A powerful book that is both comforting and uncomfortable!

 Book Title: Breast Stories

Author: Mahasweta Devi
Translated by: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Published: 1997

International Women's Day (IWD) is a global annual celebration on March 8th. It is a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women and to raise awareness of gender inequality and the challenges that women still face around the world. In many parts of the world, women still face significant challenges, such as discrimination, gender-based violence, unequal pay, and limited access to education and healthcare.

In honour of International Women's Day, The Holistic Pine Magazine team asked the audience to discuss the books that changed the readers' personalities, emotionally and psychologically.

At this juncture, I chose – Breast Stories, written by Mahasweta Devi in Bengali and translated into English by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. A book can profoundly impact a person by expanding their knowledge, increasing empathy, stimulating imagination, providing inspiration, encouraging self-reflection, and developing critical thinking skills. Similarly, a book can also change the pre-programmed information that has been fed since childhood. Here, I would like to quote some mythological characters taught in school and at home differently, and as I grew, the perspective changed. Pratibha Ray's Yagnaseni gave me a different picture of Draupadi. Likewise, Chitra Divakurini Banerjee and Ira Mukhoty's portrayal of Draupadi gave a new dimension to her personality. Considering all the newly acquired thoughts, picking up Breast Stories for this 2023 International Women's Day felt terrific.

Coming to the book Breast Stories is a collection of three stories, Draupadi, Breast-Giver, and Behind the Bodice, published by Seagull Books and adapted into English by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. In typical Mahasweta Devi fashion, these tales examine themes of caste and gender violence, patriarchy, and abuse of the poor, whether women, peasants or tribals. Spivak also contributes a preface and an essay to the compilation. 

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

Draupadi, the first story, is about a tribal lady who is a member of the Naxalite organisation. Devi examines the oppression that was released on women, particularly tribal women, during the period through this. It centres on the governmental, social, and sexual dangers that Draupadi faces. The second story, Breast-Giver, chronicles Jashoda, a professional wet nurse who is looked after and almost venerated when she can work and provide milk but is abandoned to suffer a cruel, heartless death when her body eventually protests. Behind the Bodice, the third story in the collection recounts the story of Gangor, a labourer whose gorgeous sensual breasts are shot by a professional photographer, Upin. Because of these photos, a gang of men track Gangor down and abuse her. Behind the Bodice was adapted into a movie by director Italo Spinelli, starring Priyanka Bose and Adil Hussain.

The breast is the common thread in all the tales and serves as a vehicle for commenting on the oppression women experience in society. Mahasweta Devi employs breast symbolism to symbolise the feminine form and its power dynamics. The tales dig into the experiences of women exploited and mistreated because of their gender and who had to battle against societal and cultural standards to express their rights.

Each story is compelling in its manner. Devi liberally employs Indian texts and legends to enhance the effect of her writing—each place and character name may have a deeper meaning that only a close study of the text can reveal. The tales in Breast Stories are written in direct and simple language, making them both approachable and powerful. They push the reader to examine their preconceptions and stereotypes and acknowledge the grit and perseverance of women who have overcome incredible hardship.

I especially like how Devi casually remarks on social and political circumstances in the narrative—almost matter-of-factly. Her views on India's political environment, caste and class obstacles, pervasive patriarchy and misogyny underpin these tales.

Mahasweta Devi

The Breast Stories are real horror stories. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who has translated the stories and written the introductory essays, says the word 'breast' is much more than a symbol in these works. But while reading the book, I felt Devi, the social crusader, predominates over Devi, the writer. Perhaps the tales did not endure the translation well. Maybe that is the reason why one should deploy themselves as a polyglot!

Overall, Breast Stories is an essential work of feminist literature that highlights the struggles of women in India and encourages the reader to think critically about issues of gender and power. It is a powerful example of how literature can bring attention to important social and political issues and inspire readers to take action.


  1. I definitely want to read this, it sounds like a really important book


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