How Real Is Hunger?
Stories of a Disaster and Amr̥tlāl Nāgar’s Bhūkh
Keywords:hunger, Bengal Famine of 1943, disaster literature, disaster narrative, Amr̥tlāl Nāgar, Bhūkh, Hindi novel, authenticity in a novel, violent death
The present paper looks at a fictional account of the Bengal famine of 1943 in order to locate relevant historical information regarding a specific period of time (Chatterjee 2014) and identify elements that would allow it to be read as an example of the ‘prose of the world’ in Ranajit Guha’s understanding of the term (Guha 2002). The narrative of Amr̥tlāl Nāgar’s Bhūkh is framed through author’s recourse to his own experience, artistic and historical research, lived emotions and personal feeling of urgency to record the event. By repeatedly raising the claim of authenticity of his testimonial, Nāgar unwittingly draws us into an investigation of his relationship with the main narrator and the protagonist of his work. This, in turn, reveals the absence of clarity on the part of the author—he seems in two minds when discussing the role of the elites in making of the famine and is unable to either criticise or justify their failure to act. Further, the paper investigates social reality presented in the novel; the naturalistic, progressive aesthetics used in the description of the embodied violence of hunger; and the portrayal of the protagonist whose vantage point makes the story significantly detached from the ‘masses’ depicted variously as insects or savages, driven by hunger and hunger only. Principal focaliser’s upper-caste perspective allows him to feel superior to the less fortunate ‘skeletons’ and ultimately justify his survival by saving a seemingly upper cast infant, the action understood by him as equal to saving the entire human race. However, to my mind, the reality of hunger presented by the protagonist is conventional, self-centred, and lacks in-depth social criticism.
Arnold, D. 1988. Famine: Social Crisis and Historical Change. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Bhatia, B. M. 1991. Famines in India: A Study in Some Aspects of the Economic History of India with Special Reference to Food Problem, 1860–1990. Delhi: Konark Publishers.
Bhattacharya, S. 2020. Postcolonial Modernity and Indian Novel: On Catastrophic Realism. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-37397-9.
Caube, D. 2016. Kathākār amr̥ tlāl nāgar. Śahar kī samskr̥ ti aur itihās ke kuch savāl. Dillī: Kitāb Ghar.
Chatterjee, C. (ed.). 2014. Literature as History: From Early to Post-Colonial Times. Delhi: Primus Books.
Conte, G. B. 1986. Genres and Readers: Lucretius, Love Elegy, Pliny’s Encyclopedia.
Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Coppola, C. (ed.). 1988. Marxist Influence and South Asian Literature. Delhi: Chanakya Publications.
Dalmia, V. 2017. Fiction as History: The Novel and the City in Modern North India. New Delhi: Permanent Black.
Drèze, J. and A. Sen (eds.). 2007. The Political Economy of Hunger, 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Friend, C. 1969. Short Stories of Yashpal: Author and Patriot. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. https://doi.org/10.9783/9781512802016.
Ghosh, K. C. 1944. Famines in Bengal, 1770–1943. Calcutta: Indian Associated Publishing.
Greenough, P. R. 1982. Prosperity and Misery in Modern Bengal: The Famine of 1943–1944. New York: Oxford University Press.
Guha, R. 2002. History at the Limit of World-History. New York: Columbia University Press.
Kelleher, M. 1997. The Feminization of Famine. Cork: Cork University Press.
Kurowska, J. 2020. Feeding on Abjects: ‘Symbolic’ Cooking and Consuming of Dead Bodies in the Modern Hindi Novel. In: Zeitschrift für Indologie und Südasienstudien, 37: 26–58.
Madhureś. 2008. Hindī upanyās kā vikās. Ilāhābād: Lokbhāratī prakāśan.
Mishra, R. D. 1983. Modern Hindi Fiction. Delhi: Bansal & Co.
Mukherjee, J. 2015. Hungry Bengal: War, Famine and the End of Empire.
Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190209889.001.0001.
Mukherjee, M. 2010. Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II. New York: Basic Books.
Nagar, A. 1990. Hunger: A Novel. Tr. by S. Jag Mohan, New York: Facet Books International.
Nāgar, A. 2012. Bhūkh. Dillī: Rājpāl eṇḍ sanz.
Nāgar, A. 2016. Bū̃d aur samudr: samsmaraṇ. In: B. Sāhnī et al. (eds.). Ᾱdhunik hindī upanyās 1. Dillī: Rājkamal prakāśan: 94–99.
Nāgar, Ś. 1991a. Śarat ke sāth bitāyā kuch samay. In: Jinke sāth jiyā. amr̥ tlāl nāgar. racnāvalī, 12. Dillī: Rājpal eṇḍ sanz: 7–10.
Nāgar, Ś. 1991b. Yaśpāl ‘baṛā ṭhos ādmī hai.’ In: Jinke sāth jiyā. amr̥ tlāl nāgar. racnāvalī, 12. Dillī: Rājpal eṇḍ sanz: 65–68.
Nāgar, Ś. 1991c. Yaśpāljī: kuch smr̥tiyā̃. In: Jinke sāth jiyā. amr̥ tlāl nāgar. racnāvalī, 12. Dillī: Rājpal eṇḍ sanz: 69–73.
Nāgar, Ś. 1992. Pragatiśīl lekhak saṅgh kī yādẽ. In: Tukṛe-tukṛe dāstān. amr̥ tlāl nāgar. racnāvalī, 10. Dillī: Rājpal eṇḍ sanz: 98–101.
Padma V. 2009. Fiction as Window: Critiquing the Indian Literary Cultural Ethos since the 1980s. Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan.
Rāy, G. 2005. Hindī upanyās kā itihās. Naī Dillī: Rājkamal prakāśan.
Śarmā, R. 1992. Bhūmikā. In: Ś. Nāgar (ed.). Jinke sāth jiyā. amr̥ tlāl nāgar. racnāvalī, 1. Dillī: Rājpal eṇḍ sanz: 9–47.
Sen, A. 1981. Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Enlightenment and Deprivation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Śukla, Ś. 1994. Amr̥ tlāl nāgar. Naī Dillī: Sāhitya Akādemī.
Tivārī, R. 2006. Hindī upanyās. Vārāṇasī: Viśvavidyālay prakāśan.
How to Cite
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.