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The man who helped India beat hunger

It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that, but for Norman Borlaug, millions of people in what has come to be known as the Third World would have died of starvation, writes Khushwant Singh.

columns Updated: Oct 09, 2009 15:34 IST

It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that, but for Norman Borlaug, millions of people in what has come to be known as the Third World would have died of starvation. What he did was not in his country’s interest but in the interest of humanity. American farmers made a handsome living exporting wheat to countries, which were in need of it, including India and Pakistan. They profited by the shortage elsewhere and would have liked the state of affairs to continue.

That was not good enough for a man like Borlaug. He was an agricultural scientist and regarded increasing agricultural output as a sacred duty. Most of his research was conducted in Mexico, which was also facing the prospect of a famine. He spent years developing hybrid varieties of wheat, which yielded more and were immune to rust, which did enormous damage to crops. He succeeded in his endeavour.

He came to India and Pakistan both of which had a food deficit and were spending vast amounts of foreign exchange to import wheat from the United States. Within a couple of years he succeeded in turning both countries into agriculturally prosperous states. The produce of wheat per acre quadrupled. Similarly, a hybrid variety of rice was evolved and rice production increased seven fold.

Those who have survived an impending calamity have much to thank Norman Borlaug for. The Nobel Prize, which he won in 1970, was a meagre acknowledgement of his truly pioneering work.

We Indians owe him special gratitude. He was a frequent visitor to the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana. Many of our agricultural scientists like M.S. Swaminathan were closely associated with him in his research. He was honoured with a Padma Vibhushan. Calling the phenomenon the Green Revolution does not tell future generations about the person who brought it about: we should rename it the Borlaug Revolution.

Police as a pest
In another column a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about people who make feeding and caring of stray dogs a part of their daily routine. I was pleasantly surprised by the readers’ response. Since a good portion of my column was about do-gooders whose focus of attention is Lodhi Gardens and the elite localities around Delhi Golf Club, they had a lot to say about some of skullduggery they come across.

I can vouch for some of it as till recently I was a regular visitor to Lodhi Gardens and spent my summer afternoons at the Golf Club swimming pool. Lodhi Gardens has regular police presence to see no one misbehaves.

However, that does not apply to the policemen on duty. After doing their two-hour stint they change into plain clothes and go round harassing young couples in secluded spots holding hands. They question their marital status; threaten to expose them till they shell out money. They do the same to vendors of soft drinks, ice cream and peanuts who do business at the park’s entrance. They are no better than the parties of hijdas who do much the same by clapping hands, gyrating and singing in male voices around lovers seeking solitude till they are paid off.

In elite bungalows, the scene is different. The rich keep pedigreed dogs as status symbols. They don’t have time to create bonds with the pets they own. That is left to the servants who also take them out for an airing and a little exercise. Many have iron cages near the entrance gates in which their dogs are kept most of time to be seen and heard barking when an outsider appears. It is cruelty of a different type: elitist indifference to an animal, which deserves to be talked to and loved.

The Mightiest
Four Catholic men and a Catholic woman were having coffee. The first Catholic man tells his friends, “My son is a priest.
When he walks into a room, everyone calls him ‘Father.’ The second Catholic man chirps, “My son is a bishop. When he walks into a room, people call him ‘your Grace’.” The third Catholic gent says ‘My son is a cardinal.’ When he enters a room everyone says ‘Your Eminence.’ The fourth Catholic man chirps, ; My son is the Pope’. When he walks into a room people call him ‘Your Holiness’.

Since the lone Catholic woman was sipping her coffee in silence, the four men give her a subtle, ‘Well…?” She replies, ‘I have a daughter. She is slim, tall and 36-24-36. When she walks into a room, people say, ‘Oh God’……’

(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, N.Delhi)
Time warp
The rich, shortsighted Haryanvi Does sorely lack in sympathy/
For those who tie the knot/ In gurdwaras, temples or court/
In difference of the Khap Panchayat’s dictat/ What’s all that gupshup/
About freedom to love and be loved/
We are living in 2009 A.D/
But the minds of the khap panchayats are locked in 2009 CE
(Courtesy: N.E.K. Mandi, Gobindgarh)

The views expressed by the author are personal