position of well-fed foreign advantage, I saw the perpetual offers of food as an almost both-
ersome aspect of traditional village hospitality. However, a reconsideration of this every-
day exchange shows the ways food is used to express solidarity and enact morality.
In this drought-prone region, regular meals were not necessarily always enjoyed by
one and all, year round; historically, the greeting, “have you eaten?” could be more than
a convention of speech. Moreover, redistribution or an ideal sharing of food is an indi-
cation of cosmic well-being as well as a righteous (versus demonic) social order. The
former unjust pre-1947 ruler of this area and his agents were consistently lambasted in
local collective memories (evoked when I was gathering regional oral histories) for not
opening their grain stores in time of famine, as virtuous kings charged with protection
of the public ought to do (Gold and Gujar 2002).
Countless South Asian folktales condemn selfishness with regard to food. In the sto-
ryteller's world of divinities who walk on earth and test human kindness, simple, impul-
sive generosity with the most meager homely fare is rewarded with gold and jewels. One
tale I recorded first in 1987, and again from three other tellers in 2007—the “Generous
Potter and his Stingy Wife”—tells of a woman who refuses to continue making bread for
two wandering holy persons after they outstay their welcome. Her husband admonishes
her in these strong words:
We have plenty of grain: this is Lord Shankar's own storehouse. Lord Shankar gives
us all the wealth we possess, so for you to give a couple of pieces of bread, what trou-
ble is that to you?
When the wife adamantly refuses to supply food to the lingering saints, her husband simply
shares his own meager meal with them, willingly going hungry night after night. Ultimately
the generous man is rewarded when the powerful holy persons turn his half of the pots
in the kiln to pure gold, leaving his wife's clay (Gold 2012a). The definition of all food as
belonging to “Lord Shankar's own storehouse,” that is, as generically a blessing from God
and never the sole result of individual effort, is a powerful charter for prescriptive sharing.
Another tale of simple-hearted largesse with simple fare is the story of Shakat, a wom-
an's ritual tale with a narrative pattern known widely throughout North India. Here a
guileless impoverished woman gives gruel and extraordinary hospitality freely to a deity
in disguise. She is richly rewarded. When a better-off sister-in-law (or neighbor) sees
the poor woman's boons and tries to replicate the exchange by offering the same meager
food to the same deity, her reward is literal excrement (e.g.: Wadley 1986). The acquisi-
tive woman's fault was double: first, this imitator gave poor food when she might have
afforded better; second, she acted with crude expectations of profiting from her funda-
mentally hypocritical generosity. Shit was her just desserts.
Although stories such as these speak of rewards in this life, both generosity and stin-
giness with food have consequences after death as well in narrative traditions. A. K.
Ramanujan concludes his lovely assemblage of South Asian food ideas, “Food for
Thought,” with a folktale from Karnataka about the imperative for food generosity, the
moral of which is a reflection on such behavior's impact from birth to birth: “Because
I gave you some food, I've been reborn now as a king's son. My wife refused to part with