Gourmet delights: Gone were the days
Talking of table manners reminds one of the unforgettable incident at the ‘Retreat’ in Shimla.
Talking of table manners reminds one of the unforgettable incident at the 'Retreat' in Shimla. Vice President Hidayatullah, with the prior clearance of the then President of India, (N Sanjiva Reddy) spent a week there in 1982. Located in Chharabra, 10 km from Shimla, the Retreat is among the official residences of the President of India, who visits it at least once a year with a core office shifting with him.
We, the staff accompanying the Vice President comprising, apart from myself, Private Secretary Joshi and Security Officer Sathbir Choudhary, had just sat down to dinner. Just as the meal was about to commence, Joshi loudly shouted 'Arrey bhai, koi fruit shoot hai'? The butler, who was serving us, froze in his tracks; and there was a stunned silence all-round the table, and in the room!
Joshi, a veteran who had served Vice Presidents before, however, calmly proceeded with his meal. Another incident that comes to mind, in this context, is the lunch at the revolving restaurant in the 103rd floor at Toronto. I had accompanied Hidayatullah to Canada or an official visit and we had stopped at that restaurant for lunch while on our way to visit Chateau de Montebello, which was the venue of a famous meeting of seven important heads of state from around the world.
And, as a prelude to the lunch, I had joined Dr. G.S. Dhillon, India's High Commissioner to Canada, in having a couple of aperitifs known as 'takeoff'. The somewhat strongish drink gave one the feeling of being much higher above land than we already were!
Returning to the question of access to basic needs, we had noted, in the beginning of last week's piece, that no person can function effectively without first having the needs of hunger and thirst met. Those, and other basic requirements such as a roof over one's head, access to basic health and medical care services, remunerative employment, that provides enough income to fulfil one's requirements for leading a comfortable life, need to be met to keep one happy and contented.
But, then, there are those around us who are not content with basic needs being satisfied. They crave for luxuries, and are consumed by the desire to lead their lives in an opulent ambience. They indulge in extravagant pursuits and are given to expensive habits. And, in order to acquire the wherewithal to lead such a life, they will not hesitate to stoop to unscrupulous methods of earning money.
Values such as honesty, integrity fairness or respect for other people's needs, mean little to such persons. When they enter important fields, such as politics, industry, academics, sports and public administration, they tend to indulge in activities which seriously erode the public interest.
Unscrupulous political leaders, corrupt civil servants, greedy industrialists and dishonest academicians, of whom, unfortunately, there is no dearth in today, can, through their actions, nullify the impact of the overall national endeavour aimed at equitable growth and sustainable development.
As a result, a good deal of public money expended on providing relief to financial institutions which have suffered losses on account of such industrialists, who would often have acted in collusion with politicians and bureaucrats. Consequently, precious resources crucially required for meeting the needs of the common people are diverted.
People such as Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and Aruna Roy, have, no doubt, persisted in their effort to expose the immoral and unacceptable practices of people in various walks of life and have them brought to book.
Sadly, however, thanks to the determined efforts of those at the helm of affairs, to undermine the autonomy and independence of constitutional and statutory institutions, such as the Judiciary, the Election Commission, the Comptroller and Auditor of General of India, the higher levels of administration and legislatures at the national and state levels, many of those who blatantly flout the law manage to evade the just deserts due to them.
While referring to honest, well-meaning and fearless people I cannot help recollecting the duo of Ashok Gajapathi Raju and Mudragada Padmanabham, Ministers in charge of Commercial Taxes and Provincial Excise, respectively, in the government of Andhra Pradesh in the year 1986.
They sat on the same bench in the Assembly State Legislative Assembly. They would jokingly refer to themselves as, the 'corruption bench' as both the departments concerned were known for their high degree of dishonest practices, and collusion, between government officials and the businessmen. It was particularly amusing, because both of them were known to be men of great rectitude and integrity!
Over seventy years down the line, after independence, India has, to her credit, many great accomplishments, in various fields of human endeavour, from sports and culture to science and technology, and from agriculture to civil aviation. The country has produced great sons and daughters who have brought her laurels, including the Nobel Prize several times, and international recognition in many fields. The alumni of her institutions have made a name for themselves, and for the country, in practically every part of the world.
All these achievements notwithstanding, there are many causes for disappointment, on many fronts. Women are killed in the name of honour, and children continue to be sold in the streets of metropolitan cities. The poor continue to suffer from scourges such as hunger, poverty, ill health, illiteracy; and acute distress is evident in the farming community, often even leading to suicides.
The country occupies a sadly unflattering 139th rank in the Human Development Index prepared by United Nations Development Programme annually – an index that takes into account the availability, of and accessibility to, basic human requirements, such as food, shelter and clothing, apart from health and education, among other things.
Among all these worrisome factors, easily the most urgent, and important, concern, is the persisting food and nutritional insecurity. The threshold for food deprivation, or undernourishment, is fewer than 1800 cal per day. The malady goes beyond calories, and covers deficiencies in essential requirements of a human being, such as energy, protein, essential vitamins and minerals.
As one of the measures to address that challenge, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, in 1997, devised an intervention known as the 'tele food' programme.
The idea was that relatively developed countries in the southern hemisphere of the world would extend help to the less developed countries of the same region. This was to obviate the need, for the less-developed countries, to approach the developed countries in the northern hemisphere for assistance, which invariably came with strings attached, both political and economic. FAO and India shared the cost of the programme.
India chose Eritrea as the country it would assist. And I had the honour and privilege of leading a multi- disciplinary team from India to proceed to that country and make a comprehensive plan for the accelerated growth and sustainable development of the agriculture and related sectors. We were able to devise a somewhat innovative approach and produce a project to the satisfaction of both countries.
Coming back to situation in the country, it is a matter for deep regret that close to 70 per cent of Indians suffer from hunger to varying degrees, 50 per cent of them acutely. The country is home to the largest number of undernourished people in the world – 217 million constituting 17.5 per cent of the population. And India is ranked at a poor 67 out of 122 countries in the Global Hunger Index.
Given the vast disparities that divide Indians into the rich and the poor, no wonder someone remarked that, while some people are forced to do hard work in order to eat, there are others who have to 'workout' in order to undo the effects of overeating! While millions find it difficult to access enough food to 'eat to live', there are the fortunate few who only 'live to eat'. The poor people remain hungry for food and nutrition, while those who hunger for power and authority continue their endless pursuit.
One can understand the agony that drove Gandhi to say that God himself dare not appear to a hungry person except in the form of bread (also ascribed to Corina Kent, American artist and writer, who was formerly a religious sister).
(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)
(The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of The Hans India)