Part I: Confessions of a well fed middle class individual
You would be thinking what this post is all about. Without creating much hoopla around it, let me tell you that it is about HUNGER. Now you would have understood by the title that I want to be sarcastic here. But trust me, I am dead honest. Being a middle class person almost clears you of all the responsibilities you have towards your society (at least in India). You don’t believe me. Do you? Well, following are few extracts from across the table conversations in a typical middle class household:
“We can’t afford to pay a kuda wala. So we will throw all the garbage on the street which can be taken care of by the Municipal Corporation.”
“We can’t complain about those guys. They might be very powerful. We are middle class people not any minister. No need to go to college from tomorrow.”
“You want to do social service. Do you realize how a middle class family makes ends meet? Complete your studies and join a Government job.”
I remember when I was a little girl; I used to be really scared of street dwelling people. Those shabby people, who unlike me never took a bath, did not wear neatly pressed clothes and never combed their hair frightened me. I compared them with the rakshas (monsters) from Amar Chitra Katha comics. But one night, it all changed. It was November and the air had hints of winter. I was fully clothed and sitting by the window of a Maruti 800. We were returning from a marriage, of course fully loaded. The hosts made sure we ate all items on the buffet and leave equal amount on the plates. The only sounds killing the nocturnal silence were- the engine running, the tyres screeching, people burping and pigs grunting. There were dust bins on the road side which also acted as the mining area for the pigs. But that day, there was a human like figure too digging for something. I tried to focus more and was horrified to find out that it was an old man in rags trying to find a bread or roti. Suddenly, I was ashamed of my sumptuous dinner. My hatred towards them was replaced by sympathy.
For next few days I could only picture two hands full of dirt frantically looking for a dry bread among the rotting garbage. I felt like young Siddhartha who must have been heartbroken to see the sick, old and dying people and decided to renounce the world to become the enlightened Gautam Buddha later. I thought I would become a social worker instead of a painter when I grow up. I updated this decision in all the school essays I wrote that week. Next week, I became fascinated with classical dance and thus I denied a wonderful opportunity to earn Nobel Peace Prize perhaps.
After changing my life goals umpteen number of times, I finally decided not to pursue engineering and rather take up a course in Fashion Technology which actually encourages you to stay hungry- sometimes to model for a fashion show and sometimes to chase deadlines. College, classes, friends, a lot of vella time – eating to remain alive took backseat while eating to indulge was the new mantra. Trying to explore the king of street food Delhi, I met hunger many times- in the form of small kids loitering around the food stalls, nudging me or pulling the corners of my dress, demanding a small piece of the burger I was eating. But I never acknowledged it for it was very irritating. Reason- I guess because it’s not a good habit to disturb while people are eating or may be because it made me feel ashamed again.
I tried to understand this hunger closely. I introspected every time I was hungry. I observed fast on certain days but there were fruits, sweets and lime juice for rescue. I tried to check my weight through dieting but failed due to lack of self control. Assignments kept me too busy to have meals but never allowed me to feel the hunger. Some days I was too lazy to get up to cook but home delivery options spoiled me with choices. So, in the end I failed to understand hunger.
When the new age management gurus taught us the importance of empathy over sympathy, I realized it’s not enough to not eat food to understand hunger. One has to feel the helplessness associated with it too. I decided to make a trip to the busiest corner of the city with empty stomach and money enough to buy the bus tickets. I felt helpless no doubt when I saw hundreds of people gathered at the food stalls and ordering plates of pav bhaji, chole bhatoore etc. The only comforting thought was that of the birthday treat of a friend scheduled for the evening. Thus, my well planned experiment too failed.
So, did I ever understand what hunger is? I guess yes. I tried to understand hunger by not acknowledging it. The first time I tried to acknowledge it, I came closer to it. One evening I saw an old woman. Unable to walk, she was glued to the fence of a posh apartment complex, with her hands open and stretched, waiting for passers-by to throw some useless coins at her. I bought a plate of roti-sabzi for her. While I was handing over her the plate, our eyes met for a moment and what a moment it was- it conveyed a story longer and deeper than the last 900 + words I wrote. In her eyes, I could see relief, happiness, excitement, longing, gratitude and expectation. And for the first time I could feel her hunger inside me.
Part II: My Feel Good Model
I am suffering through what is called “the side effects of being well fed”. No prizes for guessing, it is obesity. I tried a number of dieting plans and gyms but could never get over the urge to eat chocolates. So I devised a plan. It’s not fool proofed (not yet at least) but I thought it’s worth sharing.
We all must be aware of the concept of mental budgeting and accounting. In our mind, we tend to create compartments or accounts according to purpose of spending. For example, if I decide that per day I would spend no more than 200 rupees on food, then I am putting aside 200 rupees per day for food. I would not be happy to spend more than 200 even if it is justified. Similarly, I would be happy if I spend less than 200 even if it was unnecessary. Thus, we see mental budgeting is not a very rational process but this is how it works. So how does it work for me?
I am simply obsessed with chocolates. I have sensitive teeth that ache whenever they are in contact with chocolate. My weight is never under check but an obsession is an obsession. So I have found a way to counter my urge to eat unnecessary and harmful things. I use the concept of mental accounting for the same. For example, I have an urge of eating a chocolate mousse from a particular shop that costs around 50 bucks. I would decide to buy it based on the mental budget I have assigned to eating chocolate and the consumer surplus I would derive. Since it’s harmful for me, I keep this money aside and try to distract myself away from all the junk and sweet food items. At the end of the day, I calculate the total amount that I have saved in my mental account and use it to get food from street vendors etc and distribute among old and poor homeless people. This gives me a satisfaction equivalent to having sweets and in return I get a lot of good wishes.
I know encouraging begging by providing them with money is not a good idea but this way I avoid giving money to children etc who might be a part of begging rackets etc. I may not be rich enough to do charity, I may be too busy to volunteer for a cause but this way I make sure that I look after my health and others’ needs.