Resurgent India has suddenly gone defensive. Is the euphoria with India's booming economy fading? Were we oozing confidence based on hollow growth numbers? At the Indian store today, they had no Nirapara kuthari to make kanji(porridge) that I suddenly had a craving for and the owner gravely tells me all non-basmatic rice exports from India have been banned following soaring rice prices. Is this the India that until a few months back proudly watched its stock exchanges break record after record? Will banning exports provide a short-term solution to inflation in India and the impending food crisis? Will Chidambaram's farmer friendly budget help in the long term? A country which serves notice on the world with Tata buying Jaguar should have nowhere to hide and deserves a round of booing for this shameless economic restriction. I had the money but I didn't get the rice I wanted to buy. I couldn't care less about exports but what if this inflation is a precursor to crippling food scarcity within the country? And my stuck-up, lazy self decided I needed to write on this.
Some years back, dad told me of the food scarcity in the '60s in the context of the influential Church in Kerala. His family had money, land and the cash crop of our times, rubber, but there was no food. They could atleast depend on tapioca, livestock, etc. Many people didn't have even that. The Church stepped in and became a public distribution system with contributions from abroad. They also earned goodwill and managed to convert many people in Kerala to Christianity. I asked my mom today what the food scarcity of the 60's meant to her family. They were paddy cultivators and grew most of the vegetables they needed. She also had an almost similar answer but her reply also highlighted a glaring irony, very relevant to today's times. They also subsisted on tapioca and everything else they raised because the rice they harvested yielded good prices in the market, so they consumed less of it! If there was a food scarcity today, what can people fall back on. Can money buy a commodity for which production and supply can't meet the demand? What will people have, to fall back on now that we are strangers to the soil, now that every inch of earth is fertile ground for production activities of modern man, save what its best suited for?
The food crisis has been building up over time and aggravated by the unbalanced growth India has been witnessing. From real estate eating up farmland in Hyderabad, Tata's auto-manufacturing company in Singur, the farm unions in Kuttanad, the uneconomical again thanks-to-globalization cotton crops in Vidarbha the challenges faced by agriculture in every part of India is different and at the same time has its origins in our apathy to recognize the importance of a healthy agricultural system. That our politicians have the solution to the food crisis in Kerala and intends to do something about this is obvious from this statement by the Food Minister, C.Divakaran. Why doesn't the honorable minister say that we depend for the milk, chicken and eggs on a state that blows hot and cold each time on the Mullaperiyar issue every time the demand for a new dam is raised!
At the junction closest to my house in Trivandrum, I was met this time by a crowd, a multitude of strange faces. People who were not residents or workers in the area until a few years before. These were not the elegantly dressed employees of the technopark, who find the locality a perfect place to live in and commute to work from. I despaired at this mini-Chandni Chowk my surroundings was becoming, I didn't know where those tired faces came from. Today I wonder if these are people who left their villages for a less-taxing, more yielding life in the cities? Gandhiji famously said "the soul of India lives in its villages". Was he not pepping up the farmer with that statement, was he making a long-run prophesy for the best future of the Indian state, or was he mourning the impending death of village life, and losing its charms to the superficial magnetism that city life had. For long, we have been worrying about the harmful effect on our cities caused by rural migration. Only a few like P.Sainath have the vision to direct our attention to the villages, the livelihood that these people turn their backs on and the reasons behind that.
A friend recently returned from a study tour to China and talked of farmer anger at officialdom which frequently uproots them from their land and plants them in factories amidst a sea of disciplined uniformed robotic men and women whose lives are as monotonous as the machines they assemble. Are we not doing something similar to the Indian farmer? We need to give back to the farmer his pride of place in society, otherwise we should soon be ready to grow on our backyards, frontyards and on every bit of soil we can find - the tapioca, poultry, cows and vegetables we badly need for our nourishment. Yes, this is a situation that will come to reality in our lifetimes, atleast in Kerala - make no mistake, like the professional beggars on our streets, an epithet - The Rich Beggar's Country - is waiting for us. We will have pockets flush with money, but stomachs as light as Somalians. Then we will surely learn our lesson - we will learn the dignity of labour and agriculture.
P.S - I dedicate this post to a friend who once tried/still tries too hard to change my thinking. He believed I had a human core which he could influence. His ideas were/are too militant for my "ghar ki safai me haath kaun gandha karein" middle-class moorings but I find myself beginning to share his thoughts. A quote in the film Kingdom of Heaven resonates within me all these years since I first heard it - "What man is a man who does not make the world better?" I know what man I am - I am a gold-digger who seems to have lost the lust for gold. What man are you?