I have always been a sucker for coincidences, of which I have had my considerable share. One happened yesterday.
There was a retweet of a news report by Indian Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor about India’s hunger problem being worse than that of North Korea’s. The report by Sayantan Bera appeared on the news website livemint.com.
In an accompanying observation/swipe Tharoor, one of the most followed politicians in India, said, “India stood a shameful 100th among 119 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI). Where are our Govt's priorities?”
My immediate response on reading Tharoor’s comment was to be reminded of a detailed story I had done in the 1980s (I think it was 1984 or 1985) about this very subject. India’s chronic hunger problem, which reached proportions of starvation in many parts, was the broad focus of the story after speaking with officials from the Hunger Project.
I retweeted Tharoor’s tweet saying this: “Not to nitpick but India's hunger problem is not a recent one. I had done perhaps the first hunger-related news story in the mid 1980s.”
I had a clipping from that story which has now gone missing because I have moved places so many times since then.
Fellow human beings going hungry and often starving has always been a matter of visceral discomfort for me. I have not made any concerted effort to help reduce this tragic human condition. I have been selfish and ashamed of myself because of that.
Tharoor’s jab was clearly political at a government run an party diametrically opposite to his Party. While all seems fair in politics, it is disingenuous to remind this particular dispensation led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as if India’s hunger problem is a recent one. It was in that context that I mentioned the fact that it was grave enough for me to have done a story some 30 years ago.
Now to the coincidence. Soon after finishing my daily writing routine I sat down to read Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ from where I had left some weeks ago. I opened the dog-eared page and found this passage about hungry African men narrated by Marlow about a voyage up the Congo river. “For the rest, the only to eat—thought it didn’t look eatable in the least—I saw in their possession was a few lumps of some stuff like half-cooked dough, of a dirty lavender colour, they kept wrapped in leaves, and now and then swallowed a piece of, but so small that it seemed done more for the looks of the thing than any serious purpose of sustenance.”
Further down, Conrad writes this in the context of why those hungry men exercised restraint. “restraint! What possible restraint? Was it superstition, disgust,, patience, fear—or some kind of primitive honour? No fear can stand up to hunger, no patience can wear it out, disgust simply does not exist where hunger is; and as to superstition, beliefs, and what you may call principles, they are less than chaff in a breeze.Don’t you know the devilry of lingering starvation, its exasperating torment, its black thoughts, its sombre and brooding ferocity?”
This is writing at its absolute best about perhaps the lowest human experience.