I am still reeling from Mrs Kohli’s Diwali party, the festival of lights! It left me de-lighted and light in my head. I would say it was the mother of all parties, the hostess is the mother of creativity when it comes to party themes. She says that she suffers from ‘FOMO (fear of missing out)’ hence all her parties are to do with current themes. The parties should be ‘insta-worthy’. Here she was, chirpily screaming into the phone, “You know, you mustn’t miss our new year’s party, at our farm house in Delhi. Guess what the theme is?” I made many wild guesses but each time I was wrong. Then pat came her reply, “YOLO!”
I gasped, “You only live once?” I was met with wild laughter as she quipped, “Come on, that’s passé. YOLO stands for YOU ONLY LOVE ONIONS!”
Now I just couldn’t control my reaction to this hilarity. If not anything, this theme was surely a tear-jerker for me! I should have guessed because the other day she had posted a picture of onions on social media, that she had bought, nestled comfortably in a Zara tote bag!
According to her onions depict royalty. All the items on the party menu would be delicacies with the main ingredient as onion! Onion rings, onion pakodas/fritters, onion kebabs and the list went on. She also knew my weakness for the Maharashtrian dish called jhunka which needs lots and lots of onions.
A man in possession of onions, is now heralded as one of the most fortunate of all! It is a vegetable that no Indian kitchen can do without.
She tempted me, “We are flying in a chef from Mumbai who is an expert at preparing the dish. So, come no!” I was so happy that the modest dish was now able to find a place on the rich man’s platter! However, what of guests like the finance minister of India, who evaded questions about the rising price of onions in the parliament proclaiming proudly that she came from a family that did not care much about onion and garlic. Mrs Kohli smirked, “What do they know about taste that’s refined and delectable?” So, the onion has just stepped into the elitist strata of society. It has just gained the status of a Page 3 celebrity.
Our taste buds have gotten so used to curries, gravies and recipes where the onion is the main, indispensable ingredient. Even here in Dubai, people miss the Indian onion. It has a characteristic taste of its own. The ban on export of onions by the Indian government has affected the farmers the most. “That is because the country produces about 23.5 million tonnes of onion (2018 figure) a year, but consumes only about 14 million tonnes. So, export is necessary to maintain prices and ensure that farmers get a profit,” according to Indian traders.
#OnionCrisis on social media has stimulated the creativity of many meme makers and the virtual space is replete with jokes regarding the same. I liked a particular one which said that Audi has changed its logo-the four circles now are depicted with onion rings! Then there’s a tweet which ridicules the price rise saying, “Indian onion is stronger than the American dollar.” Another one says, “Don’t buy onions ... buy shares. Many fundamentally sound companies are cheaper than 1kg onions.”
I read a couple of days back that onion ‘dosa’ has gone off the menu in Karnataka, where 40 sacks of onions were stolen from a farm. Over the last ten days, thieves have been active in Maharashtra, where about 700kg onion was stolen; and in Bihar, where 328 sacks full of the precious bulb vanished. So, it is time to buy highly secure vaults to save the precious vegetable from thieves!
The onion has been an immensely mighty player in Indian politics too. Governments have come and gone because of this bulb! Indira Gandhi made a comeback in 1980 after her unceremonious exit in 1977 using onion, among other issues, to target the Janata government. Some called it the Onion election. We have time and again seen politicians of the opposition wearing garlands and hats made of onions and protesting.
Hence, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of onions, is now heralded as one of the most fortunate of all! It is a vegetable that no Indian kitchen can do without, it will forever rule the psyche of people, the health of an economy and of course Mrs. Kohli’s party too!
— Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @VpNavanita