Struggles of Survival in "The Grass Eaters"

Categories: Short Story


The Grass Eaters, a poignant short story penned by Krishnan Varma, unfolds in the tumultuous setting of Calcutta, India, circa 1985. The narrative revolves around the lives of Ajit Babu and his wife Swapna, a couple thrust into the disheartening aftermath of the religious strife between Muslims and Hindus. As they navigate the challenges of displacement, the story delves into their arduous journey for a semblance of stability, security, and privacy amidst the harsh realities of post-war existence.

Struggling for Shelter

Upon arriving in Calcutta, Ajit Babu and Swapna found themselves bereft of a place to call home.

Faced with the dire need for stability and security, they traversed through various makeshift dwellings, starting from the crowded footpath where, as the author vividly describes, "if you got up at night to relieve yourself you could not be sure of finding your place again" (p167). Their journey led them to an abandoned wagon at the railway terminus and, eventually, to the confines of an old pipe.

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Despite the adversity, Ajit Babu's optimistic outlook on life prevails, finding solace even in the face of losing four children and enduring a life of destitution.

The Quest for Stability

Motivated by Swapna's pregnancy, Ajit Babu embarked on a relentless search for a more stable and secure living environment, yearning for privacy and comfort. As a retired teacher and with Swapna not engaged in employment, the meager pension provided by the government proved insufficient for their basic needs. Their struggle to make ends meet forced them into drastic measures, such as consuming a diet of boiled grass mixed with spices as a substitute for regular food.

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Additionally, they resorted to collecting coal from the railway tracks and turned to rice gruel during times of escalating food prices.

The Dwindling Food Supply

Compounding their hardships, Ajit Babu and Swapna found themselves gradually reducing their daily food intake. Their nomadic existence, devoid of a stable home or consistent meals, epitomized the harsh reality faced by those displaced by conflict. Despite these challenges, Ajit Babu remains content, appreciating the mere existence of sustenance and finding solace in the belief of reincarnation. He clings to the hope that, in the next life, he might be reborn into a higher state, thus sustaining his resilience and optimism amid the dire circumstances.


"The Grass Eaters" masterfully captures the struggles of Ajit Babu and Swapna as they grapple with the aftermath of religious conflict in Calcutta. Their quest for stability, security, and sustenance unfolds through a series of transient shelters and meager meals. Despite the grim circumstances, Ajit Babu's unwavering optimism serves as a testament to the human spirit's resilience. This poignant narrative invites readers to reflect on the indomitable will to survive and find hope even in the direst of situations.

Updated: Dec 29, 2023
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Struggles of Survival in "The Grass Eaters". (2017, Mar 30). Retrieved from

Struggles of Survival in "The Grass Eaters" essay
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