Wednesday, 8 February 2012

More than what meets the eye: On having opium for dinner

Time has this irritatingly disarming quality of making one get used to anything. In its characteristically flippant manner, it obliterates hesitation, smoothens out initial hiccups, steam-rolling even the most novel experiences into the mundane plateau of routine. And so, after spending an action-packed initial three months in Pratapgarh, the distinctly unheard of district in south-eastern Rajasthan where I have been staying for the past few months, I watch the peaks of novelty fade into a familiar pattern. But listening closely reveals that if I want to, I don’t have to look too hard for the charm of a new thing learnt.

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Opium (Papaver somniferum) fields ready to be harvested.
“What is for dinner today?” I ask my landlady, partly to make conversation, and partly to drown out the noise my stomach is making. A jolly matronly, she is one of those women who firmly believes that a hot meal can soothe a tired body, mend a broken heart, and fight boredom and lethargy. She delights in feeding me local foods and every meal is an interesting lesson in the gastronomy of southern Rajasthan.

Afeem ka saag aur makke ki roti”, she says, holding her rolling pin in that assured convincing manner only a seasoned chapatti maker can.

Afeem? Did my landlady just tell me that I was going to eat opium for dinner? My innocent dinner, and suddenly life itself, started looking rather interesting. No matter which side of the bed you get off from, or levitate from, if that’s your style, do you expect to hear you’re having opium for dinner. Reading my look of incomprehension, she quickly clarified, “The leaves don’t have any hallucinogenic properties. The farmers pluck the extra plants when they are very young to avoid crowding in the fields.” Aha, so much for my mind’s immediate expectations about dinner unleashing psychedelic hues.