That hunger can make you angry

A friend sent me a link to an article. It is entitled: barefoot - the other side of life! Do read it. It brings to light many of the issues I have ranted about time and again. Two friends both Indians, both from swanky US universities decided to come home and do something meaningful. Nothing new you would say as many do that. But wait a little and read on. To understand the plight of an average Indian - sorry the cliche - they decided to live like an average Indian. After some computing they decided to live @ 100 Rs a day! Their journey is documented here. Hardly a day went by during the past month, in which we didn’t think of food sums up their experience. But that is not where they stopped. They decided to place the bar higher and live on 32 Rs a day which is the official poverty line.The experience was harrowing but an eye opener for these two young men.

Their experience with poverty raised many disturbing  questions. I would like to share their words that echo much of what I have always felt: "It disturbs us to spend money on most of the things that we now consider excesses. Do we really need that hair product or that branded cologne? Is dining out at expensive restaurants necessary for a happy weekend? At a larger level, do we deserve all the riches we have around us? Is it just plain luck that we were born into circumstances that allowed us to build a life of comfort? What makes the other half any less deserving of many of these material possessions, (which many of us consider essential) or, more importantly, tools for self-development (education) or self-preservation (healthcare)? We don't know the answers to these questions. But we do know the feeling of guilt that is with us now. Guilt that is compounded by the love and generosity we got from people who live on the other side, despite their tough lives. We may have treated them as strangers all our lives, but they surely didn't treat us as that way...”

 What they learnt was that hunger can make you angry. That a food law which guarantees adequate nutrition to all is essential. That poverty does not allow you to realise even modest dreams. And above all  that empathy is essential for democracy.

I am speechless for more reasons than one. First I must salute these young men as they have walked the talk in every way possible. Theirs is not the political drama of spending a night or sharing a meal in a poor home or a reality show that makes a mockery of poverty and makes one see red. It is not page 3 chatter post the success of slumdog millionaire. I cannot help myself recalling that Q&A, as the book was entitled by its author did not sell as well as the reprint bearing the Hollywood title! No these young men were not playing to the gallery. They lived as they had set out to eating some rice and a banana a day and walking miles to reach their destination. I really wish our politicians, law makers, potential donors did the same even for a few days. I guess it would change them forever and in the bargain make the world a better place.

I too have felt guilt and somehow it is that guilt that made me move from the comfort of my home to yet unknown pastures and discover things I never would have. And just like these young men I too felt the warmth and generosity of what we dismissively refer to as the poor.  No matter where you went, which home you entered, who you met you never felt an outsider. Something very alien for us who live in a world where we often do not even know your neighbour.

Crossing the divide has been the best thing that happened to me. I feel humbled and blessed.