Kalloo spent every morning in two months of lockdown walking in search of a free meal. On the days he was lucky, he would find it within a kilometre of his village. But sometimes he would have to trudge 8 km to the other side of the Ganga river, to the Dashashwamedh ghat in Banaras city. “What to do, the soul is not satisfied without food,” said the 55-year-old single man. “Khaaye bina aatma nahi manta hai.”
Mala, a single mother, had six souls to take care of. After her employers stopped paying her during the lockdown, the domestic worker made furtive trips to Banaras, in the hope that she would find some odd jobs or gather alms to buy food for her five children. She often failed. “We would sleep on chai and roti, sometimes not even that,” she said.
Neither Kalloo nor Mala’s experiences are exceptional: lockdown hunger bore down on millions of vulnerable Indians who did not have ration cards.
But what makes their stories starker is the fact that they live in a village adopted by the prime minister.