Dying in hordes, they still didn’t snatch the food to eat. You know why, Babu? Not one, not ten, but hundreds, hundreds of thousands, they went to their deaths. They stretched their hands to beg, tossed in the pain of hunger, they begged for the gruel drained off cooked rice to make it fluffy, they fought with stray dogs pawing through rotting dumps, but they did not put their hands to snatch food. Yet food was within their reach. Thus begins the story “chhiniye khaye ni keno?” (“Why didn’t they snatch food to eat?”), about the 1943 Bengal famine, written in the mid-forties by the celebrated Bengali writer Manik Bandyopadhyay.

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