We have experience of the fall of a government due to rise in the price of onions: it had gone beyond the means of the poor millions who form the vast majority of our population. In recent months, prices of other items that are essential food for the poor have been rising and unless the government can bring them down, it will have to face the wrath of the people at the next general election. If it has the will to do so, it is within its power to do so. Its record on other fronts has been better than that of previous governments; nevertheless failure on the food front can prove fatal.
At the rock bottom there are only four items of food that need to be available to everyone at affordable prices (prices that do not fluctuate): rice, wheat, cooking oil — and onions. None of these items are perishable and can be stored in homes for at least six months. All the government has to do is ensure that they are readily available in ration shops with their prices boldly displayed. Any breach of these regulations should be made a penal offence.
Basically, prices of commodities are determined by the laws of supply and demand. Our demands increase with the increase in population. Supplies have not kept pace with it as land is being increasingly used for purposes other than growing crops. The government should, and can, ensure that enough land remains under cultivation to raise sufficient stocks of rice, wheat, dals, onions, potatoes and chillies. It already has surplus stocks stored up to be utilised in times of droughts, floods and crop failures. But at no time should a person be unable to feed a family of four. He is our aam aadmi who can turn the tables on any government. He is not much concerned with foreign policy, the rise and fall of Sensex etc. His sole concern is to keep his family alive and in good health. All he wants is roti (bread) with dal (and onions) and clean drinking water. He is not asking for much.
It is ironic that while the toiling masses cannot fill their bellies and farmers continue to take their own lives, there is also a khaas aadmi, a tiny majority which does not turn a hair blowing up Rs 10,000 on one meal comprising premium brands of Scotch, vintage wines, delicacies like caviar, oysters, lobsters, and meats cooked in wines followed by desserts and liqueurs till they burst with indigestion and wind in their stomachs. Surely, the top priority of any government worth its name should be to rectify this gross imbalance.
There is a lovely novella by Paul Gallico, The Snow Goose, which for good reasons made it to the world’s bestseller list some years ago. It is about a snow goose, which while on its winter migration from Canada to the warmer climate of California, got caught in a storm and lost its way. After flying thousands of miles it alighted on a lighthouse in an English island — starved, battered and half dead. The kindly lighthouse keeper brought it into his warm lodgings, fed it and nourished it back to health. When spring came, the goose flew away to its home in Canada. The lighthouse keeper felt he would never see it again. Not so. Next autumn, instead of going along with its flock to California, it flew back to the lighthouse in England to be with its saviour and friend. The story has never left my mind.
There is a passing mention of it in the newly-published book About Indian Birds by Salim Ali and Laeeq Futehally (Wisdom Tree). Salim Ali was a well-known ornithologist. Laeeq, his niece, is a bird lover. There is world of difference between the two. Ornithologists study birds, their habitats, habits, breeding etc. They tell you about their genus and species, their names in Latin and Indian languages — and that sort of thing. Bird lovers don’t bother about such details but what they look like and how to befriend them.
In his little book, Nikhil Devasar has provided photographs and colour paintings. I haven’t seen more vivid illustrations than these in other bird books. I can’t think of a better book to rouse a person’s interest in the avian species that we see every day in our homes, parks and gardens.
In Praise of Raj Thackeray:
Raj Thackeray is indeed a great guy
For, he has dared the old and sly
Father-figure of hatred to come out of hibernation
And compete with him in spreading poison;
Raj is indeed a great man
And should naturally head the Thackeray clan
To ensure that fear and anarchy
Walk naked on the roads of Mumbai
And thereby assert the Maratha pride.
In fact, the two should jointly author a guide
Or preside over a national convention
Or how to arouse sectarian passion
So that Rani Mukherji and Jaya Bhaduri can be sent back to Bengal,
So that Shinde and Pawar in Delhi fall,
So that no Maharashtrian can enter Chennai
And Ambanis are thrown out of Mumbai—
So that Bal Thackeray, his nephew and son
Can from Juhu to Chaupati all naked run.
(Contributed by Kuldip Salil, Delhi)