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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Hingwala

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I remember the Hingwala, and miss him badly even today. Who was the Hingwala? Well, the word Hingwala does not relate to the Hingwala Lane of Mumbai, nor does it relate to a person suffixed as Hinwala on the “face book”. The Hingwala is no more. He used to be in my childhood. The Hingwala in my story was … a middle aged man representing several of his kind, during my childhood who used to visit our village once in a year. He used to hang a mysterious bag on his right shoulder, and in this bag he used to keep a number of things and “a number of things” included some clothes, mustard oil in a smallest bottle that could be made in a factory in those days, a packet containing sattoo, a small packet containing common salt, and a big squire shaped box containing the Hing.

The specific smell or aroma that used to come out of the whole figure of Hingwala, and that used to fill the air around him forced everyone to recognize him as a Hing seller though villagers used to recognize him by his face, graceful but humble look and his big bag. Not just a Hing seller he used to remain for villagers, his behavior, looks, and talk-pattern had established him as a dear and believable person like a close relative of each one of them. He too recognized every one of the village with a clear remembrance about him and his family members including children, their education, their educational progress etc. He was very familiar to us also, but through our parents as he did not keep anything of our taste.

The Hingwala used to sell Hing (the resin like gum derived from a plant Ferula assafoetida, used as a spice to season many types of dishes, and also as a home medicine for treating various stomach disorders) on loan basis and the loan was to be returned either in cash or in kind during his next visit the next year in the same month. Our parents used to pay him some kilos of wheat or rice as price for the Hing they had purchased from him the previous year for the consumption during the whole year.

The Hing purchased from the Hingwala used to be excellent spice and our mothers used the same in many different ways. They used it for seasoning the Bathua dal, sag and other items also, that they used to cook on the traditional smokey chullhas. I had seen some mothers making their small children drink a solution of Hing made by them in their own milk. Most of the mothers in those days did not use spoons for making their children drink some liquid, and instead they used to make use of seep- shells or the shells of fresh water mussels. These shells were also used in making fruit- or vegetable- scrappers as any one of the school going children had yet to invent a metal- scrapper and demonstrate the same in any one of the science exhibitions organized in any part of the world for school children. The Hing solution in milk was traditionally used by lactating mothers to stop their children crying due to any unknown reason, probably due to stomach ache.

Image:1. Chenopodium (Bathua)

Image 2 : Chenopodium Plant growing wildly in a campus

The LPG very popularly used in our kitchens as domestic fuel was not known to Indian villages in my childhood, and rural ladies used to cook food on traditional smokey chullhas by burning wood or crop residues. Though smokey wood chullhas are still not uncommon in Indian villages, the Government Programme on building awareness about the use of smokeless chullhas and making such chullhas available on subsidized rates have removed the problem of smoke from many of our rural kitchens now. Some of our villages have started enjoying the use of LPG, the scarce fossil resource to be conserved at any rate now. It is very agonizing that no sooner than our villages start using any resource it is declared as scarce as our cities have already consumed it wastefully.

We liked to eat Bathua –Dal and Bhat very much especially in the morning of winter before leaving for school. Now let me tell about the Bathua –Dal that may be disturbing you. Bathua is the Hindi name of a well known leafy winter vegetable known in English as Chenopodium. Rural girls used to collect Bathua from crop fields growing wildly there as weed. The cooked rice is called as Bhat in rural U.P. and Bihar, and also in Jharkhand states of India. While eating Bathua Dal and Bhat in the winter morning we used to sit near the bonefire, on which we often heated our food, and the aroma of Hing in the Bathua Dal used to come up on heating and fill our nostrils and brain. Still today, as I am spending my most of life with my parents, wife and children in a normally good though politically mismanaged city of India, I cannot forget the taste of Bathua Dal seasoned with that pure and good Hing purchased from the Hingwala.

I miss my childhood very much, though I know the same can never come back again in remaining part of my life; and my childhood friends with whom I used to go to school; and the horse gram fields from where we used to uproot a few plants and walked over the whole way to school while plucking and eating seeds contained in its pods.

I miss Hingwala, as for about decades I have not been able to buy Hing of similar excellent quality and the unforgettable aroma from even the most genuine shop in this city. As far as I know till today, Hing like other spices was never sold under any brand name in those days but people used to believe their sellers with products they carried for sale who were equipped with high degrees of morals, honesty and names and their personalities mixed together to challenge even the best sales men of some of the biggest masala companies of today’s world in terms of quality, purity, faith reliability and treatment. In today’s world people die off dropsy after consuming mustard oil mixed with the oil of Argemone seeds. Argemone (Argemone mexicana) is a weed that grows here and there in India and many other countries. Everything has been adulterated even after decades of passing of Acts and Rules and the so described alertness of Law Enforcement Agencies. Even our thoughts and deeds have been adulterated now. The Hingwalas of my childhood have gone extinct from today’s world … almost dead, yes “dead as dodos”.


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