Got a call yesterday. It was all the way form the USA. The caller was a passionate young Indian who wanted to make a difference. He had been deeply disturbed by the hunger that still prevailed across our land and wanted to help alleviate it. A young professional, he had quit his lucrative job to follow his heart. A young man after my own heart! He had been given my number from another young man who thinks with his heart and I was all ears.
We chatted for a few minutes and then the young man stated: My ambition is to somehow work to appease issues of hunger in Delhi. Wow! That was a stunner. Millions of images zipped through my mind and though some were undoubtedly of hunger per se, most were of the enormous amount of wasted food I have seen over the years I lived in this city: be it the humongous wastage one saw at up market dos - weddings, parties of all hues, religious functions etc - but more than that on the streets and garbage dumps in slums. I remember an instance a few years ago that made me write a blog entitled morning after! It was the site we saw the morning after a wedding that took place in our street and the wise words of a little girl who simply said: why did they not give the food to the cows.
Rewind to 1986. My first visit to an Indian village. It was a godforsaken village in the Jehanabad District of Bihar where I had gone for some developmental work. What surprised the most when I visited the home of one of the poorest family of this village was the pristine cleanliness of this small mud house: no flies, no garbage, no filth. Everything was spotless; it was the perfect example of recycling you could think of. The leftovers ,if there were any, and the vegetable peels were fed to the animals, the dung turned into cakes and used as fuel, the ashes used to clean the few utensils that sat sparkling on a small shelf, next to the Gods. Voila! No need for garbage bins, plastic bags and all the implements essential to urban life.
Forward to 2010 and after. On the sights that greets us each and every day is wasted food lying helter-skelter on the street, in the slum lanes, in garbage dumps, just about everywhere. You see there is always a wedding, a birthday party, a jagran, a religious do, you name it and it is there and at each and every venue there are heaps of plastic and thermacol plates still filled with good and clean food. It is just strewn on the ground till the cleaners sweep it away and carry it to the dump. But food is not only wasted during festivals or special occasions, it is wasted every day in every home as if throwing food was a way of stating that you had reached, that you had graduated from the rural to the urban status. It seemed the be the new mantra of success in the slums. I see it every day. In every home I go if it is meal time every member of a family will leave something on the plate. But come to think about it, this was not the case a few years back. In the same household no food was wasted and children were chided if they did not finish their plate. So what had changed.
The family in question had bettered its plight. More members had jobs now and thus the household income had taken a quantum leap. The advent of credit had enabled the family to buy two TVs, a refrigerator, coolers and many household items. In other words they had arrived. Their rural antecedents were laid to rest, the young adults of the family were all to the city born. The parents ere the only ones who still remembered the ways of village life with nostalgia and no one to listen.
From a people who worshiped food and deified it, we have turned into a nation that wastes with impunity and alacrity as we feel that we have all arrived! But have we? Look around and there are still people rummaging for food in garbage dumps but that is not all and believe it or not every 8.7 minutes a child dies of hunger while mounds of grains rot in the open. But we seem to have got inured to every and any thing. Have we really? I urge you to click on this link and look at the picture of a little three year old from Madhya Pradesh who weighs the same as a three month old healthy baby. It is not trick photography but stark reality in a land where 3000 children a day die of malnutrition. The picture of little Neeraj should be enough to make us think twice before we throw any food in the future. But will it? I do not know. It seems we have put our conscience on hold while we are busy arriving!
In the light of the above I wonder what to answer my young friend when he writes : My ambition is to somehow work to appease issues of hunger in Delhi. True there is hunger in Delhi but there is more wastage and disrespect for food then ever before. Should we mot address those issues, or at least find a way to address them first. I am at a loss.