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Hunger: Mahapatra

Hunger by Jayanta Mahapatra
Article by Bijay Kant Dubey

Hunger is one of the thoughtful poems ever written by Jayanta Mahapatara who is not merely an imagist, but a realist, a feminist, a modernist, a post-modernist and what not apart from being a nihilist, an existentialist and an iconoclast. Photography is his hidden love. Light and darkness the shades of his delving and he interprets in the form of creational sunrays falling and retreating so the images of life a study in silhouettes and shadows as seen through and opined. Poems come to him as photo-negatives to be washed for images . Nothing is what it seems to be and what seems to be is nothing.

A poet whose subject is physics here describes in what it has been left untouched. Flesh trade and woman trafficking is the point of deliberation. How the situations of life, impoverished circumstances force one to be at the crossroads of life? The small fisher girl is the mute artist of the poem whereas there lie in some main protagonists. The father and the customer, their indirect exchanges add to the poem and make it gloomier. A woman’s life, who knows it, what it in her palm lines? Where was she born, where will she go away? The crisscrosses of her fate-lines, who to foretell and predict it?

Though the poem is of a confessional slant, we are not sure of who the unknown listener is in the poem with whom the fisherman is talking for an exchange of money for body business. A poem of human lust and hunger, carnal desire and affection, it bears out from his within with a view to possessing the body and satisfying the voluptuous greed. The weight of the flesh he could not resist it. The fisherman just by the way asked him if he liked to have her trailing the nets which a father should not have, but did he did as for making a livelihood with so much of struggles and suffering.

The writerly protagonist followed him across the sprawling sands and his mind was engrossed in the flesh’s desires and inclinations. When enquired about the ride or adventure, he actually wished to be with and it culminated finally.

In the third stanza of the poem, the poet grows philosophical taking liberties with the language and escapades. He analyzes differently turning the persona impractical, holding it not responsible for, personifying. He tells of the poor shanty of the fisher man by the sea side made from haystacks, palm leaves and so on.

In the last stanza, he relishes upon, enjoys the physical contact. A small girl was offered to and she gave in. The father went away to appear again. The sky seemed to be scrambling, fell upon with the deal struck down.

The poem Hunger reminds us so many things, the life of the poor fisher men facing the furies of the sea, risking the life going to strike down in the sea. Even when the winds keep sighing by, foams and waves keep surging, they go down to fling the net and draw. Hunger as a poem reminds us of the flesh trade. J.M.Synge’s Riders to the Sea too is very much like it though the context may be different.

Hunger as a poem mesmerizes human hunger with the hunger of flesh. Why do people go to flesh trade? The human belly is at the root of all evils. The lust for the body too has not left behind man since the temptation and Adam and Eve and the resultant fall from heaven.

What is most painful is this that the silent sufferer of the poem is the fisher girl, a teenager of just fifteen. She is not the speaker of the poem. The writer and the fisher man are themselves the spokesmen, speakers of the poem striking a deal.

Jayanta Mahapatra as a poet too is sexual, not at all free sexual lust and greed. In Calcutta too he fails not to see the whorehouse and its billboards with the posters of the beauties dressing behind the curtain of the theatre.

Hunger is a poem of bodily lust, sexual gratification and voluptuous desire; possessive love, give and take relationship, love and hate theme, attraction and repulsion story. Man-woman relationship is the theme of the poem. It is better if we see the terracotta plates of the temples showing erotic love through ancient art.

Hunger by Jayanta Mahapatra
It was hard to believe the flesh was heavy on my back.
The fisherman said: Will you have her, carelessly,
trailing his nets and his nerves, as though his words
sanctified the purpose with which he faced himself.
I saw his white bone thrash his eyes.

I followed him across the sprawling sands,
my mind thumping in the flesh's sling.
Hope lay perhaps in burning the house I lived in.
Silence gripped my sleeves; his body clawed at the froth
his old nets had only dragged up from the seas.

In the flickering dark his lean-to opened like a wound.
The wind was I, and the days and nights before.
Palm fronds scratched my skin. Inside the shack
an oil lamp splayed the hours bunched to those walls.
Over and over the sticky soot crossed the space of my mind.

I heard him say: My daughter, she's just turned fifteen...
Feel her. I'll be back soon, your bus leaves at nine.
The sky fell on me, and a father's exhausted wile.
Long and lean, her years were cold as rubber.
She opened her wormy legs wide. I felt the hunger there,
the other one, the fish slithering, turning inside.

One cannot admonish the poet’s love for sexuality as he refers to here and there very often and the flesh is heavy upon him. Jayanta as a poet is very intriguing and loves to play with words. He dusts the blackboard in such a way that one can never catch him red-handed. The twitches of the body and intricacies of human relationships have never left him and he loves to portray them. Sexual tirades and escapades have not left Jayanta and Pritsh behind as they love make a detour of sexuality.


When we read the poem, the images of the Thai and Ukrainian girls engaged in flesh trade come to the purview. Where have we reached? How poverty and modernity have taken a toll upon? For livelihood what can a man not do? Secondly, this human life too is very complex to be understood, the intricacies of our relationships. There are the words referring to carnal desire strongly.

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