Here is an extraordinary analogy of India’s syncretic culture expressed in vegetable language.
Over the years, I have read many articles written by Chidanand Rajghatta and have enjoyed the message he communicates with a good sense of humor. He is fellow Bangalorean and I learned that he, Late Gowri Lankesh (was his ex) and I went to college at the same time, and we were all pukka (strong) humanists, which we still are. His home in Bangalore is two streets from my Sisters home, which is home to me.
In the past, I have written and spoken extensively about how human organs work cohesively to create a normal functioning human body. When I read Chidu’s piece, I was imagining the vegetables come to life and teaching us a lesson how to live cohesively.
I read this again, and one of my other stories I tell is “the community is a bus” and how we can imagine each tire of the bus to be a representation of a faith and how all of them need be filled with right amount of air in the tires, sort of level playing field for the bus to certainly, smoothly and assuredly reach its destination. I started reading this again – each veggie to be representative of a group – it can apply both to India and US, where insecurity is raising the heads of nativism and biases against other immigrants is raising its ugly head as well.
The Optics of growing together in a plural, syncretic, inclusive Bharatvarsh
By Chidanand Rajghatta
All the vegetable representatives in India gathered at the kitchen table to discuss a vital matter. The Prime Minister of India had declared that Tomato, Onion, and Potato were his TOP priority, causing great consternation among native vegetables. They felt foreigners were being given preference over homegrown varieties.
“Let the meeting come to order!” commanded Brinjal, the reigning vegetable king who traced his origin to the Baingone Era in Bhartavarsh. He was a widely traveled intellectual who was known as Eggplant in America and Aubergine in Europe, where the French had honored him with the Grand Prix des Legumes.
“So why is everyone so agitated about this TOP spin?” asked Brinjal.
“Well, your Highness…the TOP vegetables are all of foreign origin. If they get priority, we natives will rot. They have already become essential for Indian cooking and dominate the sabzi mandi,” complained Okra. Although of African origin, Okra claimed he was a Brahmin of desi provenance. He also boasted that Bhendi Bazaar in Mumbai was named after him, although the discerning knew it came when the British referred the area south of Crawford Market as “behind the” bazaar.
“Well, I’ve been hanging out with Potato and never thought of him as a foreigner,” mused Brinjal, candid about his soft corner for a friend he fondly called Aloo. “In fact, he has deep roots in India and keeps an eye out for me.”
“They just pretend to be from India, sire. They all came from Mexico,” whispered Bottlegourd, a low-key vegetable who was actually a social climber and an alcoholic. “Imbosters!” hissed his cousin Bittergourd, who said he was a native of Karela. “Immigrants!” snorted Carrot, whose ancestors came from Persia but who pretended to be Indian. “Yes, yes! Foreigners!” piped up spiteful Chilli, who was herself from Mexico but was always mean to others who arrived in India more recently.
“Ain’t no problem where they come from. We are all in this together now. Make India Great Again!” yelled Pumpkin and his brother Squash, who were Americans settled in India.
“Oye Kaddu! Chup!” snapped Cucumber and Lettuce, withered old layabouts whose salad days were behind them but who were always shutting up purported foreigners. “Yeah, ask the potheads to bring them in and let’s hear what they have to say,” drawled Fool Gobi, who didn’t even know if he was a vegetable or a flower, if he was from India or China.
So on King Brinjal’s orders, Potato, Onion and Tomato were ushered into the meeting by Weeds, who were useless security guards. Weeds were always high, thought they deserved to be called Highness, and didn’t care where they came from or anyone’s origins for that matter. When they first heard the PM advocating TOP, they misheard it as POT and swayed wildly in the breeze, giving each other high-fives.
“So what do you have to say about these charges?” King Brinjal asked TOP.
“Sire, we have been in Bhartavarsh for so long that we have become natives. We can OPT out, but you will have no batata vada,” said Potato, as his wife Hot Potato and their children Small Potatoes cowered behind him.
“And no sambar,” piped up Tomato, blushing as she eyed Potato’s lazy brother Couch Potato.
“And no pakodas,” added Onion, tearfully.
King Brinjal weighed their words. They were right. If they left, Bhartavarsh would be left with just useless Weeds, that Fool Gobi, that infernal Okra, and too many Gourds. Everyone would start to worship Gourds and it would rob the country of its variety and diversity. And who knows, one day they might even decide that he, King Brinjal, actually came from China!”
“Well, I have thought this over. If we let them go, we will all miss them because we all came from the same mother earth,” he told the agitated desi vegetables. “We should let baingones be baingones and live together happily ever after.”
Chidanand Rajghatta is an Indian-born opinion columnist based in Washington, D.C. He is the present foreign opinion columnist and a United States liberal blogger for the Times of India. He received his Master’s Degree in Mass Communication from Bangalore University, Bangalore. He is the author of The Horse That Flew: How India’s Silicon Gurus Spread Their Wings.