To begin with, let’s assume that you have the wherewithal for quick, impromptu polls that gauge popularity. Then, let’s further assume that you want to find out how our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, so much maligned for not chattering like a magpie, fares in those ratings. Rest assured, there will be a corner of this country (here, look east) where PM Singh would have won hearts, minds and souls over with his latest remark that he is willing to make an exception to his vegetarian diet if he is served hilsa while on his official tour of Bangladesh.
Long before politics had severed ties, uprooted people and divided Bengal into two, its poets waxed eloquent over the nonpareil delicacy that is the hilsa: one described it as the ‘silver harvest’ of the waters, while another hailed the onset of the monsoon (when the fish comes to spawn upstream and is found in abundance) as a season dedicated to the ‘celebration of the hilsa’. Lesser mortals have been known to turn dewy-eyed at its mention (and this before the pungency of the mustard sauce hits their senses).
What about the clamour for cheaper imports of hilsa from our eastern neighbour now that the famed fish costs
R1,000 per kg in Kolkata’s markets? Well, we wish godspeed to Dr Singh on his noble venture to convince the Bangladeshis of the need to share their catch and hope those glistening fins bolster our bilateral ties. To build new ties or mend old ones, leaders organise cricket or football or ping-pong matches, and bear each other expensive gifts. None of that beats the sight of an elderly, dignified Sikh gentleman carefully picking the bones from a delectable serving of hilsa.