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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Readers Write Index


Smell the Rice

by Madani Mohiuddin Ahmad
King Saud University, Riyadh, KSA

Oct. 1, 2007

Readers Write


'The way to a man’s heart is through stomach' is a proverb worthy of all praise if someone has been invited on lunch or dinner. And you are lucky if served with Katarni Basmati of Bhagalpur traditionally cooked and served by the local people of the region particularly a folk woman gently holding the rice plate and waiting for your request, “a little more, please!”

This happy smile of the lady mixed with irresistible puff of smell of Katarni rice is certainly not comparable with any five or seven stars hotel anywhere in the world.

Newly married girls at the time of her farewell are offered with rice, fresh leaves of grass and turmeric by their mothers and close relatives. I have seen this on many occasions in my locality and its surrounding.

What could be the possible reason(s) behind this? Why not wheat or other type of crops in place of rice? Has productivity got any connotation with the transplantation method of rice cultivation if we keep apart the myth or mystery associated with any culture or tradition?

And I got something substantial in Bhagalpur, near the railway station. Fariya Patti is nearly 50 years old traditional local market and very popular for sailing Katarni Basmati. There are about 25 wholesale shops where the smell of Katarni is. I sniffed around and met 27 years old Sanjay Gupta, a graduate from a local college in Economics. He is the family member of his fourth generation doing the same business. We talked about some other variety of rice like ‘Mansoori’, and Sonam Shobha at length. Hospitable he was and offered me tea in a clay pot. Careless of rain water logging inside the market premises, we were still talking about rice cultivation and of course the specialty was Katarni Basmati rice.

“How is Mansoori?”

“It is almost on the verge of extinction”.

“And Sonam Shobha….?”

“Farmers are no more interested to grow.”


“It is very low yielding. This is the reason that the acres of land of Jagdishpur Anchal, Sighman and Madhay are either barren or flooded. And the excess use of pesticides has eaten away the purity of the seeds and soil. Above all, they are not much aware of know-how technology of agriculture. The incentive for the farmers is almost nothing… skilled field laborers are fleeing to other places like Punjab and Haryana. They are not seen either at the time of sowing the plants neither at the time of harvesting… local farmers are not happy…”

I myself reminded of those farmers who committed suicide in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh only because they were under heavy debt and had not been harvesting their crops for long.

Our agriculture based economy is shocking, I said.

Bereft and confused I couldn’t ask any more. The smell of Katarni was still coming to me. I asked him to make a small bag of Katarni rice to be carried as part of my luggage on my way to Riyadh, the beautiful capital city of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I wish to share with a handful of rice but in an exchange to a solution of the problem:

Will the smell of Katarni keep coming from its home land?

Apropos to this article, I commend Mr Ahmad for bringing this brutal reality in such a heart-touching manner. While the lure of quick bucks in Punjab/Assam/Delhi reduces the tenacity of our farmers in Bihar to struggle and learn new things in these times, their emigration from roots and Bihar as such are creating bigger social and economic challenges. It is important for us to recall in these times what Gandhiji said: we should embrace the changes but not get swept by the winds of change. - Ajay Jha, Patna & Virginia - Oct. 3, 2007

I have not heard of this smell of Katarani. But as a lover of rice, in good days I liked the smell of Sonachur and Kasturi. My grandfather and great grand mother used to carry the rice to Calcutta where I did my schooling just for me. Last summer my wife went to her village home and she brought some real good smelling rice but that was no where near Kasturi and Sonachur. I miss it but no one can help me. Here in Noida I get only broken Basmati rice rice. And I get content out of it some how. - Indra - Oct. 3, 2007

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