Hunger by Jayanta Mahapatra

Introduction: Jayanta Mahapatra was born in the year 1928 in Cuttack (Orissa). He lives in Orissa and most of his poem reflects his experiences there. He has published ten volumes of verse in English and two volumes of international joHungerurnals and magazines. His ten volumes of Poetry are – Close the sky, Ten by Ten (1971), Svayamavara and other Poems (1971), A Father’s Hours (1976), A Rain of Rites (1976), Waiting (1979). The False Start (1980), Relationship (1982), Life Signs (1983), Dispossessed Nests (1986) and Burden of Waves and Fruit (1986).

Jayant Mahapatra’s poems explore the influence of local realities in creating the depth of one’s feeling and sensitivity. ‘Hunger’ is a poem about the degraded condition of people who live below the poverty line. The poem explores the degradation of humanity in poverty when the next meal is doubtful. Hunger can make one compromise on moral values, human relationships and companionship. This is the underlying lesson of the poem.

Summary Of Hunger

Mahapatra has written many poems on the themes of poverty, hunger, starvation, sexual exploitation and male bestiality. Jayanta Mahapatra’s poem Hunger is a well-known poem written on a unique theme. The poem speaks clearly of the need for food and the appetite for flesh and sex, both animal desires. It reveals the plight of a fisherman who can’t make the two ends meet. We can feel the father’s pain and anguish vividly. The poignancy of the situation is that Hunger imposes tragic compulsions – a poor father kills his conscience and attracts clients to his daughter, who has become a prostitute. This poem is a description of the plight of the fisherman.

The speaker was not able to believe when the fisherman offers his daughter to him. He seems to be careless and inhuman. The speaker is having physical hunger. Fisherman requires money, due to which he invites the young man to make the use of his daughter. He was taking back his net. He also seemed to be very lean and weak.

The speaker followed the fisherman across the sprawling sand. He was eager to satisfy his physical hunger. He was full of hopes. The fisherman moved forward dragging his old nets. The shack of the fisherman was very small with a sloping roof. It rested on the wall of another building. The shack seemed like a wound, filthy and hurting. As the speaker entered the shack he was shocked to see the poor condition of the fisherman and his daughter. A small oil lamp was lighted. It showed the inner wall.

The filthy interior of the shack disturbed his mind. While he was observing the realities of their life, he heard the fisherman saying that she is just fifteen years old, use her. He will come back after sometime. He reminded the speaker that his bus was at 9 O’clock. The poet wants to tell that the father of the girl is caring for him but not for his daughter. The speaker felt as if the sky fell on him and the father has lost his sense.

The girl was long and lean. She was as if lifeless and senseless. The hunger of the speaker went away after observing the pitiful condition of the girl, the shack and their life. She was like a fish caught in the net and about to die.

Questions and Answers

Question.1. Where does the speaker meet the fisherman at the beginning of the poem?

Ans. The speaker met the fisherman at the seashore. The speaker could not believe when the fisherman carelessly offered his daughter. He spoke as if he was not at all wrong; he took the speaker to the shack where he lived with his daughter. The shack brought forward their poverty.

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Question.2. Picturise the fisherman and his daily life, as evident in the poem. Take the help of the phrases and words from the poem.

Ans. The fisherman in the poem ‘Hunger’ is a very poor man. He makes both the ends meet with much difficulty. He goes to the sea daily and catches fishes for his livelihood. But he is not able to fulfil the needs of his family. Every day he drags hid old net and lives a very miserable life. His body was so weak that his white bones thrash his eyes. His body clawed the old nets with much difficulty. The poet found his shack in a very bad condition. It was the symbol of his poverty.

Question.3. Describe the setting and background of the poem.

Ans. The setting and the background of the poem is sea-shore. The poet meets the fisherman on this sea-shore. Then the poet follows the fisherman across the sprawling sands. The fisherman has just come out of the sea and he could hardly find any fish. His physical appearance shows his utter poverty. He takes the poet toward his shack. The poet has very well described the shack which symbolizes the poverty of the fisherman, which compelled him to sell his daughter.

Question.4. Why is the daughter compared to rubber? Is she compared to anything else in the poem? Why?

Ans. The daughter in the poem is that of a very poor fisherman. Poverty has made her father stone-hearted. So he compels her to the tragedy. Whatever she does in the poem is just under compulsion. She is only fifteen years old. Therefore the poet has compared her to rubber. The cold rubber denotes lifelessness and senselessness. She follows the instructions of her father, but without any emotions. In the poem, the girl is also compared to a fish. Her condition is like a fish caught in the net and she could only slide unsteadily.

Question.5. What has compelled the fisherman to make his daughter sell her body? Does the title of the poem have any relevance to this? If so, what is the relevance?

Ans. The fisherman is a very poor man. He is so poor that his next meal is doubtful. He could not fulfil the needs of his family. These all conditions compelled the fisherman to make his daughter to sell her body. This is very tragic. No father could act in this way. He has lost all his moral values.

The title of the poem is very suitable. The cause of the tragedy is ‘Hunger’. The ‘Hunger’ is both of stomach and body. This hunger compels to compromise our values and ethos. The speaker is compelled by his hunger of body and the fisherman and his daughter are compelled by hunger of their stomach.

EXTRA QUESTIONS

Q.1 What is the theme of the poem “hunger”?Discuss in detail.

Ans: JayantMahapatra’s poems explore the influence of local realities in creating the depth of one’s feeling and sensitivity. ‘Hunger’ is a poem about the degraded condition of people who live below the poverty line. The poem explores the degradation of humanity in poverty when the next meal is doubtful. Hunger can make one compromise on moral values, human relationships and companionship. This is the underlying lesson of the poem.

The fisherman in the poem ‘Hunger’ is a very poor man. He makes both the ends meet with much difficulty. He goes to the sea daily and catches fishes for his livelihood. But he is not able to fulfil the needs of his family. Every day he drags hid old net and lives a very miserable life. His body was so weak that his white bones thrash his eyes. These all conditions compelled the fisherman to make his daughter to sell her body. This is very tragic. No father could act in this way. He has lost all his moral values.

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The title of the poem is very suitable. The cause of the tragedy is ‘Hunger’. The ‘Hunger’ is both of stomach and body. This hunger compels to compromise our values and ethos. The speaker is compelled by his hunger of body and the fisherman and his daughter are compelled by hunger of their stomach.

Q. Write a short note on the dialogue between the Fisherman and the Speaker.

Ans. The speaker met the fisherman at the seashore. The speaker could not believe when the fisherman carelessly offered his daughter. He spoke as if he was not at all wrong. His words, as if, sanctified his poverty-ridden life. He took the speaker to the shack where he lived with his daughter. The shack brought forward their poverty. As they entered the shack the speaker heard him saying that his daughter is just fifteen. He carelessly told him to use her, as if his heart has turned to stone. He said that he will be back soon and reminded the speaker that his bus leaves at nine. The poet has brought forth the bitter reality that the father is not concerned with the agony of his daughter. He is concerned about the bus of the speaker.

QUESTIONS OF THE ORPHAN GIRL

1. How was the hair of the orphan girl?
Answer: The hair of the orphan girl was as black as the raven’s wings.

2. How was her cheek?
Answer: The cheeks of the orphan girl had the hue of tulip flower on them.

3. To what was the voice of the girl compared? How was her voice?
Answer: The voice of the girl was compared to the singing of night’s wind. Her voice was as soft as the sound of the night’s wind.

4. How were the eyebrows of the girl?
Answer: The girl’s eyebrows had the beauty of moonbeam.

5. “And left her infant parentless”—How did the girl become an orphan/ parentless
Answer: The girl’s father died on the battlefield and her mother died grief-stricken. So, she became an orphan.

6. Who was the father of the girl? / How did her father die?
Answer: The girl’s father was a soldier who died on the battlefield.

7. How did her mother die?
Answer: The girl’s mother died grief-stricken not enduring the widow’s part due to her husband’s death on the battlefield.

8. What is the guerdon/ prize of the brave on the battlefield?
Answer: The soldier who shows bravery in the battlefield, gets a glorious grave and it is his guerdon.

9. “She sunk beneath her soul’s distress
And left her infant parentless.”—Who sunk beneath her soul’s distress and why?
Answer: The girl’s mother mentioned in the poem The Orphan Girl sunk beneath her soul’s distress because her husband died on the battlefield.

10. “……………. Oh she seemed
Marked for many woes in this unpitying world!
Poor Friendless wanderer”—About whom was this remark made? Why was the world unpitying to her? Why was she a “friendless wanderer”?
Answer: This remark was made about a girl who became orphan at a very early age. The world seemed unpitying to the orphan girl because after her parents’ death nobody gave her shelter, nobody helped her, even spoke to her.No man gave the orphan girl shelter, food as a friend. So she became a friendless wanderer.

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11. How was the world/ earth to the orphan girl?
Answer: The world/ earth seemed to the orphan girl unpitying, cold, bleak and a desert.

12. Why did the world/ earth seem unpitying, cold, bleak and a desert to the girl?
Answer: After her parents’ death, nobody gave her shelter, nobody helped her, even spoke to her. So, the world/ earth seemed unpitying, cold, bleak and a desert to the girl.

13. “Through life’s dreary desert alone she must wend”—About whom has this remark been made? Why does life seem like a dreary desert? Why must she wend her life alone?
Answer: This remark has been made about an orphan girl in the poem The Orphan Girl. The life seems like a dreary desert to her because after her parents’ death, nobody gives her shelter, nobody helped her, even spoke to her and so she must wend her life alone.

14. “For alas! the wretched have never a friend!”—Who is the wretched person here and why?
Answer: In the poem The Orphan Girl by Derozio, an orphan girl is a wretched person here because according to the poet, one who becomes parentless, never gets a friend to help her, to give her shelter or even to speak to her.

15. “And should she stray from virtue’s way”—About whom was this remark made? Why should she stray from virtue’s way?
Answer: This remark has been made about an orphan girl in the poem The Orphan Girl by Derozio.

After her parents’ death, no friend came ahead to give her shelter, food, even to speak to her. So the poet thought that the girl might stray from her virtue’s way to earn her livelihood.

16. What is meant by “stray from virtue’s way”?
Answer: “Stray from virtue’s way” means doing something illegal i.e. prostitution to earn livelihood when the little girl became parentless and none gave her shelter, food.

17. “The world will scorn”—Whom will the world scorn and why? What will happen if the world scorns her?
Answer: The world will scorn the orphan girl if she strays from her virtue’s way to earn her livelihood. If the world scorns her, she will die of pain and shame.

18. “Ah! Shame hath enough to wring the breast With a weight of sorrow and guilt oppressed”—Who had enough shame to wring her breast? Explain.

Answer: An orphan girl mentioned in the poem The Orphan Girl by Derozio, had enough shame to wring her breast.

When getting parentless, nobody came ahead to the girl with helping hand to give her a shelter, warmth, food, the girl could not stray from her virtue’s way to earn livelihood because she enough shame to pain her heart. It would also feel her sorrow and guilt.

19. “No tear is so bright………………”—Why is the tear so bright?
Answer: When a woman gets limitless pain and nobody pities her pain, her tears on her cheeks become very bright. Here such condition of an orphan girl is described in the poem The Orphan Girl by Derozio.

20. “And blest be forever his honoured name”—Whose name will be blessed forever with honour? / What message does the poet convey at the very end of the poem?
Answer: Who will give the orphan girl a shelter in her misery and who will recover her sorrow and shame, his name will be blessed with honour forever.

21. What will happen if anyone gives the orphan girl a shelter?
Answer: If anyone shelters the orphan girl in her misery, his name will be blessed with honour forever.

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