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Hunger poem by Jayanta Mahapatra is about the idea of hunger that at the beginning of the poem is that of sex and sexual desire but in the end, transforms into the hunger of stomach that leads the people to do anything.
The poem consists of 4 stanzas having 5 lines each. There is no set rhyme scheme. The poet uses a number of literary devices to describe the events that led from one hunger (sexual) to the other (physical).
The poet begins with the words It was hard to believe the flesh was heavy on my back. In the first reading, we may think that the poet has a heavy load or luggage on his back. However, the phrase hard to believe refers to something that is deep and profound.
The poet here says that he couldn’t believe that he had strong sexual desires at that time and was striving for sex which he couldn’t believe. In the next line, we come to know that he is on a boat with a fisherman who says to him, “Will you have her”.
Her here refers to the daughter of the fisherman whom he offers to the poet to have sex with her. It is quite strange and impossible as no father ever offers his daughter to strangers for quenching their sexual thirst.
While asking, the fisherman seems to be carelessly trailing his nets. But he was in no way careless. His nerves were stretch and white bone thrashing his eyes meaning that he was quite curious for the poet to say yes as he and his daughter have nothing to eat and are striving for food.
Thus he offers his daughter to the poet so that the latter may quench his sexual hunger while the former two may quench their physical hunger. Note that his daughter’s consent is not taken. It is not clear whether she wants to have sex or not.
The poet then followed him across the sprawling (spread) sands. His mind was thumping in the flesh’s sling meaning that the poet’s mind was throbbing and his skin was trying to support it like a sling or the bandage used for supporting a broken arm.
The poet thought that his sin will be forgiven by burning the house that he lived in. The line shows that the poet was feeling quite guilty because of what he was going to do out of sexual desire.
Then the silence of the poet was grabbing him and it seemed that the silence has gripped his sleeves. It was perhaps his nerves that were stretching. The fisherman looked at his old nets which had caught nothing but the foam from the sea.
This last phrase can be attributed to the poet as well if we go deeper into its meaning. The poet imagines as if he had gathered nothing but sin by his sexual desires.
The reached the fisherman’s hut which was quite dark and opened like a wound. This phrase depicts the worst condition of their hut because of poverty. The wind here symbolizes storm which was going into in the mind of the poet. Days and Nights means that it was happening all the time without stopping.
While entering the hut, the leaves of the palm tree were scratching his skin. In the metaphorical sense, they were stopping the poet from committing the sin. Inside the roughly built hut, the oil lamp had confined and fastened the hours to the wall.
It probably means that the time has been stopped in the hut. There is no day, but only the night. The night is not only in physical terms but also in the metaphorical sense because there is the darkness of sorrows over the fisherman and his daughter.
The smoke coming from the lamp was filling his mind and he was feeling either dreamy or helpless.
The poet hears the fisherman says, “My daughter, she’s just turned fifteen…Feel her. I’ll be back soon, your bus leaves at nine“. Fifteen is the age when a girl is it her charm. Feel her means quench your sexual hunger by having sex with her.
I‘ll back mean that the poet is now free to do with his daughter whatever he desires. The poverty and extreme hunger make the fisherman pimp his own daughter in exchange for some money or food.
The way fisherman persuades the poet to have sex with his own daughter makes the poet feel as if the sky has fallen on him. The poet finds the girl who is young but malnutrioned due to poverty. Seeing the poet, she opens her worm-like legs(as she is very weak and young) for the poet to make her his sex slave.
At this stage, the poet knows for the first time about the other hunger that is opposite of his sexual hunger and which comes from an empty stomach (fish slithering, turning inside depicts the churning movement that happens inside the stomach when we feel hungry).
The poet discusses hunger in his other poem Freedom as well.