Thursday, September 10, 2009

In search of famine ...

Many years ago, the renowned Bengali film maker, Mrinal Sen made a film titled “Akaler Sandhane” (In search of Famine). The film, rich in symbolism is about a film unit who travels to a remote Bengal village to make a movie on the Great Bengal Famine of 1942. This was a man made famine as food was diverted from the market to provide supplies to the Allied armies involved in the Second World War. At the conclusion of the war, the famine inquiry commission estimated that 1.5 million people had died in the period due to lack of food. This is now widely accepted to be a very low and inaccurate estimate and today, it is guessed that the figure might be 3-4 million, since a vast majority of the people died in the country side without their names appearing on any official record.

Coming back to the film. The unit is off to a remote village and they have hired a manager to take care of the logistics. He would be responsible for arranging board and accommodation while the unit would be busy filming. Initially, the movie makers are welcomed enthusiastically; but then things happen. As the Unit manager goes shopping in the tiny village market he is buying up most of the products in the market. An artificial shortage of food items begins to occur and pushes the cost of food items beyond the reach of the ordinary villager, thus creating an artificial food shortage and a famine of sorts. Meanwhile, the Unit carries on with its filming oblivious to the local food shortages and tensions that they are generating as they dig up the past…. Many of the affluent villagers who are grumbling today are actually the children of war profiteers – those who prospered by hoarding food grains, selling them at inflated prices as their fellow men died around them – and then by buying up their property at throw away prices.

The film unit people are essentially decent people; they are just getting on with their lives and doing what they came to do, viz. make a film. If their presence is causing food prices to rise, if their probing into history is causing old ghosts to surface and haunt ; if poor people are being put to hardship because the rather extravagant consumption of the film crew has created shortages , well they are quite ignorant about the consequences their way of life on others.

Considering that India is now passing through a time where half the country is drought hit, it seems pertinent that the other half of the country and for the moment it includes me and practically every one that I know is living like the film unit in Mrinal Sen’s film unit; living our own lives and doing so in relative comfort while others commit suicide or starve at our doors.

Very often we tend to demonize the hoarder, the black marketer and the profiteer, the ones who very obviously and blatantly prosper while others suffer; but it is not too often that we ponder over the choices that we make in our lives and how it might affect others. In that sense, while we may not be breaking any laws of the land; in terms of what we consume and how much, we may well be lacking in moral sensitivity. But then , perhaps that is another story…..

1 comment:

Renu said...

The last para is very profound..we need to think on those lines..nothing is totally black and white..we do so many wrongs without even realising..need to wake up.