Every day, at about 3am, as Mumbai’s mad traffic reduces to a trickle,
Vinod races his pick-up to reach the Mumbai International Airport’s cargo
complex to collect a consignment of fresh sweet-water fish from Bangladesh.
Having done so, he moves to Sassoon Docks in south Mumbai where his entire
consignment will be picked up by retailers even before the sun has touched
India’s eastern shores.
Bangladeshi sweet-water fish conjures up mouth-watering culinary possibilities
each surpassing the other. Perhaps, katla or rohu may be the mainstay of the
Bengali daily diet, and bhetki and hilsa are known even to non-Bengalis, but
there are others on the offer like parshe, aarmach, pabda, boal, chitol and
maagur. The keywords are ‘fresh sweet-water fish’ which has committed
takers – from individuals to speciality restaurants. The import of these
Bangladeshi sweet-water fish to Mumbai alone is reported to be Rs1,000 crore
per annum, and has contributed immensely towards the prosperity of fish
importers and exporters.
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.