Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hunger 101

I never knew hunger for the first 15 years of my life. I could not comprehend it, as food was available all the time. My first personal taste of it came in college, when some times I wouldn't even eat when I had the money, preferring to spent it on delights more fluid in nature.

Of course I had seen beggars on the street and stuff like that, but the brush with real hunger waited for a few more years before it presented itself. It was one of those evenings in Masjid Bandar in Mumbai. I was walking to my office for the evening shift editing content for a metal industry news portal. Some parts of India's commercial capital could also be the shanty capitals of the world, giving the Brazilian favelas a run for their money (or the lack of it). Masjid Bandar isn't that shanty, but you get the paan stained, jostling, noisy dirty street, vada paav, street seller, thick autorickshaw fumes idea.

I stopped at an open-air Chinese food outlet, which serves dishes, some of which the Chinese may not have ever dreamt about. I picked chicken fried rice, and started shoving it down my hungry oesophagus in a hurry. Someone prodded me from behind, and I turned around to see this guy, possibly 14 or 15 years old, wearing a pair of torn trousers, no shirt on, unkempt hair, and the works.

Using the hand-to-mouth action, he indicated that he could really use some food. He looked hungry to me (and he wasn't asking for money - I hate that.)and I ordered a half-plate fried rice for him. The person manning the food joint just placed the rice on a big dry leaf and gave it to the fellow. Normal people too get it on the dry leaf, but there's a plate placed underneath. Hmmm, I was in no mood to fight discrimination.

Any way, the fellow took the food, kept it on the pavement, and sat there. I went back to the process of shoving my share down, thoughts shifting back to work that's to be completed. I was shocked back to the real world in a second as something wrapped around my legs real tight. Looking down, I saw that the hungry fellow was hugging both my legs in one huge grasp, looking up and crying.

I almost kicked his hands away, kept or threw the plate, gave the cash - all in a matter of a few seconds. And ran..literally ran to my office. Upset was not the word. In some time, however, the rational stuff kicked in. He looked haggard, but ok. Why can't he find a job, any freaking job? Why should he beg? etc. etc.

But the question remains to this day - what level of hunger can drive a man to the feet of another to express his gratitude for food?

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