At the Wagah border, jingoistic crowds from both sides gather every evening to cheer/boo the belligerent posturing of the Indian and Pakistani security forces as the respective flags are lowered for the night. Now, a real battle is in progress there with the maidan-e-jung soaked in blood-red tomato juice and onion-induced tears.
And to think that it started as a gracious, neighbourly gesture. Seeing their Indian brothers reeling under a skyrocket attack of onion prices, the Pakistanis rushed nearly 500 tonnes of emergency supplies to India and the relief of grateful housewives. Aman ki Asha was alive, well and spreading its comforting aromas. But then came a diktat from Islamabad's commerce ministry.
Citing the likelihood of onion prices 'shooting up to over Rs100 a kg in Pakistan' as a result of exports, it decreed that no onions could be sent to India via the land route, which is the most economical one.
This flashpoint was no flash in the pan. The very next day, the Indian side retaliated. Some 50 Amritsari traders announced that they would stop the export of tomatoes and chillis across the border. Rolling their sleeves and their eyes, they hoisted Pakistan by its own padwal, saying that prices of these vegetables in India might skyrocket too if such exports continued. Then, putting their muscle where their mouth was, they stopped some 150 fully loaded trucks from crossing over.
It is not known if a slugfest began, using the rotting tomatoes and chillis, but one thing is certain. An eye for an eye will not only make the whole world blind, but could leave it broke - and hungry - too. Since capsicum is also a major item of export from India, this eye-bulb to eye-bulb confrontation on the border will hopefully end with a Shimla Mirch Agreement. On the other hand, trenchant positions on both sides could Agra-vate the conflict.
If butter sense prevails, we could see a new version of the dinner diplomacy now used to stop war by more palatable means. It began with Nixon's audacious bid to thaw Sino-US ties. Mao's supporters had condemned him as a 'gangster who wielded a butcher's knife', and a stunned Kissinger had reportedly spluttered to General Haig, "Al, this fellow Nixon wants to open relations with China. I think he has lost control of his senses." Yet, there was Tricky Dick knocking back mai-tais with Zhou Enlai in Beijing in May 1972.
Hu knows how much things have changed. The Chinese president's first engagement in Washington this January was a White House dinner. And, when President Obama visited us, Manmohan Singh showed that he could be as adept as a Delhi socialite when it came to using a fine table to turn the global pecking order to one's own advantage.
Actual eatable, excretable food is also a serious ingredient of bilateral relations, even of superpower-dom. Witness the hegemony of US agricultural exports. We had our own PL 480 dependency in the early decades of independence. In the 1970s, the Nixon administration was embarrassed by the 'great grain robbery' when the American people unwittingly ended up subsidising wheat exports to the USSR. In the '80s, Reagan banned these to punish Russia for its invasion of Afghanistan.
To return to the veggie war at Wagah, as always, the fraternal ties between the two peoples have not been fried; the conflict remains only official. As an Amritsari sabzi saudagar said, "We are not against Pakistani traders, only against their government's position."
Nevertheless, as Shri Kauliflower and Janaab Auberjinnah dig in their roots, you can be sure that no visiting cultural troupes are crooning 'Jab pyaz diya toh darna kya'.
Courtesy: Times of India
Wednesday, February 09, 2011
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