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India: The Hungry Generation

3 minute read

A thousand years ago, India was the land of Vātsyāyana’s Kāma Sūtra, the classic volume that so thoroughly detailed the art of love that its translators still usually leave several key words in Sanskrit. Last week, in a land that has become so straitly laced that its movie heroines must burst into song rather than be kissed, five scruffy young poets were hauled into Calcutta’s dreary Bankshall Court for publishing works that would have melted even Vātsyāyana’s pen. The Hungry Generation had arrived.

Born in 1962, with an inspirational assist from visiting U.S. Beatnik Allen Ginsberg, Calcutta’s Hungry Generation is a growing band of young Bengalis with tigers in their tanks. Somewhat unoriginally they insist that only in immediate physical pleasure do they find any meaning in life, and they blame modern society for their emptiness. On cheaply printed paper, they pour forth a torrent of starkly explicit erotic writings, most of them based on their own exploits (“In the Taj Mahal with My Sister”) or on dreams. “My theme is me,” says Hungry Poet Shaileshwar Ghose, 26, a schoolteacher. “I say what I feel. I feel frustration, hunger for love, hunger for food.”

Three Widows. To all appearances, their appetites are unlimited. In a short story, Bank Clerk Malay Roychowdhury, 25, tells of a starving poet who first devours his fiancée, then his poetry notebook, then a building and Calcutta’s huge Howrah Bridge. A poem by Schoolteacher Ghose crows that “I impregnated three widows at a time, and now I am lying in bed happy. What next?”

Absurd as they seem, the hungries see themselves as the spokesmen of a betrayed and miserable people. “Our frustration is not just personal,” says a 28-year-old geology lecturer. “It comes from the strains, the poverty, the squalor of our society.” And in a series of violent manifestoes, the hungries singled out their enemies, including hypocrites, conventional writers and politicians whose place in society lies “somewhere between the dead body of a harlot and a donkey’s tail.” To “let loose a creative furor,” the hungries last summer sent every leading Calcutta citizen—from police commissioner to wealthy spinsters—engraved, four-letter-worded invitations for a topless bathing suit contest.

Done-for World. With that, the entire Calcutta establishment rose up in rage. Newspaper editorials, quoting passages from their works, proved conclusively that they were dangerous and dirty—so much so that Calcutta’s reading public began to look for them. Under civic pressure, the police hauled away 26 of the “poets” for questioning. Five were suspended from their jobs and booked on charges of obscene writing and conspiracy against society.

The evidence for last week’s trial was irrefutable, but meanwhile the Indian government had been approached by sympathetic intellectuals at home and abroad. Looking for a face-saving exit, the Calcutta prosecutor temporized, requested a postponement in court. To celebrate their temporary freedom, the hungering beats raided an art gallery, beat up three painters, then walked happily away to resume their pursuit of the Hungry Generation’s declared goal—”to undo the done-for world and start afresh from chaos.”

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