In the seventies of the last century, India became self-sufficient in foodstuffs on the wake of the Green Revolution. The grain markets overflowed with piles of wheat and the government kept building up its buffer stocks to ensure food security. “From begging bowl to breadbasket”, the nation traversed a long distance to emerge victorious in its war on hunger.
To a large extent that was true, but at the same time, the revolution was only an all-wheat affair. For the rice-eaters, the benefit meant nothing.
That is the backdrop of my story.
Age of plenty had finally dawned. Now the rice-eaters discovered on their plates a new thing called wheat. It was introduced rather suddenly through those fair price shops of the public distribution system.
Some started chewing the grain like they would munch peanuts; some took the pains to get flour out of the grains but did only the nominal kneading before actually gulping the stuff. Some even fried and roasted their quota.
But wheat was no substitute of rice and a sense of destitution ever haunted the poor rural folk. ‘What is this stuff—one remains still hungry even after eating whole load of that!’ Some would rather remain unfed for a day than eat the alien stuff called wheat! They would rather slog for a day if somebody gave them a kilo of rice than accept free a quintal of those insipid grains called wheat!
The womenfolk in the rice-eating rural households, too, had their tales of woes to tell. They were not cut out for kneading wheat for the entire household; it was so painful a chore. There were conjugal fights, sulking—all in the name of wheat.
However, the urbanites were quick to accept it.
One day an old woman visited her son’s place in the town where he was staying with his family near his workplace. The dowager was a rich fellow from countryside who had mounds of paddy in her granary, herds of cattle in her shed. She had a successful grain-lending business too. On the whole, she was contended and she took pride that her son was an officer living in the town enjoying a life of comfort.
In the evening when the dinner was served, the old lady came to join her son and grandchildren. She was expecting something delicious from her daughter-in-law.
She took a quick look at the plate. Oh no, something was amiss. For a moment she was not sure about it. Then she located the odd man out—it was a stack of chapattis, the unmistakable sign of poverty.
She started brooding over it. Where was the big point in her sitting over the heap of money when her own children were starving? The old woman could not help crying an agonized cry:
‘I never knew, my son, you’ve become so poor. You don’t even have rice at your place to feed your children!’
A story by
A. N. Nanda