We, the Government
By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer
We were delighted to read Farmers’ Market puts organic products on sale (GP 15.o4.2019). This is We, the Government in action.
This great initiative by a private hotel was in line with the suggestions we had made. In our column, “Our Rural Outreach” (GP 22 Jan 2019), we had proposed that Mussoorie’s Municipal Board establish a weekly market on the lines of our traditional haats to encourage the people of our neighbouring villages to sell their produce in Mussoorie. Sadly, our newly-elected Municipal Board has responded with a crashing silence! Some of their opponents are busy spreading the rumour that the winners are preoccupied with trying to recover the money they spent to be elected. That’s entirely possible. Politics has, very largely, become an unscrupulous, money-making family business and principles and probity are regarded as the pipe dreams of batty idealists.
But we won’t ride that hobby-horse right now. We have far happier things to talk about.
The first encouraging thing is that the initiative to start such a weekly market has come from a non-sarkari organisation. That’s even better than if it had been run by the babus of the City Board, as we had proposed. Many babus are addicted to rent-seeking. Brentwood Hotel informs us that they do not charge the village producers anything for the display of their wares.
According to Brentwood: “Mussoorie Farmers Market (MFM) aims to bring local communities together to support local/natural/organic produce by offering farmers and naturepreneurs a niche platform to showcase, sell healthy food and natural products in Mussoorie.”
We had anticipated that our Traders’ Association would object to rural producers being given direct access to urban consumers. We were wrong. A representative of the Association assured us that the products offered by the farmers were not in common demand and so our traders’ businesses would not be impacted. This statement, in itself, is a sad comment on the sarkar. The babus and netas make knee-jerk statements about reversing migration from the villages of Garhwal but they do virtually nothing about making farming a viable proposition.
People have lived in the villages of Garhwal for generations. They have developed a culture which has sustained them in an extremely demanding environment. The crops they grow, the utensils they use, the food they eat, their cooking methods (we have eaten a local dish steamed over oak leaves), the clothes they wear, the jewellery they design, the instruments they play, the deities they worship, their ceremonies, customs, traditions are survival strategies evolved over untold centuries. This is part of our intangible heritage. But every abandoned village is a growing Black Hole draining our reservoir of traditional wisdom. Once lost, it would have gone beyond the cultural Event Horizon!
We should have a scientific assessment of the nutritional value of local foods to discover what sustained rural communities before their cuisine was suffocated by the gastronomic tsunami from the plains. Garhwali food is where we must start. When we promote local food it would make the growing of endemic crops viable, which would increase the income of village farmers, reverse the fatal migration from the villages. Brentwood has done a great service to Garhwali culture by introducing local cuisine into its menu. Ingredients like stinging nettles (they make an excellent soup), wild mustard, horse-gram, toor-dal, barnyard millet and brown rice, among other fortifying ingredients, have been turned by local chefs into delectable dishes.
Here, however, we have struck a strange roadblock. A restaurant owner in Mussoorie says that many Garhwalis are reluctant to popularise Garhwali cuisine and culture, though out-of-state people show an increasing interest in both. This is normal: some of us believe that to deny familiarity with our roots enhances our status. We call it the Papad Syndrome. An upwardly mobile woman, of our community, who had recently migrated to the UK from Kolkata, was at a curry-lunch with angrezi friends. It was hosted by a London-based Commonwealth association. When the waiter brought papads, our socially-aspiring Anglophile loudly fluted, “Ah! Curry biscuits!”
Papads are, virtually, obligatory with Kofta Curry and Yellow Rice. This is a traditional Anglo-Indian dish which spans all regional variations of our community’s cuisine. Happily, she did not transmogrify “Kofta Curry”.