He was all muscle and bone, with not a milliounce of loose flesh. And though close on 60 years of age, he was slogging away in the fields of Rayagada, Odisha, for a pittance. This was in 2001, and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme had not yet come into existence. His stance and rhythm were  eye-catching. He and other labourers  were digging at a Food for Work site, preparing it for tree plantation,  when our band of travellers stopped by.

P. Sainath is Founder Editor, People's Archive of Rural India. He has been a rural reporter for decades and is the author of 'Everybody Loves a Good Drought' and 'The Last Heroes: Foot Soldiers of Indian Freedom'.

Other stories by P. Sainath