The other day on television, I saw a programme on how chemicals are being injected into fresh still-on-the-plant vegetables and fruit to give them a healthy look. The camera focused on the sinewy arms of a rustic farmer as he plunged a colourless fluid into his green gourd. The anchor warned of the health hazards it could cause to the consumer. It was scary.
How does one tell a contaminated fruit from a harmless one? I haven’t the foggiest. I googled. Apart from some general advice on colours and of not buying off-season fruit, I could not come up with an assuring answer.
I then mailed the query to some of my siblings and family members, including those working abroad. The Harvard grad went into the theory of economics, more to do with why the farmer resorts to such undesirable practices than into what I wanted and needed to know. His answer could have been of greater use to the finance ministry staffers ever busy feeding the trend of pre-budget boost to the agriculture sector.
The doctor nephew went on to explain what chemical the farmer would have used and what specific damage it could cause to the metabolism. He even recommended some antidote to counter the evil effects. The advice included a warning that the antidote might itself cause side-effects in case the fruit was not infected. No good, unless I myself injected the chemical first and then took the antidote.
I spent my adolescence as a vegetarian. Back then, the country was not scientifically advanced enough to give farmers easy access to harmful drugs. We climbed trees and plucked the delicacies. We relished everything off the shelf without caring what it might do to our innards. The habit has lingered and I still enjoy the fruit. But the TV programme left me disturbed. Now every time I feel uneasy in the stomach, the farmer’s footage comes back to haunt me.
Our maid does our kitchen shopping. One Saturday evening, she returned from the market with a bag full of mangoes and other summer fruit, happily humming. Lucky she never watches TV — best example of ignorance being bliss.
“Is this fruit pure?” I asked her. “Yes uncle”, she said nonchalantly, stuffing her purchases into the refrigerator. I was not reassured. “How do you know?” I asked, with some irritation at her dismissive answer. “Because when I cut and keep it on the table, ants rush to it”, she said in her simplistic response, “and they never come for dawayee.”
I am tempted to send Ms Anima’s name for a Padma award.