Notes on corona – 4: Being privileged

A few years ago, we decided to forego many of our privileges.

It is not an easy task, and to be truthful, it has been a half-hearted attempt. Privileged people don’t easily become poor overnight. Even Gandhi was privileged to the last….he was simple but never poor; he fasted but never starved.

Today I drove down our elderly house owner to a bank in a nearby village. While waiting for him to withdraw money, I went to a shop there and bought 2 kgs of red bananas at Rs.35 per kg. Less than what we pay even for other types of bananas during normal times. This would be our dinner for two days. [The prices of pulses have gone up but that of vegetables seem to have returned to normal or lower levels, despite the higher margins the traders and middlemen could be charging at this time. Restrictions on movement of vehicles are clearly affecting the perishable vegetable/fruit farmers. We are again hearing stories of farmers letting their produce to rot.]

When we came back, his wife gave me banana stem sabji (வாழைத்தண்டு பொறியல்), prepared after tedious work. She gave more uncooked stem for tomorrow. And she has a heap of bananas from the same tree and will give us a few dozens once they are ripe. She also gave us ultra sweet slices of jack fruit that filled the house with its awesome aroma. All these are from their farm.

A little later my wife returned from our farm. On the way, Parvathi, the lady who grazes her cows on our farm, gave her about 20 palm fruits plucked by her brothers from the roadside and riverside trees, each containing the juicy kernel (நுங்கு) in 2 or 3 hard casings inside the outer fibrous covering. Parvathi was overjoyed today that we have allowed her to use a part of our land this season for sowing sorghum (சோளம்), whose stalks could feed her cows for months. (Apparently there are no buyers now for their palm fruits too.) These not yet fully matured palmyra fruits are eaten by inserting our forefingers inside the casings to poke and scoop the pulpy kernel and then sucked (நோண்டி நொங்கெடுத்தல்?). They taste as good as or better than the mature fruits. Then we figured out a way of scooping with the stem of a spoon. But after poking around so much, the fingers are feeling sore now and our stomachs full. The bananas have to wait for tomorrow.

We are conscious that these are luxuries denied to the urban middle class and the poor during these dire times. We do not know how long these luxuries can last, if the lock down is extended.

When millions are starving and struggling, such unsought privileges keep leaving you with a deep feeling of guilt. Once we overcome this guilt, we may be able to articulate some solutions for the future. After corona is gone, we still have a climate emergency to deal with. The clear skies would turn hazy in no time.

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