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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hunger Stalks My Father’s India Long After Starvation End

Great article. Really puts things in perspective.

It was 1958, my father was still a child, and India was running out of food. 

That year’s wheat crop had slumped by 15 percent, the rice harvest by 12 percent, and prices in the markets were soaring. Far from his village in eastern India, ships laden with wheat were steaming toward the country, part of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s plan to sell surplus grains, tobacco and dairy products to friendly countries. All India Radio gave daily updates on the convoys, and the army barricaded ports in Mumbai and Kolkata against the hungry crowds. 

“It was this very coarse, red wheat,” said Narsingh Deo Mishra, a childhood friend of my father’s and now a local politician in their home village. “We were told it was meant for American pigs,” said Mishra, who, like my father, grew up listening to stories about the food shipments. “Back then, we weren’t any better than American pigs. So we ate it. We ate it all and we begged for more.” 

That year, and the hungry ones that followed, took their toll. At 18, my father, Dinesh, weighed about 40 kilograms -- just under 90 pounds -- and in a photograph taken at the time, his cheeks are sunken, his Adam’s apple prominent and his eyes bulge from a gaunt skull. 

India is now a generation removed from those “ship-to- mouth” days, even though those words today still bring back memories of national humiliation. Less than 2 percent of Indians now go without two square meals a day, and far fewer still die of starvation.

Hunger Stalks My Father’s India Long After Starvation End

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