The Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal

A Premier Humanities Research Journal at the University of California, Berkeley

Mahasweta Devi’s Mary Oraon: Balancing Language and Identity

Mahasweta Devi’s Mary Oraon: Balancing Language and Identity

Karlin Andersen

Texts discussed in the postcolonial field are often read as translations with the potential for meaning, linguistic subtletees, or authorial intent lost between the original language and translation into the colonizer’s language. Mahasweta Devi’s style of infusing English into her Bengali writings brings another layer of difficulty during translation. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s translation of Devi’s short story “The Hunt,” for example, uses italics to signal the original English words which provides an opportunity to examine the complexity of Devi’s use of English and how Devi’s protagonist makes the colonizer’s language a tool for regaining power. Some critics, notably Minoli Salgado, decry Spivak’s translation as overly intrusive of Devi’s work, but this essay will show that those critics overlook an important rhetorical construction in Devi’s original text which translations such as Spivak’s attempt to preserve.

First, this essay will discuss Spivak’s choice to italicize the original English and her other methods as a translator, and demonstrate why removing the italics would diminish Devi’s original intent as an author. Then, I will perform a close reading of “The Hunt,” to analyze how Devi’s linguistic construction informs the ways in which Devi’s protagonist derives power from Bengali and English to become stronger than the colonizers in the piece

MAHASWETA DEVI IS ARGUABLY Bengal’s most widespread and influ-ential author, having produced over 100 pieces of literature and even more journalistic articles all addressing the struggles, rights and identity of the West Bengal[1] tribes.[2] Devi’s work initially reached an increased English-speaking audience in the late 1980s and early 1990s after translator and postcolonial theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak published several collections of Devi’s short stories and novels. Spivak’s trans-lations allowed English readers to experience Devi’s method of transfor-ming Bengali oral tales and myths into written documents which served to narrate the tribes’ struggles with and resistance to colonial oppression. Within her work, Devi creates a hybrid linguistic structure through the com-bination of Bengali and English words.

The frequency of English in “The Hunt” demonstrates a type of linguistic neocolonialism[3] that has fused itself to the culture, language and lifestyle of the West Bengal tribes. When tracked, English is first seen as a tool to strip the tribal people of their power within their own villages. However, Mary Oraon[4] is able to regain her physical confidence through the Bengali language and even-tually use English as a tool to remove the neocolonizer’s sovereignty. Examin-ing the application and frequency of English terms applied by the colonized, Mary, and the neocolonizer, Tehsildar Singh, reveals how Mary claims agency over her life then reclaims the power asserted by Tehsildar through using some of the imposed English express-ions as her own. Through killing Tehsil-dar in the final moments of the story, Mary is the more powerful character compared with the neocolonizer. Her actions stop, at least in an immediate way, neocolonization from removing her authority in speech and action in her roles as a significant member of the village and as a woman.

As a journalist turned social activist and fiction writer, Devi draws from a multitude of sources when con-structing stories as Minoli Salgado listed a few influences, “a mixture of folk dia-lects and urbane Bengali, slang and Shakespeare, Hindu mythology and quotations from Marx” (Salgado 132). Salgado calls Devi’s writing “unfixed” by the variety of styles and influences she uses. Salgado argues those styles “pose particular challenges for the translator” and “has resulted in vastly differing translations in her work” (132). Pertain-ing to the relationship between Spivak and Devi, Salgado argues interpreters bring their own viewpoint and intent to a work (140). In her book The Translator in the Text, Rachel May claims transla-tors often assert unintended authority over texts. This move damages the ori-ginal intent of a work and transforms it into their own instead of maintaining focus on the needs and ideas of the author to a wider audience.

However, Devi says the adaptat-ions are “extremely faithful” and Spivak “does not distort, even one word” (131). This assurance should not stop readers from considering other versions or translations. Rather, it should place more weight and focus on Spivak’s translations to uncover how language works within Devi’s stories in demon-strating the lingering effects of empire and the struggle for clout with consider-ation given to the cultural backdrop from which Devi writes. Within her translations, Spivak italicized words originally presented[5] in English to dis-tinguish them from the translation to “make the text awkward to view” which reconstructs the original reading exper-ience (Chotti Munda and His Arrow vii). While this may appear to create an intentional disadvantage toward under-standing the text, Spivak adopts this technique because she does not trans-late for a mass audience, but to create a “scholarly translation.” Spivak hopes that through viewing italicization as part of the overall text, readers will “get a sense of the English lexicalized into Ben-gali on various levels as a mark of this very history that is one of the animators of the text” (vii). The italicized designa-tion allows English readers to experi-ence, even in a small way, the awkward-ness and infusion of an unnatural pres-ence in a text. Contemporary Bengali speakers infuse English into their speech at multiple levels, as noted by critic Sujit Mukherjee, but this infusion only exists because of an outside pres-ence that imposed the language onto the original.

The imposition of English, as seen in the vocabulary choices in “The Hunt,” is a linguistic representation of the cultural, economic and political effects colonization had on the region. Before examining how English alters the text, it is important to understand why Devi included English in the original story which then affected Spivak’s trans-lation method. Salgado argues that Spivak’s use of italics is an attempt to “defamiliarize Mahasweta’s work” to propel Spivak’s own claim that Devi’s characters represent what Spivak calls the “subaltern”[6]. Adding, removing or altering what a piece communicates would go beyond the duties of basic translation. As such, Salgado argues, Spivak’s imposition of the italics onto the translation undermines Devi’s ori-ginal vision for her story (Salgado 132). Salgado calls the italics an “awkward importation of alien linguistic” that draws too much attention away from the rest of the text and focuses on the infusion of English. Mukherjee criticizes Spivak for not informing readers that modern Bengali speech is often infused with English expressions and suggests single quote marks would be sufficient to distinguish the original English from the translation, a convenience Mukher-jee says is “available only to once colo-nized people” (135). This argument is important to point out the dangers in translator influence, but it places too much license in the translator’s hands and does not consider author influence during translation, how that translation is presented by the author, or the original text’s construction.

Sara Suleri’s work moves in the space between translator and the ori-ginal text’s construction to examine how a text and author are influenced by other sources. Suleri’s book, The Rhetoric of English India, examines the “cultural collision” of English, both in language and people, with India’s stories and writers being affected by colonial lang-uage and translations. Suleri believes that “unlike territory, stories cannot be so easily stolen” because stories actively work against the colonial infusion to in-sist the colonized “can indeed be ren-dered interpretable within the language of the colonizer” (Suleri 7). Suleri’s argument pushes against Salgado’s assumption that an English translation of Devi’s work will damage and appro-priate the colonized voice. Salgado’s argument “that the translations them-selves are molded to fit competing theo-retical discourses within literary and cultural studies” may be true to an ex-tent, but it does not take into account the initial narrative force the stories held. Salgado, who does not speak Ben-gali and is reading translated texts, does not lend enough credit to the original ways in which Devi crafted the language to push against the culture and influen-ces of colonization. “The Hunt” can stand as a strong anti-colonial text even after translation into the colonizer’s language because its original form plays on a hybrid of Bengali and English to regain command from the colonizer. Spivak acknowledges the importance of keeping influence with the author by removing the authority of the transla-tese through feeling “the fragility of the ‘original,’ by way of resonance with its irreducible idiomaticity” (Spivak 9). The translator allows readers to witness the strife between Mary and Tehsildar play-ed out through language by allowing the linguistic difference present in the ori-ginal manuscript to shine through in the translation. That strife and linguistic play will be discussed after first exam-ining how English affects the greater narrative.

Devi’s merging of Bengali and English is a narrative example of the his-torical intertwining of India and Britain that still exist during the neocolonial era. In his influential essay “Narrating the Nation,” Homi Bhabha connects a nation’s identity with its literature. Bhabha argues that historians can speak to the “origins” of a nation, but only those living within the nation can “inscribe a much more transitional social reality” (Bhabha 1). That idea places the work of creating a national identity on the citizen writers of a nation who can craft language to build the nation. While this can be represented as a freedom for colonized people to re-structure their nation through the stories they share, it also allows the colonizers to create alternative narra-tives about the nation and its people. This is demonstrated through the en-during presence of the British people, language and customs in “The Hunt.” Through the hybridity of English and Bengali, Devi is able to construct a piece that tells of both the tribal people att-empting to hold onto their traditions while a neocolonizing force creates new narratives for India through physical and linguistic changes. The ability English has to strip the region of its ori-ginal identity is shown in Spivak’s trans-lation, which preserves the original narrative and power struggle through retaining the “awkwardness” of the original 122 English words.[7] The terms appearing throughout “The Hunt” are a linguistic representation of the cultural and lifestyle changes the colonized people in Kuruda[8] have been forced to make due to the original British colonial influence as now sustained by neocolo-nial interests. Devi’s infusion of English words speaking to economic,[9] trans-portation,[10] entertainment,[11] and basic possessions[12] within the story create a greater narrative of the tribes being unable to go throughout each day with-out being in constant contact with colo-nial remnants.

The description of Kuruda’s land-scape is altered by 13 English words originally inserted by the British coloniz-ers’ technology and continued by neo-colonial groups such as Tehsildar and the lumber industry. Before the stories in Imaginary Maps begin, Devi addresses deforestation, one of the most signifi-cant issues she sees West Bengal tribes facing, and how her work attempts to bring the issues to light while also assisting the tribes in achieving equal civil liberties. She sees the logging industries as causing the tribes to “suffer… because the forests used to provide them with food, shelter, timber, hunting. But now that the forests are gone, the tribals are in dire distress” (Imaginary Maps ii). This impact of both foreign nations and India’s desire to gain West Bengal’s resources is appar-ent in the choice and frequency of English that Devi employs. Terms such as timber, timber planters, timber plant-ations, or timber trucks appear multiple times along with descriptions of the process of harvesting the region’s timber. The use of those terms along with Tehsildar’s job as a timber broker highlights the neocolonialism effects on Kuruda. The presence of contractors and workers from outside regions coming to the village to remove the land’s resources which will be sold to foreign countries is a physical manifest-ation of the English incursion. Before the first section break, the landscape is described using Bengali, but after Tehsi-ldar, the neocolonizer, enters, the piece leans more on English as the narrative action includes characters and move-ments unfamiliar to the village. In this way the logging industry implanted in the village, and recounted in English, is a tangible example of Devi’s concerns about the lingering effects of coloniza-tion and foreign countries not respect-ing or hearing the local tribes’ needs.

“Train” is worked throughout the piece most often, at fifteen times, to ex-plain the new connection to far away villages,[13] transporting resources such as coal or timber,[14] bringing colonizers to the region,[15] along with serving as a mechanism of power over the villages.[16] Within the first two pages of the piece, terminology including train(s), station, blasted, bus, truck, Christianity and aban-doned are used thirty-five times. Those thirty-five words have been woven into Kuruda’s culture and geography since the time of English colonization so that a “a bamboo thicket on a hill” cannot be described without mentioning “occasi-onally the bamboo bends in the wind and hits the train” (Imaginary Maps 1). Along with altering the geography of the area, the English terms used in the story have shifted the culture as the names would not be applicable nor even exist had English colonizers not imposed the changes onto the land. Devi’s italicize-tion acts as a visual metaphor for the neocolonialist effects on Bengali lang-uage. Consider the following two short paragraphs. The italicized, foreign, Eng-lish words, inserted in the text as replacements for Bengali to describe things unknown before their invasive transplantation, have literally begun to crowd out the native language.


Then the train descends and it gathers speed. Now the station is Tohri. The bus-iest station in this area. The junction of many bus routes. Tohri is also a coal halt. The train picked up coal. There are surface collieries all around. In these parts low-grade coal is to be found al-most above ground. But Tohri’s real benefactors are the timber brokers. It is a Sal growing area. Sal logs arrive night and day by truck

It is an experience to watch the train move on a hilltop from distant villages. The villagers see this every day, yet their amazement never ends. The train goes on, the engine gasps; now the ravine swallows the train. (Imaginary Maps 2)


Beyond the visual metaphor, one of the most important elements in the above excerpt occurs between the italics. With-in the infusion of colonial technology and desire for raw materials there is an image of villagers watching the process of trains loading and unloading throu-ghout the area without benefit from what is being taken from their land. While the image of watching villagers is not explicitly stated, Devi supports this as an important, and often overlooked, element to the narrative of extraction. Devi labels the people of West Bengal, and especially those within the areas being taken from, as “suffering specta-tors” within extraction process as West Bengal produces materials and goods for other countries but “receive[s] noth-ing” (Imaginary Maps ii). In this exchange the people of the region have lost their right to live, benefit from, or be sustain-ed by the forests and now are being forced by poverty to help the colonizer harvest the trees. The sense of “suffer-ing spectators” is echoed linguistically throughout this section as the process of the physical description forces the narrator to utilize the colonizer’s words, disrupting even the ways in which the narrator and the villagers process and explain their surroundings. The villagers are unable to use only their native language, in this instance Bengali, to describe their physical environment and daily activities as the presence of the colonizer has inserted foreign objects and customs that require descriptions only native to the colonizer. With lang-uage being the most intimate express-ion of identity, the use of italics allows the reader to experience the onslaught of otherness that Devi’s original Bengali text would have exhibited.

While critics such as Salgado and Mukherjee discredit Spivak’s translation of “The Hunt” and other stories for not acknowledging the prevalence of English language within Bengali conver-sation today, it is premature of those critics to push aside the language dev-elopment question of how English entered Bengali. Had the region not been the recipient of the colonizers’ technology, possessions, systems of government and religion and language, Bengali may not have been infused with English to such a large extent.  While a native speaking Bengali reader may understand the English that Devi emp-loyed, Spivak’s application of italics to distinguish the English words in the translation helps English speaking read-ers understand how English is meant to jump off the page, representing a pres-ence that is unnatural or inserted. Rem-oving the italics leads to native English readers seeing all words as equal when the italics represent the cultural clash between neocolonialism and Kuruda along with the nuanced ways Mary asserts her strength verbally, financially and physically.

That nuance is best demonstrat-ed with the shift from thirty-five italicize-ed words within the first two pages red-uced to just three words between pages four and five. The change coincides with Mary’s introduction and main descript-tion in the narrative. Within this section readers learn of Mary’s ingenuity with earning and saving money through sell-ing mahua from a tree she has protect-ed from other villagers supplemented with earnings from the housework she does for the Prasad house. The lack of italics speaks to Mary’s dominance with-in her village and how the heavy pres-ence of the colonizer has not overtaken her economic or social leadership. The three words used: cash, train, and lunch-es do represent colonial infusion or practices, in the case of lunches, but the minimal English usage is a continual cue to readers that Mary is not as easy to colonize as the landscape. Train and cash are both items that have impacted Mary’s life, but she is still able to control. She receives cash for selling mahua, but only after she claims her “right” to the fruit and ensuring that “no villager has been able to touch the fruit even in jest. Mary has instantly raised her machete. This is hers by right” (Imaginary Maps 4). There is also an important distinction in Devi using the work cash instead of rupees. The variation shows how cash has transformed the economy within the village and Mary’s own outlook on gaining a profit. Instead of earning rupees for her wedding, a personal and intimate act reflective on the village’s culture, she is focused on the more neutral cash for obtaining food, saris, soap and oil, items necessary for survi-val (5). The distinction represents the colonized continuation to apply their native term for money, rupees, for act-ivities or products they still value as en-abling continued participation in the important traditions—untouched by the original British colonization—while Eng-lish cash is used for daily goods.

Devi’s repeated use of “train” in the story serves as a concrete example of the narrative and Mary’s shift from the colonized taking in the colonizer’s actions to rebelling against the colo-nizer’s set role for the colonized people. Train is in close proximity to Mary throughout the piece from the sentence Mary is introduced in, to railway line in Mary’s last sentence. Without the italics drawing readers into each English word to notice the continuation of train, read-ers may not connect that trains literally and metaphorically bring Mary in and out of the story. The narrator asserts Mary “is a tribal” even though her father came on a train from England to work the timber plantations in Kuruda and “put Mary in Bhikini’s[17] womb before he left” (2). Devi does not hide the train’s direct impact on Mary’s coming into the world, but the placement of train throughout the story in proximity to Mary is a smaller note that could easily go unnoticed. Linking Mary to trains throughout the piece demonstrates how her control continues to grow as the narrative continues even though she is faced with similar obstacles as her mother. The narrative describes Mary’s life for three pages: Devi tells readers about Mary’s methods of earn-ing an income, her interactions with other people in the village, how she overcomes her identity as not fully in the Oraons class, her habits, and her abilities, “So goes Mary’s life.” Then in the last paragraph before the section break, Mary’s life is once again altered by a train: “Suddenly one day, stopping the train, Tehsildar Singh descends with Prasadji’s son, and Mary’s life is troub-led. A storm gathers in Kuruda’s quiet and impoverished existence” (6).

Mirroring Mary’s entrance, Teh-sildar is brought into the story via a train and immediately shifts the weight of the story with thirty-seven English words used over two-and-a-half pages to desc-ribe him and his tree felling exhibition in the area (6-8). The increase in English shows the dominance of the colonizer in the those few pages as Tehsildar works his sphere of the “felling mono-poly” (7). The English weaved into Tehsildar’s section works to increase his credibility as leader over the natural area and over the villages. Tehsildar begins negotiating prices for the quality of trees and how much his investment will pay off along with which trucks and manpower will be needed to complete the job (7-8). For two-and-a-half pages Mary is absent from the narrative until “Mary enters” and begins to recapture the narrative. This occurs immediately with a drop in English word count from fourteen to five as Mary physically enters a room and reclaims her space. While Tehsildar believes, “Mary can make his stay profitable in the other sense as well,” Mary tells Prasadji that Tehsildar has deceived him and taken the profits. The conversation between Prasadji and Mary demonstrates that while Tehsildar values Mary only for her beauty and disregards the other villa-gers due to their ignorance, Mary is able to overcome those images of the native placed on her and work within her sphere of influence to stop the corrupt-tion created by Tehsildar: “in return for the broker’s glance she had shrewdly revealed the man’s true nature to every-one” (9). In return for being objectified as a woman and believed that she could be taken advantage of as a colonized person, Mary is able to take some auth-ority away from Tehsildar through using her knowledge of the village to tell Pras-adji of the secret deal. The conservation only contains five English words, three of which are road, which further shows Mary reclaiming her place using Bengali and using English only when necessary to describe English constructions.

Though Mary has regained some confidence by not assuming the image Tehsildar places on her as the helpless colonized person, Mary does continue to lose power as the story progresses and Tehsildar makes sexual advances against her. However, members of the village rally around her to help her re-gain dominance over Tehsildar. Tehsil-dar’s persistence leads him to gift Mary a nylon sari which raises questions from Prasadji and other village elders. Mary rejects the gift telling Tehsildar, “You think I’m a city whore? You want to grab me with a sari? If you bother me again I’ll cut off your nose” (11). This snub, spoken all in Bengali, momentarily brushes aside Tehsildar until he quickly questions Mary’s status in the village. The village elders’ immediate silencing of Tehsildar makes him realize “he is in the minority, and the others are greater in number” which supports Mary’s grab for command of the situation even though Tehsildar “doesn’t give up chas-ing Mary” (11-12). Those small narrative moments along with the growing resist-ance Mary feels toward Tehsildar cul-minate in the final few pages of the story as Mary not only fully regains her power taken by Tehsildar, but begins to wield his language to exert control over Tehsildar and the situation he originally created.

The shift starts with Mary taking back her authority over decision making and the narrative initially seized by The-sildar at his entrance into the story. As the tree felling was ending, Tehsildar began to get nervous that he would have to leave before claiming Mary:


…Tehsildar caught her hand. He said, ‘I won’t let you go today.’

At first Mary was scared. Struggling she lost her machete. With great effort, after a good deal of struggling, Mary was able to spring out of his grasp. Both of them stood up. Tehsildar did not have his dark glasses on. Long sideburns, long hair, polyester trousers, pointed shoes, a dark red shirt on his back. Against the background of the spring songs Mary thought he was an animal. A-ni-mal. The syllables beat on her mind. Suddenly Mary smiled. (Imaginary Maps 13)


Initially Mary is gripped with fear when she realizes she has lost her weapon but regains command of the situation when she equates Tehsildar with the label “animal.” By giving Tehsildar a new description and name, Mary reverses the role of oppressor who places an assumed image onto the oppressed, instead assigning a new role to Tehsil-dar. By writing “animal” in Bengali, Devi is lending more control to Mary through Mary naming Tehsildar not with English but with her native language.[18] After reclaiming her dominance and shifting power to herself, Mary is able to escape her immediate fear and construct a plan to end Tehsildar’s pursuit. Mary achie-ves this by playing into the image Teh-sildar has constructed of her as the weak, innocent tribal woman that he must have before he leaves Kuruda. She goads him until he admits his deep desire for her and promises to lavish her with clothing and jewels. The scene closes with Mary, having set her trap for Tehsildar, patting his cheek and walking away from him knowing he “wouldn’t clasp her from behind a second time” (14). The confidence Mary exudes in touching Tehsildar then turning her back to him without worrying about being grabbed again shows her status has changed and she is now the one in control of the scene and overall situa-tion.

This is shown and continued with the decreasing amount of English appl-ied in the remaining nine pages of the story after Mary reenters. In the two-and-a-half pages in which Tehsildar is in control, there are roughly fifteen English words per page compared to four per page in Mary’s section. Aside from this numerical difference, Mary’s presence reclaims the narrative first through Bengali and eventually begins to rule over the situation even in English. The final scene of the piece includes fifteen English words with nine of them spoken by or narrated as thoughts by Mary. The uptick in English is not a sign of Mary succumbing to Tehsildar’s temptations and desires nor is it a breakdown of her village’s culture that leads her to exploit English. Instead, it is a conscious act of taking the English terms that had been harnessed to diminish her land and culture and turning them back against Tehsildar thereby allowing her to rectify a dangerous situation herself. The Eng-lish inserted in the last two pages serves as markers along Mary’s completed circle beginning with an authoritative village figure transitioning into a fright-ened colonized woman stripped of her agency and finally completing the journey to confident and commanding individual who can take away Tehsildar’s supremacy both metaphorically, by con-trolling the situation through language, and literally, by killing him.

The transitions begins when Mary enters her final conversation with Tehsildar, who speaks first. Unlike prev-ious conversations in which Tehsildar controlled Mary through his application of English, Tehsildar speaks only in Ben-gali while Mary employs English to de-mand action from Tehsildar, but literally and metaphorically discards the English terms once she has killed Tehsildar.


She noticed Tehsildar’s red shirt.

Imported liquor, cigarettes, Tehsildar.

– Come inside, dear.

– Where is inside? Inside you?

– Yes dear, yes.

– By the ravine. Behind the creeper.

– First have a drink?

– Why just a drink? Give me a cigarette.

– How does it taste?

– Great.

– Not so fast.

– I want to get drunk.

– How drunk?

– I want to get very drunk.

More booze. She’s getting drunk… The bottle rolls off. Into the depths of the ravine. Not even a sound. How deep is the ravine? Yes, the face is beginning to look like the hunted animal’s… Mary laughed and held him, laid on the ground. Tehsildar is laughing, Mary lifts the machete, lowers it, lifts, lowers…

With great deftness she takes the wallet from Tehsildar’s pocket. A lot of money. A lot of money. She undoes the fold in the cloth at her waist and puts the money with her own savings.

Then she throws Tehsildar in the ravine, his wallet, cigarettes, his handkerchief. Stone after stone. (Imaginary Maps 16-17)


While it appears that Tehsildar is lead-ing the conversation by initiating the encounter and dialogue, Mary’s relaxed state throughout the conversation and following murder sequence are all signs of her newly self-assured control. In previous meetings, Mary has appeared on edge and afraid of Tehsildar, but her casual use of English and maneuvering of Tehsildar in the scene as she sees him transforming from someone to fear into a hunted animal exemplifying her complete transformation to empowered character. By killing Tehsildar, she is physically removing his presence from the story along with some of the imm-ediate neocolonial effects he brought. Her final actions of taking his wallet and money then discarding his personal possessions into the ravine exhibit Mary reclaiming monetary funds to undo some of the damages Tehsildar caused as well as to literally discard the remn-ants of his foreign world. Devi’s use of English in this section communicates Mary’s metaphoric ability to shed Teh-sildar’s presence through Mary throw-ing the English named items, represent-ing neocolonial remnants, into the bottomless ravine. Mary’s final image of walking along the railway line toward her fiancé Jalim is another layer of her utilizing neocolonial items but capturing the power of choice of when to allow their influence in her life. The narration shifts to Mary’s thoughts of the future and traveling with Jalim to a larger city to be married and their impending journey on buses and trucks; however, Mary does not mention taking a train despite the narrative previously infor-ming readers a train travels throughout the area. While Mary is still partaking in parts of the colonizer’s imposed trans-portation systems, she does not use the train as its tracks outline the trail of opp-ression that affected both her and her mother most significantly. Mary’s final two acts of intentionally chosen rebell-ion are a powerful message and person-ifies her as the now authoritative chara-cter over Tehsildar. Her choices to dis-card Tehsildar’s body and possessions into the ravine, metaphorically and physically, allow West Bengal and Ben-gali to swallow the neocolonizer and begin the process of return to a state reflective of the time prior to outside influence and transformation. In add-ition, Mary’s intentional path of travel exiting along the railway line that origin-ally served as the conduit bringing her former oppressor into her world dem-onstrates her defiance against and newly claimed place of power over the neocolonizer as well as her reordered view to the future. ■

Works Cited

Bhabha, Homi K. Introduction. Introduction: narrating the nation, by Homi K. Bhabha, Nation and Narration, Routledge, 1990, pp. 1-7.

Devi, Mahasweta. Chotti Munda and His Arrow. Translated and Introduced by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Blackwell Publishing, 2002.

Devi, Mahasweta. Imaginary Maps. Translated and collected by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Thema Calcutta, 1993.

“Guru Gobind Singh.” BBC, 26 October 2009, sikhism/people/gobindsingh.shtml.

May, Rachel. The Translator in the Text: On Reading Russian Literature in English. Northwestern University Press, 1994.

Morton, Stephen. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Routledge, 2003.

Mukherjee, Sujit. “Mahasweta Devi’s Writings—An Evaluation.” Book Review, 15.3, 1991.

Nation, Language, and the Ethics of Translation. Edited by Sandra Bermann and Michael Wood, Princeton University Press, 2005.

Salgado, Minoli. “Tribal Stories, Scribal Worlds: Mahasweta Devi and the Unreliable Translator.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 35.1, 2000, 131-145.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Questioned On Translation: Adrift.” Public Culture, 13.1, 2001, 13-22.

Suleri, Sara. The rhetoric of English India. The University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Young, Robert J. C. Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction. Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2001.


[1] India’s fourth most populated state. The region was held by British rule beginning in the 18th century with the British East India Company’s success at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. During India’s independence from Britain in 1947, Ben-gal was divided into two separate areas: West Bengal, which remained a state of India, and East Bengal, a part of Pakistan which gained its own independence to become Bangladesh in 1971.

[2] “In the states of West Bengal and Bihar alone there are Oraons, Mundas, Santals, Lodhas, Kherias, Mahalis, Gonds, and more…” (Imaginary Maps i).

[3] Neocolonialism occurs after a colonizing country has removed itself politically, but rem-nants of the country’s, or other countries,’ economic and cultural influences and interests remain, sometimes called “the last stage of imperialism.”

[4] Devi’s female protagonist in “The Hunt.”

[5] During research, a version of “The Hunt” in Bengali was identified in attempt to examine this “awkward view.” The version was published in 1979, a probable reprint of the original text, did not contain English words. This discovery leads to the discussion of how Devi’s work has been reprinted and edited throughout India. Replacing the English words with Bengali may alter Devi’s original linguistic effects and desires. It also brings into question how this text should be read in English, with or without the added italics.

[6] Subaltern, a term used to define those outside of the social, political or geographical power structure, is often used by Spivak to examine characters and their relationship to power through actions and speech. This discussion could be applied to Mary’s relationship to and use of English but will not be examined in this paper. Spivak outlines her ideas around the subaltern in relation to Devi’s work in the Trans-lator’s Preface of Imaginary Maps.

[7] References to text come from original 1993 publication of Imaginary Maps. The 1995 reprint does not include italics.

[8] West Bengal village story is set in.

[9] References to the felling industry and the fruit selling business Mary establishes are throughout; cash, pg. 4

[10] Train, driver, truck, road, bus and railway line are used throughout

[11] Film, moving pictures and movies pg. 6

[12] Lunches, cigarettes, shirt, pants, wallet used throughout

[13] Pg. 2, first full paragraph

[14] Pg. 2, top of the page

[15] Pg. 6, paragraph before the section break

[16] Pg. 8, middle of the page

[17] Mary’s mother.

[18] This choice is multilayered as Tehsildar’s sur-name, Singh, is derived from the Sanskrit word for lion. Singh was taken on by the warrior caste throughout India’s history and adopted by the last of the ten Sikh gurus, Guru Gobind Singh who called his followers to be visible symbols of their faith by becoming trained warriors. This does not automatically distinguish Tehsildar as a Sikh, but does give more texture to his character and creates more tension in the flip in roles when Mary becomes the warrior in their relation-ship that is able to overcome his advances during the hunt to kill him.