It was a hot April Day in Kolkata. Sometime in the decade of the 80s. The temperature of the city was higher. From the strikes. Left parties. Worker-Student solidarity.
They had sat in front of the closed gate. Decorated with Red flags and banners. From early morning. Smoking. Sipping. Waiting for the result of the day long negotiations. Trade Union and the Factory Management.
Metal Box. One of the largest companies in the city. On lockdown for eight months.
Hungry Workers. Angry Students.
Among those waiting in the crowd of students and workers was a Medical student. In his third year. He was a member of a student’s union. Marxist. Democratic Students Center. He had been coming every day for the past three months with his fellow students. To the gate. In protest. With them came their teacher. Comrade Roy. He taught them Marxism and Leninism. The factory gate was his University of practical learnings on Marxism. Direct contact with labor unions. Factory workers.
A different world from the comfort of his upper middle-class home.
Around six o’clock the results of the negotiation were declared. The Management had relented. Workers got all their demands in place. There was jubilation at the gate. International was sung. In loud chorus. Claps and slogans.
Someone suggested. ‘We must have a party.’ So, some students decided to go to one of the worker’s house. They poured out their pocket. Coins. Notes. ‘Let is have Noodles. Food of the Proletariat.’ They said. On their way to the worker’s house they bought a few packets of noodles. And tea dust.
The worker had four daughters. The eldest was acclaimed for her cooking. Father said ‘She will cook noodles for all of us today. She cooks so well.’ Shy daughters ran to light the kerosene stove in one corner of the room. Tea. Black. Boil water.
The students and a few workers sat on the floor. Cross legged. And analyzed the strike. The negotiation. From a Marxist angle. How would a Maoist have approached it? Was there an element of Revisionism in the last days of the strike? It was a theoretical debate. The medical student was vocal. He had been reading Marx and Lenin and Mao too for the last one year in much detail. He even asked for a paper and pen. To draw his interpretation. Of the flow of events in the Strike.
Tea came soon. They drank absorbed in their theoretical analysis of a Marxist analysis of the strike.
About half an hour later, the daughters all came beaming. With small bowls of noodles. Enamel bowls and spoon. The students were hungry. They stopped their discussion to eat.
As the medical student took his first spoon of noodles he wanted to throw up. It was noodles boiled in water with salt. It tasted horrible. He just wanted to run out of the room and throw up the food. On the road outside. His other Comrades were all busy eating.
The teacher pulled his student’s plate. ‘I am very hungry. Can I have some of yours?’ He asked. The medical student was feeling sick. He drank the glass of water kept in the middle. And shook his head. ‘Yes. I am not hungry.’ He faintly said.
After the noodle party, they got up to leave. Congratulating the worker again. And the daughters for the noodles.
On his return home the medical student and the teacher were in the same bus. The student felt guilty. Embarrassed. Depressed. He was depressed. He confessed to his teacher that he could not eat the noodles. Nausea gripped him. With the first spoon.
The teacher smiled. ‘I know you are far ahead of them. The other students and the workers. In your reading of Marxist and Maoist Theory. Knowledge is powerful. But if you want to be a Marxist, you must learn to eat noodles in a worker’s home. Unless you enjoy their Noodles, you will never be one of them Comrade. And unless you are one of them, you can never work for them. I strongly recommend this for you. If you want to serve the workers, learn to enjoy their noodles. Or you can just be a good doctor and serve human race. Workers too. That also is a good service. To Workers. For Workers get sick too.’ And he laughed. The student laughed too.
The student tried to eat noodles boiled in salt-water again. At home. He threw up. Twice.
Then one day he put his collection of Marx and Lenin in the shelf. Sad. And concentrated wholly on reading medical science. His teacher in Marxism approved wholly.
The student never forgot his teacher’s lesson. If you want to serve them, you must enjoy their food. Their lifestyle.
In public health, first you need to be a ‘public’ and only then can you be of any service to their ‘health’.