a plate of upma

food is a big thing in my house. more precisely, feeding people is. my mom’s big on nurturing, and one of the ways in which she manifests it is through her love of feeding people who matter to her. this story is to do with food and our maid. let’s call her vasuki (“she” is going to get confusing because there are 3 women involved!)

vasuki used to go hungry quite often. she works in another house in the first half of the day before coming to ours. she doesn’t get fed properly there. the woman of the house treats vasuki quite badly. vasuki isn’t offered even a hot cup of tea, let alone edible food – evidently she is even routinely given spoilt food in a ‘take it or leave it’ offer.

she chats with my mom, which is how mom first learnt that vasuki was going hungry. so my mother offered to feed her any day she was hungry. things were fine for a while. then my mom started noticing that vasuki would sometimes take food and just waste it. growing up, mom had set us clear rules about food: if you don’t like it, eat a less of it (but you had to eat) and move on. if you do like it, have more. nobody got to nitpick or waste because food’s important and people starve. that’s part of our food culture even now.

one day vasuki came home saying she was hungry. mom offered her upma – that was what she and dad were planning to have that day. vasuki dislikes upma. she refused it but shortly said again that she was hungry. mom told her “well, you can be less fussy and eat what’s there, or i can’t help you.”

narrating the incident to me, mom was frustrated that someone who’s so often short of food would waste or be picky than eat something nourishing even if it’s not quite what they liked most. i too think that’s a poor attitude. it bothers me when people waste food. but then i also think for vasuki, the message has been clearly set that affluence is the ability to be callous about food. she’s constantly angry at how in the other house, she’s powerless to negotiate food. then in my house, she’s assuming the power the way she’s seen it used: by wasting.

but i suspect while mom may be feeding her, getting her to respect food is not going to feel like an empowering choice because it’s just one more richer person controlling her choices about food. i think good education has a huge role here. when we do not have a strong enough idea of empowerment or rights, then we’ll yearn for whatever looks like freedom. we don’t have the tools to critically evaluate the choices we’re presented with.

i don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’re hugely apathetic but increasingly consumerist a society and that our education seems totally disconnected from any consciousness of rights. in the absence of conscious consideration and information about what we value, what keeps us safe or free, we’ll go for the dream we’re shown.

let me be extremely clear: i don’t think it’s just illiterate people, i really think we – the educated – are also deluded. in some ways, we seem more deluded because being educated has only exposed us to more propaganda, given us better ability to buy in to the mad rush to chase consumerism. god knows our movies, our news, our politicians and our textbooks are increasingly advocating it.

reading today’s ET article on the sabarmati river project, i’m also convinced that the other benefit of having a good education is that you develop the ability to examine proofs. just look at the article. we make jogging tracks out of river beds and that’s progress. being able to shop at yet another complex and moving slum dwellers out of sight is clearly development, so what if we never pause to ask what became of the displaced people or what we’re doing when we’re predicted to be heading for a water crisis by 2020. just buy your maal and move along, folks.


the UPA government failed in education earlier, now modi’s will sell our classrooms. just aspire to buy the fanciest delusion you can and move along…