Rise of a hungry panther with reference to Franz Kafka’s ‘A Hunger Artist’

Muhammad Kamruzzamann | Published: 21:05, May 13,2020 | Updated: 16:28, May 14,2020


If we had a vision, then things could have been different; our fights could have different. Instead of fighting for food, we would have been fighting for a better living condition, healthcare and education. Muhammad Kamruzzamann narrates his experience of the current situation in reference to Franz Kafka and Rafik Azad

A hungry panther

THE hunger artist is dead, buried as well. Now, in his cage, a young panther is kept who, unlike the hunger artist, seems to enjoy food. But we are here to imagine a time when the food supply is limited and the panther is caged not behind bars but in a cage of rules and restrictions because the panther is considered to be trained and civilised.

The hunger artist is dead, buried as well. Left is a young panther who is caged since March 26 and his resources are about to be finished or already finished. But he is caged. And he is hungry too.

Etherised, the whole world is, due to the pandemic outbreak of COVID-19. Etherised, the young panther is. But the question is, how long Bangladesh can supply with necessities and continue the anaesthetic condition of the panther? As soon as the supply is over, the panther would turn all conscious of his appetite. Because to be etherised does not mean that the panther is going to have no pain to remember after.

However, the young panther has nothing in common with Franz Kafka’s description of the hunger artist. The hunger artist is not conscious of food and all that. He has been all concerned about fasting because he ‘couldn't find a food which [he] enjoyed’. And, significantly, he is dead too. But the young panther enjoys food. If the panther -- who is only restrained by rules -- becomes conscious of food and, at the same time, denies acting etherised -- what would be the possible consequences waiting for Bangladesh?

Hypothetically, this is going to be tough to answer the question, who are going to be the victims of the claws of millions of non-etherised and appetite-driven panthers? The panther might even end up eating everything -- from the crown of the circus-master to the stick of the security-guards. Who knows? Hunger is much more severe than COVID-19. So, the panther is.

An exposed bubble

TIMELESSLY, we talked of development, per capita income, GDP, developing to a developed country, this index, that award, economic stability, self-sufficiency, role model, satellite, nuclear energy and whatnot. But a month of unexpected lockdown proved all the big mouths wrong as well as all the statistics absurd.

Because, from the very beginning, we have failed to ensure that no one gets deprived of two of the very basic needs––food and healthcare, though, from time to time, the spokespersons of the state claimed that they are all ready and there is nothing to be worried about. And here we are with a proudly failed system that could not ensure a safe and a tension-free quarantine for all. Apart from all these, the list of 12.5 lakh families is not finished yet though it’s been almost two weeks since the government has suspended its open market rice sale at Tk 10 per kilogram. And no one would be surprised if it takes two more weeks to finalise the list and two more to plan how to distribute the food with some awfully corrupted distributing teams and channels.

‘Bhaat De Haramjada’

RAFIK Azad’s ‘Bhaat De Haramjada’ (ভাত দে হারামজাদা) -- though composed back in the famine of 1974 -- still looks contemporary and relatable. because of its stand against all-devouring capitalism. The poem speaks for ravenous people and still has its significance because it talks of food, the most basic need of any living organism.

Unfortunately, a game of ping-pong is being played: government and businessmen are players and, of course, commoners being the ping-pong ball. They are playing deliberately with the lives of millions of people. Who would take responsibility if things turn horrific?

Desperate workers have nothing in their hands. They are the puppets in the hands of the manufacturers, and so the state is too. The government knows that workers’ return to industries may turn suicidal but both, government and workers, seem helpless because none of them controls economy but businessmen do. If a worker dies, there are thousands ready to die for food. But the business has to live for the sake of business. Whether commoners’ lives are in danger because of COVID-19 or hunger, the economy has to run for the sake of the economy. And the state has to be on the side of the economy for the sake of governing.

To be able to talk, write, share as well as criticise remind me that I am also one of them who are privileged. And because of that, I can choose to talk about people who can talk but no one listens to them. However, the question is, does my voice convey their messages? The answer is probably ‘no’ because the life and the problem they lead and face every day are totally different from mine. And when their MPs don’t speak for their people, how can I claim that I can do so? Whether during the famine of 1974 or the lockdown of 2020, no one really gives a damn of the commoners because they are nothing but ‘the bewildered herd’, the spectators.

Finally, according to Noam Chomsky, in a ‘spectator democracy’, the majority of the population does not participate actively in the process of thinking, planning, and understanding the common interests. How could a population, a hungry population, with no guarantee of food, participate actively in the process of thinking, planning, and understanding the common interests? It sounds impossible.

However, Azad’s poem ends with ‘ভাত দে হারামজাদা,/তা না হলে মানচিত্র খাবো।‘ , but I see no hope because the narrator is an appetite-driven creature and the narrator’s act of threatening that he/she would eat everything up makes it clear that if there were enough to eat the person wouldn’t even be this furious. The reason behind mentioning Azad’s poem is that we only think of our appetites, beyond that we have no imagination, no vision.

If we had a vision, then things could have been different; our fights could have been different. Instead of fighting for food, we would have been fighting for a better living condition, healthcare, education. But we are still fighting for food, though it’s been a long time since we became independent.

Muhammad Kamruzzamann is a student of Jahangirnagar University.

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