Wednesday, September 30, 2009



                             ( THE RED  CHILLI  POWDER  FROM  KASHMIR)

Every Kashmiri is a compulsive buyer of large food stocks essentially rice, edible oil and spices. He buys in kilograms what his counterparts in the plains buy in grams. His dishes must have oil and colour. For colour, he makes liberal use of red chilli powder. For dishes like Rogan Josh, chilli Korma, Rista , chicken, mutton balls, Damalu, fish, beans, brinjals, cheese and a variety of other popular Kashmiri dishes, Kashmiris use red chilli powder as the colouring agent. The vibrant red chilli powder imparts a rich flavour and colour to the dishes. This red chilli powder that upsets his stomach frequently remains a spice of choice with him. No matter he is a Pandit or a Muslim, you shall find him popping up antacid tablets or Omperzole formulations habitually. I have yet to find a community buying medicines over the counter or doing self-medication on a scale the Kashmiris do. A Kashmiri needs one prescription to keep buying the stuff life long for similar symptoms. Kashmiris suffer from bleeding haemorrhoids, duodenal or peptic ulcers, hypertension and various other digestive ailments primarily because of the enormous quantity of spices they consume. Medical professionals and pharmaceutical traders do a roaring business in J&K thriving essentially on this trait of Kashmiris.

Every day we have been looking at the advertisements displaying the availability of original red powdered Kashmiri chilli; original stuff from the valley, pungent, aromatic, the ultimate spice, long, fleshy, seedless, deep red, natural food colouring agent and so on and so forth. In Kashmir, I have seen the cooks  ( Waza ) advising a bride or bridegroom’s family that red chilli powder be purchased from Gana’s shop in Maharaj Ganj or from Kalwal’s shop in Maharaja Bazar or from Haji Mohd Sharif Wani’s  Masala ( spices ) shop in Qaziyaar, ZainaKadal for the feast they propose to organise in their marriage function. Similarly in Jammu, cooks engaged by Pandits for marriage functions advise them to buy red chilli powder from Prasad Koul’s shop or from Jain Masala Shop at Pacci Dakki or from Ram Sham Traders in Subash Nagar, Jammu or from Kangan Spices, Udhaywala, Jammu. The cooks, the bride’s or bridegroom’s family and the guests continue to remain ignorant about the real story of much-hyped red chilli powder of Kashmir. Leading Kashmiri chilli powder producing units of the state know it better wherefrom to procure the raw material for this hyped Kashmiri’s red chilli powder.

Where are Kashmiri red chilli peppers grown to such an astronomical commercial scale so as to feed the entire market of the state and throw tons of surplus for pan India markets and also set aside some stock for the international market ?. Can anyone make me understand? I could see chillies grown on a commercial scale in Noor Bagh, Bugaam area of Chadura or Pampore in Kashmir or some villages in Anantnag and Baramulla districts that too by individual farmers who generally use seeds imported from Andhra Pradesh or Karnataka. These seeds give a crop that has lesser seeds with fleshy red skin. Kashmir’s traditional red chilli crop is frequently hit by the pest. It is full of seeds with thin skin. This crop is insufficient even to cater to the demand of the consumers within the Kashmir valley. Add to this, there is no ' Save Kashmir Chillies ' type of campaign from the government's side so as to bring more area under its cultivation or supply quality seeds at doorsteps to farmers or train them in the pest management of this crop. Much of the red chilli powder sold in the pan country market as ‘Kashmiri Mirch’ is actually obtained from the chillies grown in Andhra ( Guntur ), Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Maharashtra and West Bengal. I have also seen red and fleshy chillies sold in various Mandis of Rajasthan especially Jaipur and Udaipur. 

 It may not be out of place to add that chillies are also used for controlling rheumatic disorders. Chillies are a good source of vitamin c. The botanical name of red chillies is capsicum annum . Kashmiris burn them in Kangris( fire pots ) to ward off evil spirits. Garlands of red chillies being dried under the sun on windows is a common scene to watch in Kashmir especially during the autumn season. Shopkeepers too have learnt the trick of the trade. They keep two or three gunny sacks of Kashmiri uncrushed chillies for customers to see but sell Andhra or Karnataka red chilli powder. Kashmiris are not the only chilli lovers. Chillies are grown and consumed in China, Spain, Mexico, Morocco, Turkey and Pakistan

 Pungency, initial colour and colour retention properties are closely related to the maturity of the crop. If the harvested chillies are not properly dried and protected from rains or pests, it may lose colour, glossiness and pungency. 
Sun-drying is the age-old traditional method employed for drying the chillies. Chillies are now dried in solar dryers. One such solar dryer has been set up in Pampore which ensures complete drying in 4- 5 days. 100 Kg of freshly plucked chillies gives just 25 Kg of chilli powder after drying. 

What poetry can be combined with chillies I am unable to make out. Let me conclude this story of Kashmiri chillies  with some lines from  Dina Nath Nadim’s  poem “Me chhum aash paghitch pagaah sholi duniya ” or  " I am hopeful of a sunlit tomorrow". In these lines, an expectant mother also hopes for a sunlit tomorrow. she also wants peace to prevail everywhere in this anti-war  poem.

‘Yinam daderei paninei,
“Vadhav chhai mubaarak”
Ba chhus potra maej 
Chhatra buen phikri taarukh.
Hemakh kochhi heyvin,
Az ba ma kenh ti praarakh.
...........Me chhum aash paghitch ,
             Pagaah sholi duniya .
Dapaan jung chhu vothvun ,
Paggah  gotchh na sapdun,
Pagaah gotchh na aassun.’

( Dina Nath Nadim )

(My friends and companions shall come,
wishing the welfare of the newborn.
I , a male child's mother, 
like a tall shady chinar,
shall teach them their due lesson.
Should they attempt to take the baby in their lap, 
I shall seek the Kochh Hevin amount,
and nothing shall stop me to seek this money.
Let us not talk about the war rumoured to be imminent.
How can this war be tomorrow?
It should never take place tomorrow.
I am hopeful of a sunlit tomorrow.)

(Avtar Mota)

Five decades back, the joint family system was prevalent in Kashmiri society . Crushed under this system, our mothers knew nothing beyond service or sacrifice for the family. This thumb rule applied to almost every poor Kashmiri woman be she  a Pandit or a Muslim. They led almost a similar lives. The only happiness to a woman at that point of time was the birth of a male child. This would elevate her status in the family. Kochh Heyvin was a custom practised by the Kashmiris. The close friends and relations who visited the family upon the birth of a child, gave some money to the mother after they held the newborn in their lap. This money was meant  for the mother to enable her to buy some clothes for the baby. My mother clarified to me once that in every household, the mother in law would immediately come after the guests were out to take away this Kochh Heyvin amount from her daughter in law as she had her own expenses connected with ceremonies to be performed for the baby.

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