Right at the beginning of the novel “Vidas Secas”, which follows a family of migrants fleeing drought and hunger, the genius writer from Alagoas, Graciliano Ramos (1892-1953) justifies the adjective I have just used.
I am referring to the moment when the protagonist, the cowboy Fabiano, happy to believe he has solved his problems when he finds a farm that accepts to receive his family, says to himself: “Fabiano, you are a man”.
But something doesn’t sound right. Considering the phrase “reckless”, Sinha Vitória’s husband and father of two children soon reverses the formulation, even changing the place of the vocative: “You are an animal, Fabiano”.
This passage from the human to the animal realm —a two-way passage in the book, as evidenced in the humanization of the Whale dog — is shorter than it might seem to a sated sensibility.
It’s called hunger, a terrible noun that Portuguese inherited from the Latin “fames”, synonymous with the English “hunger”, the Russian “golodnyy”, the Indonesian “lapar” and the Japanese “onakagasuita” – to name just a few of the Babel names of beast that Google teaches us.
“Living is being up to date with hunger, hunger, hunger,” sang Djavan, another Alagoas, this one with a more flowery style — but this time making the most sensible sense. Including the repetition of the word.
Keeping up with hunger is an endless task. It never gives up for more than a few hours — and in December 2020 there were nearly 20 million Brazilians who declared they went 24 hours or more without eating. Comparable only to thirst and more urgent than sexual appetite, hunger is an unrelenting anchor of the human in the animal.
A person who is hungry is an animal, like Fabiano, because he is incapable of taking care of everything that is most human to us—art, thought, dream, game, humor, transcendence.
Vocations of sanctity aside, all this is a luxury for those who have a full belly and the assurance that it will fill it again tomorrow. Less than a language act, “You’re an animal, Fabiano” is a stomach rumble. In front of him, the other considerations are muted.
Including, at the limit, the laws. In Les Miserables, French writer Victor Hugo (1802-1885) tells the story of a guy who is arrested for stealing bread for his hungry family. Grotesquely disproportionate to the crime, the State’s punishment of Jean Valjean is denounced by the author as anti-humanist.
One can accuse Victor Hugo of manipulating the public’s feelings (hunger is a low blow, right?), but not of lying. For over a century and a half Valjean’s drama has moved readers of the novel and viewers of its adaptations.
This news, on the other hand, is from last Friday (9): “Justice in SP twice denies freedom to the mother of 5 children who stole noodles and soda from the market”.
Oh, someone might say, the world is really tough, but what does the columnist propose, besides manipulating the public’s feelings?
Well, the columnist merely proposes that we do not remain silent in the face of the national shame of seeing hunger grow so wide, visible in statistics and with the naked eye, in the country that is the second largest food exporter in the world.
All this in the face of criminal indifference — not to mention the secret perverse enjoyment — of an anti-humanist government that is paid to take care of its people and prevent, every day, new crowds from changing from humans to animals.
“What do you want me to do?” responds the law of the jungle. The Brazil of 2021 is unforgivable.
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