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Interestingly enough, China is becoming a big supplier as well. The Chinese have been importing prawns and crabs; in return, they have been sending us their version of catfish, which perhaps the discerning Bengalis may not even look at, but is a big hit with regular fish-eaters. Chinese fish have become some sort of a communication dilemma for sellers in Mumbai for they have no idea what most of them are called; they are commonly referred to by their size: bada, chhota and so on. The Bangladeshi and Chinese fish have kept Mumbai fishmongers ticking even during monsoons when, traditionally, the seas are not harvested because the fish are spawning.
Encouraged by the burgeoning demand of the omega fatty-oil seekers and neo-fishitarians, fish traders are exploring further. In true globalised fashion, the rivers of Pakistan, Iran, Oman and even Iraq are being scoured in the West and, rivers in as far as Vietnam too are being explored for ‘fresh’ fish. By noon, Vinod’s work is done, cash counted, deposited in the bank, and next day’s airway bill collected as he heads home wearily, cursing the traffic. The only thing that keeps him sane is a plastic bag which contains a pair of white fish about 10 inches long from ‘somewhere’ and what was the fish called? Going by the imaginative naming conventions that the fish market has put in place, it could be called gora.
Beta carotene is a pro-vitamin that easily converts into vitamin A. In many cases of vitamin A deficiency, it has been recommended by general physicians. It is naturally found in carrots (from which the carotene name has been derived) and other vegetables and some fruits as well. Apparently, its content is highest in the Indian marigold flowers (genda). Apart from marriages, these flowers are used for floral decorations of all sorts, from lecterns erected for political events to religious pulpits. Once used, they are contemptuously thrown into trash cans.
Globally, especially in Japan, vitamin A supplements are a vital part of the daily intake for the geriatric. It helps tide over some irksome failing of sight, bones and even minor intestinal bleeding in advancing years.
Some experts consider it as an anti-oxidant as well. At Prabhadevi, central Mumbai, Ajay Pendse, a doctor, has been scavenging for marigold flowers, for over four years. He made it his mission to collect as many marigold flowers as he possibly can and extract beta carotene which he exports to Japan. His day begins early with a visit to central Mumbai’s flower market where marigold flowers are sold in bulk. Making allowances for festival seasons, he is always the last buyer. He buys leftover flowers and transports them to his factory where they are used as raw material for the beta carotene extract. Demand in the Japanese market is high. His commitment is to provide around 100 tonnes of the extract annually. But the non-medicinal use of the flowers is so high that there are times when he can barely extract a few bottles. He cannot commit to an increased supply, as the raw material supply in this part of the world cannot be guaranteed. He tried convincing farmers in Panvel (on the outskirts of Mumbai) to grow marigold flowers, with little success. Had he not been a qualified doctor, several farmers would have regarded him as a loony-bin case. Nobody thinks of flowers as a potential vitamin supplement. At best, they are meant for gods, festivals and festive occasions and, finally, for some saucer-eyed love birds.
Mention this to the ‘government authorities’ and they look down upon you from their 5,000-year-old Ayurvedic cultural heights. With know-alls and do-littles in a position to dictate policies, vitamin supplements are farthest from anyone’s intake. But marigold flowers are not the only items that can be used for extracts. Green tea is another major anti-oxidant used in the West and the Far East. Each of these is a billion dollar-plus supplement but since these are not advocated by rock stars, they have not become wellness mantras. Wait till the authorities hear about calcium extracts from milk which are used as supplements too. Or walnut extracts. The list goes on (of course, Ayurveda has mentioned them all but then…). It will be another day when a business case will be made of the extraction process, patented and registered. Till then, it is flower power to the fore.