Allium what? It’s the onion, I’m talking about – the original tear jerker when stabbed by a sharp edged knife on a chopping board. But an onion a tearjerker all dressed up in its jacket? Nah, you are likely to say – if you don’t live in India, that is.
These days the sight of an onion sets my mood regulator to ‘lachrymose’. Actually, the onion has had this impact on me since 1993 or 1994 when its price rose sharply from Rs.3 a kg to Rs.12, all in a day. Then it rose even higher, setting new benchmarks for itself with each rise of the bar.
And one day it plummeted to a new low which did not correspond even remotely with its original high. I wiped away my tears with the back of my hand, never pausing to rummage in the drawer for a handkerchief, and rushed to the nearest greengrocer to collect a month’s stock, in case the price escalated again. As I stacked them away in my larder, examining each pink globe in disbelief, I burst into the famous Hindi song, “Kaho na Pyaaz hai”. Seeing so many onions jostling for space on my shelves was a sight that proved too much for me, I guess. I had to pinch myself to believe it was true.
We need an army to mobilize action against the hoarders, middlemen and exporters of the allium. Such a force could be called “Hum Hai Rahi Pyaaz Ki”, and their theme song could be “Kya Yehi Pyaaz Hai?” – an oblique but telling allusion to a time when the onion would no longer be visible in humble Indian homes because of its caviar-like status. People would go around bleating mournfully, “De De Pyaaz De” and “Yeh Pyaaz ka Nagma hai” but to no avail, because nobody ever listens to vox populi , or don’t do anything about it if they do.
The onion was the first vegetable in our markets to crumble under the onslaught of the greedy merchant, but several others followed suit in quick succession.
Alea Iacta Est.
The cost of living continues to be unbearably high and die-hard non-vegetarians have perforce had to swallow the humble pie and turn to the relatively cheaper climbers and creepers to keep body and soul together. The inflation index is creeping upwards with staple food and dairy products rushing to imitate the destiny of the onion, and petrol prices have gone through the roof, compounding the misery of the hoi polloi.
It all began with the humble allium cepa.