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Jayanta Mahapatra: The Whorehouse in a Calcutta Street

The Whorehouse in a Calcutta Street is one of those poems of Jayanta Mahapatra wherein he speaks of the whorehouse seen in a Calcutta street, light falling, path leading to; conspiracies being hatched,  whispers doing the rounds, secret talks held; short-term love, sexuality and fulfillment. You walk with the lady of your choice; the beauty-queen of your heart who holds the heartbeat of yours, the pulsation of yours. The flower princess is definitely yours if you can hold to possess. The sweet scent of blood and roses, how to narrate it? She carries with her the perfume of the night, all that under starlit silence. Move away with the girl of your liking, the girl with the jasmine into the hair. An imagist the poet will just like to present the images and photos rather than anything else. The other thing is this that most of the modern poets are privately personal and they talk of the things in their own way. Conspiracies and whispers too are a part of his imagery herein.

We do not know what the reason behind the writing of this poem entitled The Whorehouse in a Calcutta Street. It is a peculiar poem which tells about poverty, hunger and scarcity on the one hand while on the other moral depravity, sexuality and lust. As Jayanta Mahapatra is a modern writer so he is no exception to it and apart from imagery, word play and photographic  quality, he is socially aware of the things happening around. He cannot let it go the realities, bare realities and is down to the ground. But just like an imagist he pictures and presents without any comments given in favour of or in the against of the things. When alive, Khushwant too used to write about the red light areas of Lahore. Love, sex, lust and relationship engage the poetic space of the poet. Especially the intricacies of personal relationship and intrigues of sexuality sometimes twitch us. 

The poet speaks about the house, the courtyard of it, the whispers doing the rounds, the chatters and tidbits, the conspiracies hatched, the moonlight dreams, the dark corridors and the pull of the flesh and blood contact and above all, flesh trade or prostitution whatever call you we shall agree with. We have developed, but the society in which we live in has not. If we are developed, why is there poverty and hunger? Why are there brothels? They too have the right to live. But we look down upon them. Our mentality has not changed.

Walk right in. It is yours.
Where the house smiles wryly into the lighted street.
Think of the women
you wished to know and haven't.
Walk right in and it is yours. Where the house smiles wryly into the lighted street, go up to there and think of the women you had seen, you had wished to chat and gossip with lively. This is how he starts the poem and reading the poem we think it within as if we were in a market where the things were not sold, but girls. But with it there come in the thoughts and ideas connected with. Who came from where? Who brought whom? What compelled it one to be there? Poverty or betrayal? Some digress from when persuaded falsely which some take to and some fail to understand. Circumstances and situations too play a major role in compelling one to take a path. There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so is the adage which holds true with reference to it. Who will persuade whom it is very difficult to say that. Who will exploit whom   and for what? Who has what need? Who wants what, how to say it? What will happen to whom when who can but say it about the path of life?

The second thing, who goes there? The answer is some for gratification, some are compelled to. Some also turn to in the contact of others. What the base of relationship? There are so many factors doing the rounds, the money factor, lust factor and the situations of life. Sometimes poverty compels, sometimes friendship, sometimes situation and sometimes livelihood. Who will become what, how to say it?    

The house smiles or the poet smiles to see it all going around, from whispers to conspiracies, happening it all during the load shedding and the darker night and in loneliness. The house with the courtyard, pillars, a bizarre silence bewitching and with strange fellows masked, unmasked, coming as apparitions and the mistresses going out as shadows, how to say about them? Instead of let us try to know them as the poet says to or asks us to do. But whatever say you, there is a lull, silence, thud, sobriety of its own, the more you enter into the gallery of the theatre you will come to realize the things happening  other than when you get acquainted with strange heroines and partners for the time being, meeting the eyes, going closer to, walking hand in hand, taking to be own, but they are not. But that is for the time being. It stays with not, the scenery of it. It is not for lifetime. It is momentary. It is monetary. It is for the time being. The people who are here, we mean are their people. Some as wimps, some as touts and some as middle men, you can see it everywhere. They have a network and a chain of their own. The drama of love, how is it enacted, you do not know it; how the theatre of love and how the dramatic personae of it, how the directors, producers and managers of it? But who cares for the poor drama artistes? This is a dreamland where the imaginary actors and actresses meet with, share their secret love talks and depart forgetting the times spent together. This is the theatre which closes it not, opens during the night time and remains it unto the last when the stars and the moon go back to or seem to be setting down.

If you want to know the faces seen in the posters or the hoardings, you may know. They are all together there, those who have put the house for the startled eye to fall upon where the pasts join as well as part. This is the place where one may the theatre heroines who meet and depart. Here the stories are written as well as closed. The people in the light keep waiting for, expecting, those smiling, showy faces. Here love is but artificial love, not natural love. Love is sold just as nightingales or cuckoos in cages. Can the spring be snatched from the cuckoo if global warming and climate change invade us? Here love story starts it and ends too; the drama of love is started and finished with new, new actors and audiences, but the theatre is the same with the same artistes. 

The sacred hollow courtyard harbours the promise of a great conspiracy. Even if you do not do anything, that has a heresy of its own.  The poet means to say though the house looks like a sacred house but instead of it the hollow courtyard is it all. Here conspiracies are hatched.  You may feel it ashamed to be there even though lust has brought you to. This is but the good as well as the bad name of the house. How their chatter? What moonlight to give to? What does it remain in the end? What they to get and how their status? They just think of returning to when the work is done.

Dream children, dark, superfluous;
you miss them in the house’s dark spaces, how can’t you?
 Even the women don’t wear them—
 like jewels or precious stones at the throat;
the faint feeling deep at a woman’s centre,
that brings back the discarded things:
the little turnings of blood
 at the far edge of the rainbow.

Dream children are left in the dark spaces. They have their family, children and people which they need to attend to rather than the temporary contract to enter into. There is nothing to culminate into or consummate. Just temporary entertainment, pleasure can be derived.

Dream children, the use of the word appalls us to know it, as for whose children are these? Do they expect from them? Definitely not is the answer. The word takes us to Charles Lamb’s Dream Children: A Reverie where though the author is single fancies about the dream children in a different way to add to the story as for the narration sake in a reclining state.


We often see them, but who has the eyes to describe them? The poet as an observer of society, what it ails it has taken a note of it to express in his poem.

The women you fall against in the dumb light have a life of their own which one may not know it. While doing that, she will try to please him. The strange visitor will try to be familiar with, but this is not for to be familiar and the love she shows to him is not real love. It is just a show off of that. Finally, she takes leave of and hurries for to go. The sweet little things end it with the sweet mixing and the end of the dream. When the scene winds up and the curtain is lifted, secret talks end it abruptly. The persona readies to leave in a huff as has something to attend to. At that time she turns into a disobeying toy not ready to obey at all. The story comes to an end when she with a detached voice proposes to go in a huff. The man is taken aback to see how she is changed after. The fact is clear that the girl you are with is not a permanent heroine of your life, not a permanent love partner, but a temporary one from whom you cannot expect it more. This is just for deriving sexual pleasure.

You fall back against her in the dumb light,
tying to learn something more about women —
while she does what she thinks proper to please you,
the sweet, the little things, the imagined;
until the statue of the man within
 you’ve believed in throughout the years

But she returns to normalcy when jolted by something else making her aware of:

“Hurry, will you? Let me go,”
and her lonely breath thrashed against your kind

But we forget it that they too are men, they too are human beings. They are not only sex workers, call girls, unchaste, fallen, degraded women, but individuals with identities too. They are not nameless, but with the names. How long shell the masculine self go exploiting the feminine self?

Prostitution as a social evil is a black spot on the forehead of mankind, but what have we for its eradication and elimination? How long the whorehouse be there? When will these all be dislodged and dismantled? How long will the women be called prostitutes? Has somebody else ever brooded why are they prostitutes?

The Whorehouse in a Calcutta Street is definitely a Lawrentine poem which deals with sexual love and pleasure. A poem of man-woman relationship, flesh and blood contact, give and take and attraction and repulsion, it is all about sensual pleasure. The situation is almost like the story of his poem named Hunger. There is something of the love of Clara of Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, something of Women in Love and The Rainbow.

When the poet talks about the conspiracies doing the rounds all around the corner, the mind gets lifted to Joyce’s Araby in which the author reaching the oriental fair late in the night finds the bazaars closed, almost shut down, stray dogs barking and the drunken man and woman whispering in the dark corners.

Jayanta Mahapatra as a poet is not at all didactic here. To give the moral is not his job. He presents the whorehouse just like the theatre house of cabaret dancers and singers and the audiences sitting thereon. But with these there come upon human conceit, deceit, treachery and so on. We think within, how conceited are we, how much deceitful!


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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