- Harshita Grover
“Hunger” is one of the most spectacular pieces written by Jayanta Mahapatra. Hunger depicts the tragic compulsions and blindness which poverty can impose upon human beings.
Hunger a mere need when capsizes and takes the shape of greed; uncovers itself leading to uncontrolled, ugly and negative happenings and consequences. The poem presents the life of a poor fisherman who in his ‘poverty-stricken’ state pushes his daughter into a dark and ugly business of prostitution against his conscience.
The ‘circumstantial deprivation’ made the fisherman lead a poverty-ridden life. The sole path whether right or wrong appeared in front of his eyes is to sell his daughter’s body so as to eke his livelihood. The opening stanza of the story juxtaposes the rift between ‘need’ and ‘desire’.
Every living organism is governed by stimuli (reaction). The narrator at that moment was driven by an urge for sexual gratification. The idea to quench his sexual thirst seemed as a heavy load onto his chest. This sexual desire in narrator was moved forward when fisherman said- Will you have her? The narrator could see poverty writ large on his bare-bones which seemed to thrash his eyes.
The hope for ‘sexual gratification’ was in his body almost burning with the itch. The fisherman was eager to take the narrator to his shack. The shack mirrors the dull and poor life of the fisherman.
The shack was dingy and dark; he opened it as one opens up a wound. For many days and nights, the narrator skin had been scratched by the palm leaves. As he entered the shack, the smoke of the oil lamp seemed to penetrate the mind of the narrator, as did its sticky soot. It reveals that the narrator was struck by a sense of guilt.
Given the bestial like sexual appetite in human beings to scratch out pleasure out of the innocent body resulted in putting the girl’s image in the imperialistic or commercial sense. The daughter was smashed into the dirty pit of prostitution when she turned fifteen. Fisherman asks the narrator to “feel his daughter”.
She had not even got physically and sexually mature. The girl’s body is ruthlessly objectified as a tool for pleasure and co-modified as a means to attain food. The girl suffered from malnourishment as her body was tall but lean. She had no warmth in her body. She felt as cold as a rubber. She was lying there as a bait to entice the customers. She opens her legs as if she were an automatic sex machine.
The narrator felt hunger in her too, but that hunger was solely meant to fill her belly with food; the hunger in narrator was purely sexual. The term- Hunger has been used in a dual sense. This Hunger as a mere need for basic requirements like food, clothes, shelter and sanitation is presented in opposition to greed for sexual pleasure, jewels, gems, wealth, power in human beings.