Potatoes! Potatoes!

Way back in the thirties, I was visiting the parents of my brother’s wife in their village in the district of Lahore. Although a mere boy, I deserved a good, tasty meal as the brother of their son-in-law. So the lady of the house took a measure of wheat grain to the village shop and brought some potatoes. Proud of having done the right thing, she sat down by me to peel them with a knife. As she was doing this, her son, about my age, returned home from play.

When he saw his mother preparing potatoes for cooking, he gave a whoop of joy and shouted, “Potatoes! Potatoes!”

The lady was embarrassed. Potatoes were a delicacy all right, but she did not want it to appear that it was something wholly out of their reach.

“How silly! “ she said. “ As if you have never seen potatoes before.”

Later, when we moved to Karnal after Partition somebody showed me a field where potatoes were growing. This was a fascinating sight- a short plant yielding such a rich crop. They said it was an expensive proposition with the seed coming all the way from Patna by passenger train. I also happened to see the Aloo Dafter (Potato Research Institute) at Simla. Here, the potato was, of course, the ruling deity with pictures and models of the plant as well of the ‘fruit’ in various conditions of health and disease all over the place. Then they set up a branch office in Jullundur and the crop began to flourish not only there, but even in the most unlikely places of Punjab, like Bathinda and Sangrur.

Potatoes have now lost colour and character and have ceased to be a delicacy This year they have even lost value. There are no buyers. The ‘Potato King of Jullundur’, Sarder Iqbal Singh Dhillon, Member of Parliament, told the Parliament a few days back that farmers, having nursed the potatoes to life and also to proper size, were now reluctant to dig them out of the soil because the price was at Rs. 8 for eighty kilograms, out of which, Rs. 5 was the price of the gunny bag.

Somebody else, who is not a Member of Parliament, told me a more interesting story.

“A Jullundur farmer harvested his crop and put it in the bags for marketing the next morning. Then he went home for the night. During his absence some thieves visited the farm. They seemed familiar with the market trends. The potatoes were all there. They took away only the emptied bags.”

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