APRIL 14 – the heyday for hilsa traders and mobile phone operators. It is definitely the wrong day to send important SMSs which get deleted amidst the flood of Shubho Nobo Borsho greetings.
This is when the price of the hilsa spikes, just as that of the cow/beef during the Qurbani Eid or when the BSF gets directives from its Federal Home Minister. Hilsa and panta bhaat have evolved from being traditional food to delicacies, given their price tags. In fact, here's a new pickup line: “There's my BMW and in Motijheel, my hilsa depot.”
And then, the assortment of bhortas. The enterprising can package them into small containers of Quality Street and sell on Oxford Street. After all, the local and Western food are separated just by the onion – take the onion out of the aloo bharta and you get the mashed potato. A similar exercise transforms the chapli kabab to the burger and the daal to the lentil soup. Perhaps that's why the tor (your) from torkari is stripped by the British to get kari, i.e., curry, or to be precise, their curry, aka, the British Curry.
The only other item left in the food chain is the inglorious chicken. Not to be out-stripped (accidental pun) for having no specific occasions for a price hike, the poor chicken takes the shotgun approach, covering the entire gamut of the English alphabet – starting with American Fried Chicken to Best, California, Dhaka, Fortuna, Golden, Hello, Kentucky (oh, and Kader Food Center too…), Mountain, National, Quality, Rambabu, Super, Tennessee and White-hen Fried Chicken (the last one inspired by Fair & Lovely…).
The more ambitious from the poultry clan also dares to venture into the bovine domain. Introducing the beef burger from KFC, renamed Kentucky Fried Cow. No wonder the cows are mad and Col. Sanders turns in his grave. What next? Fakruddin Ice Cream, Marlboro Nicotine Patch, Movenpick coffee? Oh wait, the last is already a reality.
This all leads to one conclusion – we are a Vast Food Nation. While others may have skeletons in their cupboards, we, as a nation, have cupboards in our skeletons. We eat to live, so that we can live to eat. It would have been more appropriate, if, instead of bones, we would have had intestines inside all our limbs. Remember the Eagles' song “When we're hungry, love will keep us alive”? Oh please!
And so, a night out in town is the choice of eating in every conceivable way – the gastronomical Kama Sutra, or should I say, Khana Sutra. The growth rate of eateries in Dhaka is matched only by that of rabbits, perhaps soon to be decelerated with government incentives of Taka 300 and a lungi. The private enterprise is already ahead in thinning out the herd – the sudden mushroom-like rise of the burger and dosa carts is soon followed by their overnight fall through perhaps class action lawsuits by chotpoti walas.
So, what is the rationale for all this obsession with food? Well, there are four illicit pleasures that the human likes to consume through the facial orifice – food beyond what is necessary, alcohol, smoke and dope. Since we, as a society, shun the last three vices on moral grounds, we have to compensate with the first one. It is far lesser of an evil to be a recreational grub user.
And so, we welcome the Bengali New Year by being unapologetic gluttons. Eat first, ask questions later – after all, there is always the inexpensive oral saline which you drink, trust, but never take with a pinch of salt while you prepare it with a pinch of salt. We can do a crash diet later on (which only leads to a diet crash). Even if that means us being the Last Food Nation.
Burp! Oops! Excuse me…
Ok, time for the Bollywood song and dance sequence: “It's the time to de-tox”…
The writer is an engineer & CEO turned comedian (by choice), the host of NTV's The Naveed Mahbub Show and the founder of Naveed's Comedy Club.