Art of Hunger

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'A Hunger Artist' was written by Franz Kafka in 1924, describing the 'Art of Fasting'. Kafka begins the story, "In the last decades interest in hunger artists has declined considerably. Whereas in earlier days there was good money to be earned putting on major productions of this sort under one’s own management, nowadays that is totally impossible." The hunger artist had claimed that it was the easiest thing to fast. People came to watch the Hunger Artist in his cage, but the interest would fade in about forty days. In Kafka's story, the man was going hungry willingly.

 

We have hunger artists, in our part of the world, who also fast in public, in protest against social, religious or political issues. Though they start on a 'Fast unto Death', they give up or are forced to give up and only a very few die of hunger. There are also others who fast regularly according to their religious beliefs.

 

Today there are seven billion people around the world, children, women and men, who go hungry, not willingly, but because they do not have anything to eat. About ten million, most of them children, who are dying of hunger or hunger related diseases every year, that is about twenty people every minute.

 

"..it is the empty stomach that all sorts of incurable diseases find an easy prey." Rabindranath Tagore wrote in 'The Hungry Stones'.

 

Many other writers have dealt with hunger. The Nobel winner (1920) Knut Hamsun, in his first novel 'Hunger', wrote, "I was drunk with starvation; my hunger had made me tipsy." The young writer, without food for over three days, chewing on a fresh wood shaving, sees a vendor of cakes, "...the little table before her is sinfully full of nice things, and I turn away with distaste". Another day, in his hunger he starts sucking on his finger, and "Supposing I were to take a bite? And without a moment's hesitation, I shut my eyes, and clenched my teeth on it." But a few critics have seen this as a story about a self-imposed hunger, because of the young man's pride.

 

John Steinbeck, in 'The Grapes of Wrath' asks, "How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can't scare him--he has known a fear beyond every other." The story ends as Rose of Sharon, whose baby was dead, offers her breast to the old man dying of starvation.

"It is necessary to handle yourself better when you have to cut down on food so you will not get too much hunger-thinking. Hunger is good discipline and you learn from it......you could always go into the Luxembourg museum and all the paintings were sharpened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry. I learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry. " Ernest Hemingway, 'Hunger is Good Discipline,' A Moveable Feast.

 

There are over seven novels titled 'Hunger', in English or translated into English, starting with Hamsun's novel, and including the work by another Nobel winner(1988), Naguib Mahfouz. The most recent is Jackie Morse Kesseler's young-adult novel published in 2010.

 

'Hunger Games' and the sequels became so popular around the world because we have all become hungry ghosts, hungry for violence and sensuous pleasure in different shades.

 

Children who suffer from hunger, from the moment of birth, till the day they die, in infancy or in old age, may not know what hunger really is. They would believe that it is a normal condition, to feel the fire in their guts, that the feeble bodies of skin and bone is normal for all human beings. They are not concerned about the appearance or the taste of their food, or about sugar or cholesterol.

 

For the poor, who do not know when and where the next meal would come from, "Hunger is the worst disease, conditioned things the worst suffering. Knowing this as it really is, the wise realize Nibbana, the highest bliss." Dhammapada, 203. Once Buddha is said to have waited till a hungry man was fed, before preaching a sermon.

 

All religious leaders have commented on hunger. "And [if] thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness [be] as the noonday:" Isaiah 58:10

 

“He who sleeps on a full stomach whilst his neighbour goes hungry is not one of us.” (Prophet Muhammad)

Again in Genesis 1:29, we find, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food." No individual or political or business organization has a right to withhold this food from mankind. Every human being and every animal on earth should be free to have this food, without any controls or conditions. Yet ever since man became 'civilized', and he developed 'agriculture', the food shortages, starvation and eternal hunger for many people has being caused by man himself, and not by nature. Raymond Tallis, in his 2008 book 'Hunger' calls it "Starving amid other people's plenty".

 

In a way plants have been really more fortunate, they do not have to exert themselves to find food. W. H. Auden in 'Tonight at Seven Thirty' said "The life of plants/ is one continuous solitary meal,". Animals have to spend most of their life searching for food, and since man became a biped, he has been destroying most of the food sources, while hoarding what is left for the use of the selected few.

 

Whatever culinary and dining arts we may practice, let us also keep in mind that around the world over ONE BILLION human beings are going hungry today.

 

 

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