As people who care deeply about food, it kills us to see the staggering statistics related to hunger and malnutrition. India is home to the largest number of under-nourished and hungry, with 195 million people going hungry every day. Many photographers have tried to capture the essence of this basic need, or the deprivation thereof.
But this portrait by photographer Vicky Roy, one of the speakers at the upcoming JOSH Talks 2016: LEAP, A Ted Global level event, pricked our conscience. At first glance, it seems ordinary. The dull walls, the beaten floor, the ubiquitous charts hanging above, a child savoring his food.
On the superficial first glance, it is just another depiction of a meal. But then it strikes the viewer that there’s more to the photograph. You notice the minute details: the sodden rice is strategically placed in the bigger partition of the plate, the walls are the color of sour cream even though you see only black and white, the concentration that the boy exudes translates into the significance he accords to this meal, the focus of his eyes and a little twinkle is indicative of his satisfaction, the chart paper seems so contextually misplaced and yet so important, the stunted growth, the twisted bones, the frail demeanor.
The next thing you know, you are praising the photographer for his astute sense of context. He has beautifully captured the irony, the reality, and everything in between. This could very well be because of his own roots. His website mentions that he ran away from his home and started working as a rag picker at the New Delhi Railway Station before he was rehabilitated by the Salaam Baalak Trust, Delhi. He had been the street’s favorite kid once and now meticulously captures the stories of the street on his lens.
We asked people to share their unalloyed first reactions that the photograph evokes, and they are just as beautiful as the picture itself.
1. The Magic in Every Bite
The kid isn't in the best of physical health, clearly. But he forgets the pain as he digs his fingers in the soggy mix of rice and pulses.
2. The Friction Between Reality and Fiction
The photographer very carefully and cleverly draws a line between dreams and reality, and at the same time shows a blurring of the two. For the urban upper class, the poster is an obvious reality, achievable; but for this boy it is a dream.
3. The Urgency in Every Bite
The certainty of a meal is a luxury, and when there's a meal to be had, there's an impatience as he savors the food. Nothing should come in between the boy and the plate.
4. The Economics of Food
She further explains, "The first thing that strikes me about this picture is how bare everything is around the young boy. I can only imagine what it's like to live a life where access to food is a problem, so much so that it affects a person's health, but that's what I think life would be like—bare. As an Economics student, I have been taught to consider health as a development indicator and have been told that it is of social importance because unhealthy people are inefficient—they cannot contribute to the economy despite being otherwise able."
5. Reality is a Recurring Theme
This is a choice between two fundamental requisites of life. While the policymakers and thinkers frame policies on health and education, the effect is yet to trickle down.
6. The Photograph begets Poetry
The picture evokes such a confluence of issues that one cannot help but express it through a free verse poem.
7. The Photograph Seeks Answers
We see the physical scars. We see the unkempt hair. We see the pale face. Perhaps the very first and pertinent question that it seeks to find an answer to, is about whether the food on the plate will be the kid's ticket to a healthy future. One cannot help but be hopeful that the answer is in affirmative.
8. It Talks About So Much More
The viewer interprets this as a story that touches so many other issues, including the vicious cycle of poverty. But the hope is that the food will be a purveyor of energy to break these shackles.
9. There's No Dearth of Hope
Food is the means to an end. The chart is there to inspire the kid to show what he can be. That he can have a healthier, better life.
10. This is a Painful, Gentle Reminder
This makes far too much sense. We take so much for granted, and what better way to feel thankful than through a realization from art? Remember that every meal you take is a blessing, a luxury even, and not everyone is fortunate enough to receive this blessing.
No doubt that the photographer's work is an amalgamation of all things real, brutally real. We present to you, Vicky Roy. He is one among the 24 remarkable people Josh Talks is bringing together, creating a monsoon of impactful stories. From innovation to design, entrepreneurship to filmmaking, technology to music—we have it all covered.