G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

H. P. Lovecraft: "What a man does for pay is of little significance. What he is, as a sensitive instrument responsive to the world's beauty, is everything!"

Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Art Spiegelman: "You know words in a way are hitting you on the left side of your brain, music and visual arts hit on the right side of the brain, so the idea is to pummel you, to send you from left brain to right brain and back until you're as unbalanced as I am."

विलास सारंग: "संदर्भ कुठलेही असोत, संस्कृत, इंग्रजी, बुद्धिवादी, तांत्रिक, इतिहासाचे, खगोलशास्त्राचे, आधुनिक पदार्थविज्ञानाचे, शिवकालीन व पेशवाईतील बखरीचे, अगणित ज्ञानक्षेत्रांचे, अशा वैविध्यपूर्ण ज्ञानावर लेखन- विशेषत: कवितालेखन- उभं राहत."

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What Made My Parents Cry? Sugar, Rice, Wheat, Cotton...

Inflation is high in India, particularly food inflation. The Consumer Price Index that is published today reads red hot  9.31%.   Current account deficit is knocking Indian rupee down,  stoking fears of even higher inflation.

(Inflation has appeared many times on this blog before. Most notably here and here.)

My father-in-law (borne 1930) belonged to an economically well off family. But he had to eat millet rotis when he went for college education in Solapur. He still describes how he had to swallow the rotis with hot peanut chutney powder (aka 'gun powder').

My parents after their marriage in 1957 were  struggling economically.

My father once told me how hard it was to find some affordable rice after the birth of my younger brother in June 1962 and the young mother wanted rice for herself and the two kids.

He, already a college teacher,  could get only some "yellow rice". (Was it because Chinese were at the gates and their shadow fell over the rice?)

Artist: Claude Smith, The New Yorker, 16 July 1960

So was food inflation higher then than today?

The Economist informs:

"In a new paper David Jacks, an economist at Simon Fraser University, assembles figures on inflation-adjusted prices for 30 commodities over 160 years...Over the very long run commodity prices display a marked upward trend, having risen by 192% since 1950, and by 252% since 1900. But an upward trend has clearly not translated into global famine, and not all commodities are alike.

Long-run rises have been most pronounced for commodities that are “in the ground”, like minerals and natural gas. Energy commodities especially have boomed, soaring by roughly 300% since 1950. Prices of precious metals have also risen, as have industrial ingredients like iron ore. In contrast, prices for resources that can be grown have trended downwards (see chart). The inflation-adjusted prices of rice, corn and wheat are lower now than they were in 1950. Although the global population is 2.8 times above its 1950 level, world grain production is 3.6 times higher."

Look at the chart below. Rice, wheat, sugar, cotton- all essential commodities for a middle-class family- are today more than 50%  cheaper than they were in 1950's.

I remember how precious sugar was when I was a kid. Most non-Brahmin families (and even a few Brahmin ones too)  in our neighbourhood could not afford it and drank tea with milk and jaggery. They could afford  rice and wheat only on festival or other special days. Most had very few clothes.

So my parents, in-laws and their contemporaries  have borne the brunt of food inflation far more than me.

courtesy: The Economist, June 2013