A colleague Santiniketan for the Basanta UItsav had a mixed experience on the road through Guskara. – Thousands of trucks loaded with neatly packed potatoes caused a traffic jam that was quite painful for someone looking forward to the spring festival.
On the other hand, there was the prospect of a potato glut that would help bring down prices and bring relief to millions who couldn’t think of a meal without this precious item.
It was the most glaring evidence of a bumper crop that was expected to have long- term effects. What a striking contrast to the situation not very long ago when there was a virtual panic over the scarcity – natural or otherwise – that had pushed up prices to more than Rs.20 a kilogram.
Now with the problem of plenty, it is a tough job to give the farmer a reasonable profit and then fix a price in the open market that is low enough to encourage buyers to pick up more on their daily rounds. If the price can be brought down to Rs.7 as expected, it could induce a reshuffle on middle class lunch and dinner tables.
The boiled potatoes mixed with onions and soaked in a superior brand of ghee would make the best starter. Some include boiled eggs in the scramble which makes it even better. Then comes the dal which is best had with deftly sliced fried potatoes which the caterers call jhuribhaja.
As if this were not enough for the potato addict, there is macher jhol which is never complete without the potatoes dipped in the delicious spices that have made this item pride along with rasogolla and mishti doi. The potato munched with fish is quite irresistible.
Whatever the price, the potato breaks the class barrier. Mashed potatoes had with roast mutton during a candle- light dinner on Valentine&’s Day tastes just as good as the samosa had with tea to refresh one&’s taste buds before it is time to take the local train back home to neighbouring district after the day&’s work. The young generation is more enterprising.
For them a better choice after school or college would be the stuff that is dipped in that delightful liquid to make the phoochka so popular.
The potato throws up staggering possibilities. Will the aloo paratha now be so affordable as to hit the pavement stalls where the vendors set up makeshift lunch tables? Will the cook at home make an experiment to see if it as good as the recipe prepared in a classy North Indian restaurant? Or will French fries come with mayonnaise at more wayside eateries as an alternative to the packed chips which may become cheaper to cope with the competition.
And, finally, trust the biryani lover to inquire from the restaurant waiter whether the popular dish that makes the most wholesome – but now not so affordable – lunch has a whole potato to be rolled in the mouth with the same smell. The projected glut could call for better market management to protect the interests of the poor farmer. But for the man in the street, it could lead to healthier appetites – and that is what matters.