green banana leaf

Basically, a food blog. But, don't expect too many recipes. I am a foodie, alright, but hardly a nice, little cookey !

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Of Hunger

Food and hunger are complementary. Both exist together. Food has relevance only because of hunger. And, hunger has only one answer - food.

During the Forties, Malayalees experienced hunger, perhaps the worst experience of hunger for a people in the lap of a bountiful land. But, this time, hunger was man-made. A result of the Depression of the 1930s that swept over Europe, resulting in the War. As the Second World War progressed, the British Empire diverted all its food supplies from the colonies to the battlefields. Rationing was introduced for the first time in Kerala. In a short story from that period, the writer Nandanar hints at the ration system. The wife, handing over a glass of milk at night to the husband who has come on leave from his far-off working place, tells that it won't be sweet enough. "This month, there was only half a kilo of sugar.' (Oru Varshakala Rathri).

Hunger was a constant presence in the literature of that period. Karoor Neelakanda Pillai, who wrote continously about the plight of teachers, described a teacher who stole his student's tiffin, unable to withstand the pangs of hunger gnawing at his stomach. In the stories of Nandanar and M.T. Vasudevan Nair also, it is a constant presence. Especially the helpless hunger of children.

Kovilan, another veteran Malayalam writer, while talking of his leaving home to join the British Army, remembers his mother's death. His mother had died of hunger. Of having gone about for days without getting enough to eat. Then, one day, the young boy notices that his father and sister were surviving on a gruel of bajra, while he, the sole breadwinner, was fed with rice. That night he left home, to join the army.

It was hunger that drove generations of Malayalees away from their homeland. Joining the army was a popular option during the war years as it held the promise of food. And, a comparatively good paypack for that time.

Interestingly, it was through these armymen that many food items made its appearance in Kerala. Especially the canned food. S.K. Pottekkad, in his epic work, 'Oru Desathinte Katha,' has described Kunjappu, a young former soldier, displaying tins and tins of canned cheese, sardine in olive oil, butter and other things.

Returning to M.N. Vijayan once again, he has described how people used to fight for the remains of feasts. Rich people often distributed gruel to the poor, to mark occasions. It was known as 'Pattinikkanji.' Literally, the gruel of poverty. Engagements were called 'Paranju Kanji Kudi.'


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