Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Chillifying the Nation

Brian Mendonça

Chillies. You see them everywhere. In their myriad hues of red they defy the senses. Each variety is carefully selected for its flavour, its pungency, and taste. By far the favourite in Goan cooking is the Kashmiri chilli which no xacuti can do without. Queenie shares with me that in samarachi koddi there is a combination of three different types of chillies, in specific proportion, to get the authentic flavour.

Even when I slink away to the vada pav cart to feast on a succulent snack, I always ask for the long green mirchi  fried in batter. Indeed, as Mr. Paresh Joshi pointed out to me the true chilli is one that takes your breath away, forcing you to gasp and inhale through your lips saying ‘hoo.’ Any dish that elicited this reaction -- ‘hoo-munn’ (say-‘hoo’ in Marathi) -- was deemed as having good taste.

Much as chillies are an aphrodisiac they are also used as a deterrent. Ladies are instructed to carry chilli powder in their handbags to stave off unwanted attention.

Now chillies have been enlisted to grace grenades in Jammu and Kashmir (J & K). Following the outcry against the pellet guns used by the Border Security Forces (BSF) to control crowds, the Home Ministry has despatched the first batch of 1000 chilli-filled grenades to the Kashmir valley.  Called PAVA, these shells are seen as the panacea for all ills. Much thought is given to the suitable measure of force to be used against civilians including women and children, while major issues lie deadlocked. We are further informed that ‘Before PAVA, Bhut Jolokiya – the world’s hottest chilli from the North East – was a weapon for crowd control.’*

On the heels of such depressing news I was elated to find that a packet of chillies helped to recover Diya Ray’s laptop. The 18-year-old college student had left the laptop on the Bhusaval Express from Pune when she got down at Karjat station on 24 August around 2 p.m.  She then boarded a local train to Badlapur station. When she realised her laptop bag was missing she registered a complaint at Badlapur.

The laptop bag was spotted by Karjat railway station constable GS Masane. In it was a packet of red chillis with a tag of D Mart mall located in Ambernath. Karjat RPF inspector Satish Menon called up Ambernath police station but no complaint was registered. He tried Badlapur station and struck gold. The bag was returned to Diya on 30 August. It had taken 6 days to track her – the same number of alphabets to spell c-h-i-l-l-i.#

In Mumbai there is the bedki variety of chilly used in cooking. In the Friday market bazaar in Mapusa you will find the Belgaum variety of chilly which is very spicy. But it appears Kashmiri chillies hold sway over all. It is ironic that what Kashmir is so famous for, is also what is to be most feared now by way of PAVA – the chilli.
* 8 September 2016; PAVA: Pelargonic Acid Vanillyl Amide  2 September 2016

Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 18 September 2016.

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