Hunger By Jayanta Mahapatra [Analysis]

Hunger by Jayanta Mahapatra Poem Analysis
The Hands By Edvard Munch (Circa: 1893)
Hunger by Jayanta Mahapatra is one of the darkest, dreadful, and daring poems I have read in recent times. Originally published in 1976 as the part of the poem collection, A Rain of Rites, Hunger established Mahapatra as one of the superstar poets in the Indian English literature world. The poem explores the themes of the sex trade, poverty, and emotional vacuum. In Mahapatra's own word, "In “Hunger” I was writing from experience." But, he never commented, whether the protagonist was he, himself, or somebody else.

The twenty-one line poem or rather say twenty-one line story has three characters: the narrator, the old fisherman, and his young daughter. Moreover, like a good short story, Mahapatra does not spend many words, and introduce the themes straight away: "It was hard to believe the flesh was heavy on my back./ The fisherman said: Will you have her, carelessly."

The fisherman is ready to let the narrator have sex with his fifteen-year-old daughter in exchange of few rupees. Though the real tragedy does not lie in the transaction but in the casual acceptance of the transaction. How easily, the fisherman said: "My daughter, she's just turned fifteen…/Feel her." and how unaffectedly, "She opened her wormy legs wide."

Whereas, the narrator deprived of the emotional support, i.e., love, and womanly warmth, despite his aversion, have sex with the young girl. But it is then he "felt the hunger there,/ the other one, the fish slithering, turning inside."

Hunger talks about the three types of hunger and how they feed on each other. The first hunger is of food, the second is of sex, and the third is of emotions. The fisherman and his girl were poor and in order to kill their hunger of food, father sold his daughter to satiate the hunger of the narrator (society).

On another hand, the narrator was deprived of emotional support, so he stooped down to buy the flesh (or warmth) of a young girl. But in the end, he realized the hunger of young girl is much greater than the hunger of his. But, in the real world, nobody thinks in that way, and they lust after the flesh of the young girl. They (and might the narrator, himself) come back to feed on the hunger of the girl.

The poem is an unapologetic commentary on our society, i.e., how a girl of fifteen, who should be given a safe environment to live, is used for satiate the hunger of so-called moralistic, heartful, civilized society.

Read Hunger by Jayanta Mahapatra here on Poem Hunter.

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