The Right to Education Act is rightly being hailed as a great piece of legislation, one that will forever change the lives of the masses of this country. Critics who say the Act will remain only on paper are dead wrong. Here’s how a chat among highly-educated villagers in the chronically drought-hit Balangir district in Orissa will be a couple of decades from now:
Villager1: We’ve had nothing to eat for a couple of days.
Villager 2: What makes it worse is remembering what we were taught in school about Ludwig Feuerbach, the German philosopher.
Villager 3: Ludwig who?
Villager 2: The guy who said, ‘Der Mensch ist, was er isst’ — Man is what he eats.
Villager 1: I had no idea you had taken German in school.
Villager3: You must have taken it in class 9. That was the year our school mud hut collapsed — I missed out an entire year.
Villager 4 (singing): Food, food, glorious food. Remember the song about food they taught us from the musical ‘Oliver!’?
Villager 5: Recall the food in Leonardo’s Last Supper?
Villager 1: Di Caprio?
Villager 5: No, Da Vinci.
Villager 3: Alas, my Fine Arts teacher died of tuberculosis, so I never learnt to sing or paint.
Villager 6: Here’s a problem: If it takes six people 23 days to eat a sack of grain, how many days would it take ten people to eat up two sacks?
Villager3: My arithmetic teacher ran away with the mid-day meal rations.
Villager 4: This is a favourite poem I often think deeply on: ‘I wish I was like the pelican/ His bill can hold more than his belly can/ He can take in his beak/ Enough food for his week/ But I’m darned if I know how the hell he can.’
Villager 2: And from Feuerbach it’s a short step to Marx. The rich take all the food.
Villager 6: Where did you learn all this subversive nonsense? We never had Marx in the syllabus. The reason we don’t have food is because our productivity is low.
Villager 2: Even Shakespeare talked about our village moneylender. Remember Henry IV: “He hath eaten me out of house and home; he hath put all my substance into that fat belly of his.”
Villager 3: I was the school marbles champion.
Villager 5: Some of those still life paintings by the Dutch masters have lots of food in them.
Villager1: I wish we at least had some tea.
Villager 4: “Tea tempers the spirit, harmonises the mind, dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens the thought and prevents drowsiness.” That’s from Lu Yu’s The Classic
Art of Tea.
Villager 5: I’ve read Charles Lamb’s brilliant essay, A dissertation upon Roast Pig, hundreds of times. The best time to read it is while having a meal of coarse rice and chillies, it adds enormously to the flavour.
Villager 3: I make my wife read cookbooks out loud.
Villager 4: Roast pig is so passé. I’ve written an essay on postmodern food, deconstructing a dish of red ants and mango kernels.
Villager 6: It’s all a question of supply and demand.
Villager 1: All I can say is that like Oscar Wilde, “I am dying, as I have lived, beyond my means.”
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
The views expressed by the author are personal