermillion print of her foot-
same good fortune as her mother-in-law. In the family the custom was to step! Fortune will be tied to the door if you keep that print! If you touch your
have a second wedding if a couple could produce twenty children. But the forehead to it every morning, pain and disease will stay out!"6
daughters-in-law called a halt at twclve-thirteen-fourteen. By evil counsel Jashoda walked weeping behind the corpsc to the burning ghat' and said
they were able to explain to their husbands and make arrangements at the on return, "I saw \vith my Own eyes a chariot descend from heaven, take
hospital. All this was the bad result of the new wind. Wise men have never Mistress-Mother from the pyre, and go on up."
allowed a new wind to enter the house. I've heard from my grandmother that After the funeral days were over, the eldest daughter-in-law said to
a certain gentleman would come to her house to read the liberal journal Sat- Jashoda, "Brahmin sister! the family is breaking up. Second and Third are
urday Letter. He would never let the tome enter his home. "The moment moving to the house in Beleghata. Fourth and Fifth are departing to
wife, or mother, or sister reads that paper," he would say, "she'll say 'I'm a Maniktala-Bagmari. Youngest \viII depart to Our Dakshineswar house."8
woman! Not a mother, not a sister, not a wife.''' If asked what the result ''\iVho stays here?"
would be, he'd say, "They would wear shoes while they cooked." It is a peren- "I will. But I'll let the downstairs. Now must the family be folded up. You
nial rule that the power of the new wind disturbs the peace of the women's reared everyone on your milk, food was sent every day. The last child was
quarter. weaned, still Mother sent you food for eight years. She did what pleased her.
It was always the sixteenth century in the Haldar household. But at the Her children said nothing. But it's no longer possible."
sudden significant rise in the membership of the house the sons started "What'll happen to me, elder daughter-in-law-sister?"
building new houses and splitting. The most objectionable thing was that in "If you cook for my household, your board is taken care of. But what'll you
the matter of motherhood, the old lady's granddaughters-in-law had do with yours?"
breathed a completely different air before they crossed her threshold. In 'rwhat?"
vain did the Mistress say that there was plenty of money, plenty to eat. The "It's for you to say. You are the mother of twelve living children! The
old man had dreamed of filling half Calcutta with Haldars. The daughters are married. I hear the sons call pilgrims, eat temple food, stretch
granddaughters-in-Iaw were unwilling. Defying the old lady's tongue, they out in the courtyard. Your Brahmin-husband has set himself up in the Shiva
took off to their husbands' places of work. At about this time, the pilgrim- temple, I hear. \iVhat do you need?"
guides of the Lionseated had a tremendous fight and some unknown person Jashoda wiped her eyes. "Well! Let me speak to the Brahmin."
or persons turned the image of the goddess around. The Mistress's heart Kangalicharan's temple had really caught on. 'What \viII you do in my
broke at the thought that the Mother had turned her back. In pain she ate temple?" he asked.
an unreasonable quantity of jackfruit in full summer and died shitting and "What does Naren's niece do?"
vomiting. "She looks after the temple household and cooks. You haven't been cook-
ing at home for a long time. Will you be able to push the temple traffic?"
4 "No meals from the big house. Did that enter your thieVing head? What'll
you eat?"
Death liberated the Mistress, but the sting of staying alive is worse than
death. Jashoda was genuinely sorry at the Mistress's death. When an elder- "You don't have to worry," said Nabin.
ly person dies in the neighborhood, it's Basini who can weep most elabo- "Why did I have to worry for so long? You're bringing it in at the temple,
rately. She is an old maidservant of the house. But Jashoda's meal ticket was aren't you? You've saved everything and eaten the food that sucked my body."
offered up with the Mistress. She astounded everyone by weeping even "Who sat and cooked?"
more elaborately.

4. Haldar junior's curiosily is in regard to Kangali's suwlillmi procreillivc copilbililies, 5. PregnAIlt. 6. Jashoda invokes the power of a Sati. ? The cremation ground, usually sitlJllLcd near a river or other
body of WOller. 8. Areas in the cit)' of Calcutta.
1080 I MAHASWETA DEV' BREAST-GIVER / 1081

''The man brings, the woman cooks and serves. My lot is inside out. Then "Mother's glory has disappeared when you put your hands on her."
you ate my food, now you'll give me food. Fair's fair." "Glory disappeared! If so, how come, the fan is turning, and yuu are sitting
Kangali said on the beat, "Where did you bring in the food? Could you under the fan? Was there ever an elcttiri I fan on the porch ceiling?"
have gotten the Haldar house? Their door opened fur you because my legs "I accept. But tell me, why did you burn my luck? What did I ever do to you?"
were cut off. The Master had wanted to set me up in business. Forgotten "Why? Kangali isn't dead."
everything, you cunt?" 'Why wait for death? He's more than dead to me."
"Who's the cunt, you or me? Living off a wife's carcass, you call that a "What's up?"
man?/l Jashoda wiped her eyes and said in a heavy voice, "I've carried so many, I
The two fought tooth and nail and cursed each other to the death. Finally was the regular milk-mother at the Master's house. You know everything.
Kangali said, "I don't want to see your face again. Buzz off!" I've never left the straight and narrow."
"All right." "But of course. You are a portion of the Mother."
Jashoda too left angry. In the meantime the various pilgrim-guide factions "But Mother remains in divine fulfillment. Her 'portion' is about to die for
conspired to tum the image's face forward, otherwise disaster was immi- want of food. Haldar-house has lifted its hand from me."
nent. As a result, penance rituals were being celebrated with great ceremony "Why did you have to fight 'vith Kangali? Can a man bear to be insulted on
at the temple. Jashoda went to throw herself at the goddess's feet. Her grounds of being supported?"
aging, milkless, capacious breasts are breaking in pain. Let the Lionseated 'Why.,did you have to plant your niece there?"
understand her pain and tell her the way. "That was divine play. Golapi used to throw herself in the temple. Little by
Jashoda lay three days in the courtyard. Perhaps the Lionseated has also little Kangali came to understand that he was the god's companion-
breathed the new wind. She did not appear in a dream. Moreover, when, incarnate and she his companion."
after her three days' fast, Jashoda went back shaking to her place, her youn- "Companion indeed! I can get my husband from her clutches with one
gest came by. "Dad will stay at the temple. He's told Naba and I to ring the blow of a broom!"
bells. We'll get money and holy food every day." Nabin said, "No! that can't be any more. Kangali is a man in his prime,
"I see! Where's dad?" how can he be pleased with you any more? Besides, Golapi's brother is a real
"Lying down. Golapi-auntie is scratching the prickly heat on his back. hoodlum, and he is guarding her. Asked me to get out. If I smoke ten pipes,
Asked us to buy candy with some money. So we came to tell you." he smokes twenty. Kicked me in the midriff. I went to speak for you. Kangali
Jashoda understood that her usefulness had ended not only in the Haldar said, don't talk to me about her. Doesn't know her man, knows her master's
house but also for Kangali. She broke her fast in name and went to Nabin to house. The master's house is her household god, let her go there."
complain. It was Nabin who had dragged the Lionseated's image the other "I will."
way. Mter he had settled the dispute with the other pilgrim-guides re the Then Jashoda returned home, half-crazed by the injustice of the world. But
overhead income from the goddess Basanti ritual, the goddess Jagaddhatri her heart couldn't abide the empty room. Whether it suckled or not, it's hard
ritual, and the autumn Durgapuja,9 it was he who had once again pushed to sleep without a child at the breast. Motherhood is a great addiction. The
and pulled the image the right way. He'd poured some liquor into his aching addiction doesn't break even when the milk is dry. Forlorn Jashoda went to
throat, had smoked a bit of cannabis, and was now addressing the local elec- the Haldaress. She said, 'Til cook and serve, if you want to pay me, if not,
toral candidate: "No offerings for the Mother from you! Her glory is back. not. You must let me stay here. That sonofabitch is living at the temple. What
Now we'll see how you win!" disloyal sons! They are stuck there too. For whom shall I hold my room?"
Nabin is the proof of all the miracles that can happen if, even in this de- "So stay. You suckled the children, and you're a Brahmin. So stay. But sis-
cade, one stays under the temple's power. He had turned the goddess's head ter, it'll be hard for you. You'll stay in Basini's room with the others. You
himself and had himself believed that the Mother was averse because the mustn't fight with anyone. The master is not in a good mood. His temper is
pilgrim-guides were not organizing like all the want-votes groups. Now, after rotten because his third son went to Bombay and married a local girl. He'll
he had turned the goddess's head he had the idea that the Mother had be angry if there's noise."
turned on her own. Jashoda's good fortune was her ability to bear children. All this misfortune
Jashoda said, "What are you babbling?" happened to her as soon as that vanished. Now is the downward time for
Nabin said, "I'm speaking of Mother's glory." Jashoda, the milk-filled faithful wife who was the object of the reverence of
Jashoda said, ''You think I don't know that you turned the image's head the local houses devoted to the Holy Mother. It is human nature to feel an
yourself?" inappropriate vanity as one rises, yet not to feel the surrender of "let me
Nabin said, "Shut up, Joshi. God gave me ability, and intelligence, and learn to bite the dust since I'm down" as one falls. As a result one makes
only then could the thing bc done through me." demands for worthless things in the old way and gets kicked by the weak.

9. Goddesses, who are also seen liS aspects or forms of the great mOlher goddess. 1. Electric.
BREAST-GIVER I 1083
1082 I MAI1ASWETA DEVI
At night when the doctor came the eldest daughter-in-law asked him in
The same thing happened to Jashmla. Basini's crowd used to wash her feet her son's presence. She said, "No pain, no burning, but she is keeling over."
and drink the water. Now Basini said easily, "You'll wash your own dishes. The doctor said, "Go ask if the nipple has shrunk, if the armpit is swollen
Pue you my master, that I'll wash your dishes. You arc the master's servant as like a seed."
much as I am." Hearing "swollen like a seed," the eldest daughter-in-law thought, "How
As Jashoda roared, "Do you know who I am?" she heard the eldest crude!" Then she did her field investigations and said, "She says all that
daughter-in-law scold, ''This is what I feared. Mother gave her a swelled you've said has been happening for some time."
head. Look here, Brahmin sister! I didn't call you, you begged to stay, don't "How old?"
break the peace." "If you take the eldest son's age she'll be about about fifty-five."
Jashoda understood that now no one would attend to a word she said. She The doctor said, "I'll give medicine."
cooked and served in silence and in the late afternoon she went to the tem- Going out, he said to the eldest son, "I hear your Cook has a problem with
ple porch and started to weep. She couldn't even have a good cry. She heard her breast. I think you should take her to the cancer hospital. I didn't sec her.
the music for the evening worship at the temple of Shiva. She wiped her But from what I heard it could be cancer of the mammary gland."
eyes and got up. She said to herself, "Now save me, Mother! Must I finally Only the other day the eldest son lived in the sixteenth century. He has
sit by the roadside with a tin cup? Is that what you want?" arrived at the twentieth century very recently. Of his thirteen offspring he
The days would have passed in cooking at the Haldar-house and com- has arranged the marriages of the daughters, and the sons have grown up
plaining to the Mother. But that was not enough for Jashoda. Jashoda's body and are growing up at their own speed and in the.ir own way. But even now
seemed to keel over. Jashoda doesn't understand why nothing pleases her. his grey cells are covered in the darkness of the eighteenth- and the pre-
Everything seems confused inside her head. When she sits down to cook she Bengal.Renaissance] nineteenth centuries. He still does not take smallpox
thinks she's the milk-mother of this house. She is going home in a showy sari vaccination and says, "Only the lower classes get smallpox. I don't need to
with a free meal in her hand. Her breasts feel empty, as if wasted. She had be vaccinated. An upper-caste family, respectful of gods and Brahmins, does
never thought she wouldn't have a child's mouth at her nipple. not contract that disease."
Joshi became bemused. She serves nearly all the rice and curry, but forgets He pooh-poohed the idea of cancer and said, "Yah! Cancer indeed! That
to eat. Sometimes she speaks to Shiva the King, "If Mother can't do it, you easy! You misheard, all she needs is an ointment. I can't send a Brahmin's
take me away. I can't pull any more." daughter to a hospital just on your word."
Finally it was the sons of the eldest daughter-in-law who said, "Mother! Is Jashoda herself also said, "I can't go to hospital. Ask me to croak instead. I
the milk-mother sick? She acts strange." didn't go to hospital to breed, and I'll go now? That corpse-burning devil
The eldest daughter-in.law said, "Let's see." returned a cripple because he went to hospital!"
The eldest son said, "Look here? She's a Brahmin's daughter, if anything The elder daughter-in-law said, ''I'll get you a herbal ointment. This oint-
happens to her, it'll be a sin for us." ment will surely soothe. The hidden boil will show its tip and burst."
The eldest daughter-in-law went to ask. Jashoda had started 2the rice and The herbal ointment was a complete failure. Slowly Jashoda gave up eat
then lain down in the kitchen on the spread edge of her sari. The eldest ing and lost her strength. She couldn't keep her sari on the left side. Some-
daughter-in-law, looking at her bare body, said, "Brahmin sister! Why does times she felt burriing, sometimes pain. Finally the skin broke in many
the top of your left tit look so red? God! flaming red!" places and sores appeared. Jashoda took to her bed.
"Who knows? It's like a stone pushing inside. Very hard, like a rock." Seeing the hang of it, the eldest son was afraid, if at his house a Brahmin
'''hat is it?" died! He called Jashoda's sons and spoke to them harshly, "It's your mother,
"Who knows? I suckled so many, perhaps that's why?" she fed you so long, and now she is about to die! Take her with you! She has
"Nonsense! One gcts breast-stones or pus-in-the-tit if there's milk. Your everyone and she should die in a Kayastha4 household?"
youngest is ten." Kangali cried a lot when he heard this story. He came to Jashoda's a1most-
''That one is gone. The one before survived. That one died at birth. Just as
dark room and said, "Wife! You are a blessed auspicious faithful woman!
well. This sinful world!" Mter I spurned you, within two years the temple dishes were stolen, I suf-
"Well the doctor comes tomorrow to look at my grandson. I'll ask. Doesn't
fered from boils in my back, and that snake Golapi tricked Napla, broke the
look good to me." safe, stole everything and opened a shop in Tarakeswar. Come, I'll keep you
Jashoda said with her eyes closed, "Like a stone tit, with a stone inside. At
in statc/'
first the hard ball moved about, now it doesn't move, doesn't budge." Jashoda said, "Light the lamp."
"Let's show the doctor." Kangali lit the lamp.
"No, sister daughter-in-law, I can't show my body to a male doctor."

3. The great flowering of cultural activity in Dengal {late 18th and the 19th centuries}. 4. An elite
2. Indian woman'~ garment made or a long unconstruclelllength of fabric. It i.s draped around the body, casle, second only to brahmins.
with one end hanging free over the shoulder.
1084 I MAJIASWETA DEVI
BREAST-GIvER I 1085

Jashoda showed him her bare left breast, thick with running sores and came and rasped, "Are these people human? She reared all the boys with her
said, "See these sores? Do you know how these sores smell? What will you do milk and they don't call a doctor? I'll call Hari the doctor."
with me now? Why did you come to take me?" Haribabu took one look at her and said, "Hospital."
"The Master called." Hospitals don't admit people who are so sick. At the efforts and recom-
'Then the Master doesn't want to keep me."-Jashoda sighed and said, mendations of the eldest son, Jashoda was admitted.
'There is no solution about me. What can you do with me?" 'What's the matter? 0 Doctorbabu, what's the problem?"-Kangali asked,
'Whatever, I'll take you tomorrow. Today I clean the room. Tomorrow for weeping like a boy.
sure." /lCancer."
"Are the boys well? Noblay and Gaur used to come, they too have "You can get cancer in a tit?"
stopped." "Otherwise how did she get it?"
"All the bastards are selfish. Sons of my spunk after all. As inhuman as [." "Her own twenty, thirty boys at the Master's house-she had a lot of
"You'll come tomorrow?" milk-"
"Yes-yes-yes." "What did you say? How many did she feed?"
Jashoda smiled suddenly. A heart-splitting nostalgia-provoking smile. "About fifty for sure."
Jashoda said, "Dear, remember?" "Fif-ty!"
"What, wife?" ~'Yes sir."
"How you played with these tits? You couldn't sleep otherwise? My lap was "She had twenty children?"
never empty, if this one left my nipple, there was that one, and then the boys ''Yes sir."
of the Master's house. How I could, I wonder now!" "God!"
"I remember everything, wife!" (ISir!"
In this instant Kangali's words arc true. Seeing Jashoda's broken, thin, 'What?"
suffering form even Kangali's selfish body and instincts and belly-centered "Is it because she suckled so many-?"
consciousness remembered the past and suffered some empathy. He held "One can't say why someone gets cancer, one can't say. But when people
Jashoda's hand and said, "You have fever?" breast-feed too much-didn't you realize earlier? It didn't get to this in a
"I get feverish all the time. I think by the strength of the sores." day?"
"Where does this rotten stink come from?" "She wasn't with me, sir. We quarreled-"
"From these sores." III see."
Jashoda spoke with her eyes closed. Then she said, "Bring the holy doctor. "How do you sec her? Will she get well?"
He cured Gopal's typhoid with homeopathy." "Get well! See how long she lasts. You've brought her in the last stages. No
"I'll eall him. I'll take you tomorrow." one survives this stage."
Kangali left. That he went out, the tapping of his crutches, Jashoda couldn't Kangali left weeping. In the late afternoon, harassed by Kangali's lamen-
hear. With her eyes shut, with the idea that Kangali was in the room, she tations, the eldest son's second son went to the doctor. He was minimally
said spiritlessly, "If you suckle you're a mother, all lies! Nepal and Gopal anxious about Jashoda-but his father nagged him and he was financially
don't look at me, and the Master's boys don't spare a peek to ask how I'm dependent on his father.
doing." The sores on her breast kept mocking her with a hundred mouths, a The doctor explained everything to him. It happened not in a day, but over
hundred eyes. Jashoda opened her eyes and said, "Do you hear?" a long time. Why? No one could tell. How does one perceive breast cancer?
Then she realized that Kangali had left. A hard lump inside the breast toward the top can be removed. Then gradu-
In the night she sent Basini for Lifebuoy soaps and at dawn she went to ally the lump inside becomes large, hard, and like a congealed pressure. The
take a bath with the soap. Stink, what a stink! If the body of a dead cat or dog skin is expected to turn orange, as is expected a shrinking of the nipple. The
rots in the garbage can you get a smell like this. Jashoda had forever scrubbed gland in the armpit can be inflamed. When there is ulceration, that is to say
her breasts carefully with soap and oil, for the master's sons had put the nip- sores, one can call it the final stages. Fever? From the paint of view of seri-
ples in their mouth. Why did those breasts betray her in the end? Her skin ousness it falls in the second or third category. If there is something like a
burns with the sting of soap. Still Jashoda washed herself with soap. Her sore in the body, there can be fever. That is secondary.
head was ringing, everything seemed dark. There was fire in Jashoda's body, The second son was confused with all this specialist talk. He said, "Will
in her head. The black floor was very cool. Jashoda spread her sari and lay she live?"
down. She could not bear the weight of her breast standing up. /lNo."
As Jashoda lay down, she lost sense and consciousness with fever. Kangali "How long will she suffer?"
came at the proper time: but seeing Jashoda he lost his grip. Finally Nabin "I don't think too long."
"When there's nothing to be done, how will you treat her?"
5. A brand of nntihaclerinl soap. "Painkiller, sedative, antibiotic for the fever. Her body is very, very down."
1086 I MAHASWETA DEV' BREAST-GIVER I 1087

"She stopped ealing." who don't take the signs of breast-cancer seriously enough and finally die in
''You didn't take her to a doctor?" this drcadful and hellish pain. Cancer conslantly defcats patienl and doctor.
HYes." One patient's cancer means the patienl's death and the defeat of science,
"Didn't he tell you?" and of course of the doctor. One can medicate against the secondary symp-
"Yes." tom, if eating stops one can drip glucose and feed the body, if the lungs
"What did he say?" become incapable of breathing there is oxygen-bUl the advance of cancer;
"That it might be cancer. Asked us to take her to the hospital. Shc didn't its expansion, spread, and killing, remain unchecked. The word cancer is a
agree." general signifier, by which in the different parts of the body is meant differ-
"Why would she? She'd die!" ent malignant growths. Its characteristic properties are to destroy thc
The second son came home and said, "When Arun-doctor said she had infected arca of the body, to spread by metastasis, to return after removal, to
cancer, she might have survived if trcated then." create toximeia.
His mother said, "If you know that much then why didn't you take her? Kangali came out without a proper answer to his question. Returning to
Did I stop you?" the temple, he said to Nabin and his sons, ''There's no use going any more.
Somewhere in the minds of the second son and his mother an unknown She doesn't know us, doesn't open her eyes, doesn't realize anything. The
sense of guill and remorse came up like bubbles in dirty and stagnant water doctor is doing what he can."
and vanished instantly. Nabin said, "If she dies?"
Guilt said-she lived with us, we never took a look at her, when did the ''They have the telephone number of the old Master's eldest son, they'll
disease catch hcr, we didn't take it seriously at all. She was a silly person, call." .
reared so many of us, we didn't look after her. Now, with everyone around "Suppose she wants to see you. Kangali, your wife is a blessed auspicious
her she's dying in hospital, so many children, husband living, when she faithful woman! Who would say the mother of so many. To see her body-
clung to us, then we had - - - I What an alive body she had, milk leaped but she didn't bend, didn't look elsewhere."
out of her, we never thought she would have this disease. Talking thus, Nabin became gloomily silent. In fact, since he'd seen
The disappearance of guilt said-who can undo Fate? It was written that Jashoda's infested breasts, many a philosophic thought and sexological argu-
she'd die of catlCer-who'd stop it? It would have been wrong if she had died ment have been slowly circling Nabin's drug-and-booze-addled dim head
here-her husband and sons would have asked, how did she die? We have like great rUlting snakes emptied of venom. For example, I lusted after her?
been saved from that wrongdoing. No one can say anything. This is the end of that intoxicating bosom? Hoi Man's body's a zero. To be
The eldest son assured them, "Now ArlIn-doctor says no one survives can- crazy for that is to be crazy.
cer. The cancer that Brahmin-sister has can lead to cutting of the tit, removing Kangali didn't like all this talk. His mind had already rejected ]ashoda.
the uterus, even after that people die of cancer. See, Father gave us a lot of When he saw]ashoda in the Haldar-house he was truly affected and even
reverence toward Brahmins-we are alive by father's grace. If Brahmin-sister after her admission into hospital he was passionately anxious. But now that
had died in our house, we would have had to perform the penance-ritual." feeling is growing cold. The moment the doctor said Jashoda wouldn't last,
Patients much less sick than Jashoda die much sooner. Jashoda astonished he put her out of mind almost painlessly. His sons are his sons. Their
the doctors by hanging on for about a month in hospilal. At first Kangali, mother had become a distant person for a long time. Mother meant hair in a
Nabin, and the boys did indeed come and go, but Jashoda remaincd the huge topknot, blindingly white clothes, a strong personality. The person
same, comalose, cooking with fever, spellbound. The sores on her breast lying in the hospital is someone else, not Mother.
gaped more and more and the breast now looks like an open wound. It is Breast Cancer makes the brain comatose, this was a solution for Jashoda.
covercd by a piece of thin gauze soaked in antiseptic loticn, but the sharp ]ashoda understood that she had come to hospital, she was in the hospital,
smell of putrefying flesh is circulating silently in the room's air like incense- and that this desensitizing sleep was a medicated sleep. In her weak, infected,
smoke. This brought an ebb in the enthusiasm of Kangali and the other vis- dazed brain she thoughl, has some son of the Haldar-house become a doctor?
itors. The doctor said as well, "Is she not responding? All for the better. It's No doubt he sucked her milk and is now repaying the milk-debt? But those
hard to bear without consciousness, can anyonc bear such death-lhroes con- boys entered the family business as soon as they lefl high school! However,
sciously?" why don't the people who are helping her so much free her from the stinking
"Does she know that wc come and go?" prescnce of her chest? What a smell, what treachery? Knowing these breasls
HHard to say." lo be the rice-winner, she had constantly conceived to keep them filled with
"Does she eat." milk. The breast's job is to hold milk. She kept her breast clean with perfumed
"Through tubes." soap, shc never wore a top, even in youth, because her breasts were so heavy.
"Do people live this way?" When thc sedation lessens, ]ashoda screams, "Ah! Ah! Ah!"-and looks for
IINow you1re very - - - " the nurse and thc doctor with passionate bloodshot cyes. When the doctor
The doctor underslood that he was unreasonably angry because Jashoda comes, she mutters with hurt feelings, ''You grew so big on my milk, and now
was in this condition. He was angry with Jashoda, with Kangali, with women you're hurting me so?"
GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ / 1089
1088 / GABRIEL GARcrA MARQUEZ
of dreamlike and everyday reality and the "magical" aspect of fictional creation,
The doctor says, "She sees her milk-sons all over the world." mythic overtones often rooted in local folklore, the representation of broader social
Again injection and sleepy numbness. Pain, tremendous pain, the cancer and psychological conflicts through regional tales, the essential solitude of individu-
is spreading aL Lhe expense of the human host. Gradually Jashoda's left breast als facing love and death in a society of which they never quite seem a part. Garcia
bursts and becomes like the craLer of a volcano. The smell of putrefaction Marquez is a political novelist in that many of his fictional situations are openly
drawn from conditions in Latin American history, so that local readers will recognize
makes approach difficult.
Finally one night, Jashoda understood that her feet and hands were get- current history in the change from prosperity to misery in Macondo that accompa-
ting cold. She understood that death was coming. Jashoda couldn't open her nies the presence and withdrawal of the banana company, the massacre of striking
eyes, but she understood that some people were looking at her hand. A nee- banana workers by government forces in 1928, the extreme separation of rich and
poor, and the grotesquely oppressive power of political dictators pictured most
dle pricked her arm. Painful breathing inside. Has to be. Who is looking?
recently in The Autumn of the PatrUJrch (1975). Yet his fiction achieves its impact
Are these her own people? The people whom she suckled because she car- not because of its base in real events but because these events are -transformed and
ried them, or those she suckled for a living? Jashoda thought, after all, she interpreted inside an artistic vision that-experimenting with many forms-ereates a
had suckled the world, could she then die alone? The doctor who sees her fictional universe all its own.
every day, the person who will cover her face with a sheet, will put her on a Garela Marquez was born in the small town of Arncataca in the "banana zone" of
6
cart, will lower her at the burning ghat, the untouchable who will put her in Colombia on March 6, 1928, to Gabriel Eligio Garela and Maria Marquez Iguaran.
7
the furnace, are all her milk-sons. One must become Jashoda if one suckles The first of twelve children, he was raised by his maternal grandparents until his
the world. One has to die friendless, with no one left to put a bit of water in grandfather.died in 1936. He attributes his love of fantasy to his grandmother, who
the mouth. Yet someone was supposed to be there at the end. Who was it? It would tell him 'fantastic tales whenever she did not want to answer his questions.
The recurring image of an old military man battered by circumstances (the grandfa-
was who? Who was it? ther of Leaf Storm, 1955; the protagonist of No One Writes to the Colonel, 1958; and
Jashoda died at 11 p.m. in his younger days, Colonel Aureliano Buendia of One Hundred Years of Solitude)
The Haldar-house was called on the phone. The phone didn't ring. The
likewise recalls his grandfather, a retired colonel who had served on the Libeml side
Haldars disconnected their phone at night. of a civil war at the beginning of the century. A scholarship student at the National
JashOOa Devi, Hindu female, lay in the hospital morgue in the usual way, Colegio in Zipaquicl, Garela Marquez received his bachelor's degree in 1946 and
went to the burning ghat in a van, and was burnt. She was cremated by an studied law at universities in Bogota and Cartagena from 1947 to 1950. In 1947 he
untouchable. published his first story, 'The Third Resignation," a Kafkaesque tale of a man who
Jashoda was God manifest, others do and did whatever she thought continued to grow and retain consciousness in his coffin for seventeen years after his
Jashoda's death was also the death of God. When a mortal masquerades as death. Garela Marquez had worked as a journalist while studying law, and in 1950 he
God here below, she is forsaken by all and she must always die alone. abandoned his legal studies for journalism in order to have more time as a writer. His
lirstnovel, Leaf Storm, was published in 1955 and-in its use of interior monologue
and juxtaposition of different perspectives-shows the strong influence of Faulkner.
He would soon abandon the more subjective Faulknerian style for an objective man-
6. Outcastel who handle corpses ilt the crentlllion ground. They a...e considered untouchable because of
their contact with ritually polluting objects and substances. 7. Here mother of the divine child Krishna ner derived both from his experience in journalism and from Ernest Hemingway. In
amI hence mother of the world.
Leaf Storm, we may perceive reality through the mind of a ten-year-old boy: ''The
heat won't let you breathe in the closed room. You can hear the sun buzzing in the
streets, but that's all. The air is stagnant, like concrete; you get the feeling that it
could get all twisted like a sheet of steel." In his next novel, No One Writes to the Col-
onel, an impersonal narrator catalogs the actions of the colonel about to make cof-
fee: "He removed the pot from the fire, poured half the water onto the earthen floor,
and scraped the inside of the can with a knife until the last scrapings of the ground
GABRIEL GARCiA MARQUEZ coffee, mixed with bits of rust, fell into the pot."
born 1928 In 1954 Garela Marquez had joined the newspaper EI EspeCladDr (The spectator)
I ill Bogota; a report he wrote in 1955 that indirectly revealed corruption in the navy
irritated the Rojas Pinilla dictatorship, and the paper was shut down. Working in
One of the great novelists and prose stylists for more than four decades, Gabriel Gar-
Paris as EI EspeClador's foreign correspondent when he learned that his job had been
da Marquez possesses both the technical virtuosity of the French "new novelists"
abolished, he lived in extreme poverty for the next year while beginning The Evil
and the breadth and historical scope of the traditional realistic writer. His most
Hour (1962) and No One Writes to the Colonel. In 19;7, after traveling in Eastern
famous work, One Hundred Years oj Solitude (1967), is also the best-known novel Europe, he returned to Latin America. Here he worked for several different newspa-
from the amazing literary explosion of the 1960s and 1970s called the Latin Ameri; Pers in Venezuela, and later for the international press agency, Prcnsa Latina, in
can "Boom," and embodies the mixture of fantasy and realism called "magical real~ Cuba and New York, and for the Mexican periodicals LA Familia and Sueesos (a sen-
ism." In this novel and related stories, he follows the rise and fall of the Bueodla sationalist magazine) before beginning to write film scripts in 1963. A collection of
family fortunes in a mythical town called Macondo, and sketches at the same time an
short stories, Big Mama's Funeral, was published in 1962, along with the first edition
echoing, intricate pattern of social, cultural, and psychological themes that becornc a .f,The Evil Hour, which, printed in Spain, was later repudiated by the author
symbolic picture of Latin American society. Not all of Garcia Marquez's works are beCDuse of tampering by proofreaders. In 1965 the various themes and characters he
about Macondo, but the same themes and images reappear throughout: the contrast