Ash in the Belly
India's Unfinished Battle Against Hunger
Penguin Books India
Rs. 399 pp 344
It is a profound irony that 200 million Indians should sleep on an empty stomach in the world's largest producer of milk and edible oils, and the second-largest grower of wheat and sugar.
Never since the green revolution of the 1960s has India had a truly food-deficit year. Yet, why India figures among 29 countries with the highest levels of hunger, stunted children and poorly fed women is no longer a puzzle.
It is not a problem of food shortage, but of equitable distribution.
Harsh Mander, the author of Ash in the Belly, has fought a long battle to put an end to it - as a former bureaucrat, a member of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council and as a food security campaigner.
For those wanting to know why India can't feed itself, Ash is a good place to start.
Mander alternates between prosaic commentary and a life-cycle tale of hunger told by real-life characters.
The pathways of hunger span from city streets to tribal outbacks. Like Holocaust-denial, Indian officials habitually deny starvation. Poverty benchmarks are set so absurdly low that few would get by. Among the many evils, Mander rightly identifies the gravest of all: a government focused more on saving money, not its hungry people.