A Horse and Two Goats

by R. K. Narayan

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What did Muni's wife give him for meals, and what does it reveal about their economic situation?

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For breakfast, Muni's wife gives him salted millet gruel or porridge. She also packs millet for Muni for lunch. However, the lunchtime millet is always cooked into a little ball. Muni's wife usually packs the millet ball with a raw onion for his lunch.

The scant millet meals comprise much of Muni's daily breakfasts and lunches. Sometimes, however, Muni is able to shake down some leaves from the drumstick tree that grows in front of his hut. He usually eats these leaves boiled and salted for dinner.

However, it is Muni's first two meals of the day that tell the stark truth about his economic condition. Citizens of many of the poorest countries in the world rely mostly on grain for their daily diets. Essentially, they eat meals that comprise a large percentage of carbohydrates. Such meals are usually deficient in all the vitamins and trace minerals needed for optimum health.

The text tells us that Muni's village (Kritam) is the smallest of the 700,000 villages in India. There are only 30 houses in Kritam, and there is only one house built of brick and cement. The rest of the houses are primarily made of straw, mud, bamboo thatch, or a combination of other natural materials.

Therefore, it can be said that Muni lives in straitened circumstances. This is why his diet consists primarily of millet.

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A typical breakfast or lunch chez Muni consists of a meager handful of millet flour cooked in a mud pot. If he's really lucky, Muni might get an onion. Such a simple and repetitive diet indicates that Muni and his wife are dirt poor, as indeed they are. It wasn't always like this, however. Once upon a time Muni used to be quite prosperous, the proud owner of a huge flock of forty sheep and goats. In Muni's society that's what constitutes wealth. However, Muni has since fallen on hard times, reduced to destitution by famine and drought. What he really needs right now is an exceptional stroke of good luck; what he needs is an American tourist with plenty of money in need of a statue, but who can't speak a word of Tamil.

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