The New Yorker:

One morning last December, Uttam Kunwar awoke from a terrible dream in which his mother had died. Any relief he felt lasted only until he turned over on the floor, beneath the blanket he shared with her, to find her dead. We spoke on the last day of February, in a tiny settlement at the eastern edge of Jharkhand, an Indian state near the Bay of Bengal. Uttam sat on a khatiya, a bed of bamboo and cord mesh, beside logs left from the pyre. “She died of hunger,” he said. I asked how he knew, and he stared at me. “She died of hunger,” he said.

The bulb above us sputtered. Uttam brought out a passport picture glued to his mother’s bank-account book. Villagers offering directions to her home had spoken of her madness, and I looked for signs in the photo. Premani Kunwar confronted the camera with a frown, the drape of a patterned sari falling on a lean, oblong face. Uttam folded his arms and pressed his curled toes into the ground.

Three days after Premani died, members of the Right to Food Campaign, a loose partnership of activists, economists, and researchers, drove down from Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand. They scattered over the open country for two days, interviewing neighbors, family, and the rations supplier who gave the village its monthly share of subsidized food.

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