10 December 2004

How it feels to be hungry

I didn't have a meal yesterday. Not because of emotional or monetary difficulties, but for a religious reason.

It had been years since I felt the emptiness of my stomach. Not that it was totally empty. I ate fruits, drank milk and juice, but didn’t have a solid meal. Yet, my stomach kept rumbling through the day. I kept returning to thoughts of food: when would I have my next meal, what would I eat, etc. By evening, I began to feel a little weak and sleepy.

Most of you who are reading this blog have perhaps never been forced to be hungry, and perhaps will never be. Like me. We may choose to skip a meal because of work pressure, emotional ups and downs, or might even had some monetary difficulties at some point in life. But very few of us are doomed to a life of hunger.

And nowadays, it's like hunger doesn't exist. It's hardly discussed among most people I know. I think I last discussed it when I was in journalism school.

How does it feel to be hungry, to be hungry almost everyday, to be empty and weak all over, with head spinning? And even when you get to eat, it would perhaps be rotten, or just a morsel. Then you see such brutal prosperity all around. Brutal, because it can never happen to you. Brutal, also because it strikes your eye so. Rich buggers are everywhere. Why wouldn't I want to steal, snatch, cheat, kill, if that would mean two square meals a day? Perhaps I would do that even if it didn't mean two square meals a day. Just for the heck of it. Just to get back at them. Yes.

Once in journalism school, a debate was on about why mainstream media sidelines poverty. One bhadralok woman said it was because no one was interested, no one wanted to read about poverty and that not many were affected by poverty issues. I asked, "So is no one affected by crime, congestion in cities, pollution, unemployment, etc?"

I still haven't understood how we can pretend that poverty doesn't affect us. Are we so blind, or dumb? Or are we just inhuman? I don't know. Survival concerns of the poor are being neglected.
Villages are increasingly becoming poorer, unlivable, depressing, and empty. The rich farmers' households are pretty intact. I know a good-looking, well educated boy from a prosperous family in my village who can't find a bride for himself. Reason: every girl wants to marry someone who lives in the city, even if it may be in a one-room hole. These trends are ominous. They are all around us. We can be aware of them, if we want to. More often than not, we choose not to.

We, the educated middle class, have no time to protest about anything, so caught up are we with daily routines, and weekend relaxations. Most of us think that all's well because there are huge shiny plasticky shopping malls coming up all around us; because everything is so accessible, and because there's water running in our taps. Because we can get on to the Net and blog. Because we can end any substantial conversation with a 'whatever.' I don’t want to paint generalized pictures, but it is the default setting.

Hunger is dangerous, for everyone, regardless of your agreeing or your knowing. Recently a slum 'caught fire' in Mumbai. For good reasons, I am sure. After all, don’t you want to build more of those plush apartments where you can cuddle up and watch the TV with your family?


sanjana said...

I agree with you that hunger is definitely a problem that affects everyone. But the fact that there are shopping malls coming up mean that there will be more people employed, cos these places need janitors, and security and sales people and administrative and all, which means it actually helps to cut down on poverty and unemployment and subsequently-> hunger.

And the guy who can't get married cos he lives in the village, that's a different story altogether isn't it? nothing to do with hunger.

Vijayalaxmi said...

Shopping malls can never be and neither do they claim to be substantial sources of employment. And if you are talking about the benevolent effects of shopping on the economy, maybe we should also think about the labor practices MNCs or Indian corporates follow. Plus, more often than not, the shopping malls are built on government land, or land procured at unreasonably low prices. Gurgaon's shopping malls were in the news very recently for this reason.

"And the guy who can't get married cos he lives in the village, that's a different story altogether isn't it? nothing to do with hunger." I havent made the relationship between this guy and hunger very clear here. Let me do so now:

Poverty doesn't have to be just a scarcity of money, clothes, and shelter. It is also a scarcity of opportunity. (Mr Amartya Sen has done much work on this.)

Our villages are slowly becoming opportunity-hungry. Life there is no more romantic. That guy couldn't find a bride for himself. Further down the economic strata, people cant find food in the village. They are perfectly respectable people in the village, but have to migrate to cities for food. And in the cities, they add to the slum population.

Things are not so unconnected, as they seem.