What is it about Brinda Karat that makes Pranab Mukherjee see red? Her ideology, for one; her big red bindi; and also the red-bordered sarees she likes to wear. But Pranab babu is unlikely to be bothered with these trifles —what rankles are her barbs against rising food prices, when the government is obviously taking, as he said, “all necessary steps.” And if, after they’ve done everything they can, wholesale food prices are up 17.47 per cent in the last 12 months, imagine where we would be if the government was sleeping on the job.
So we have to tighten our belts. Why not start living like our masses, on bajra and jowar and a bit of dal? Unfortunately, that’s impossible. The government’s latest numbers for the wholesale price index show that the price of bajra has gone up 27 per cent, arhar dal 67 per cent, moong 59 per cent and urad dal 57 per cent since the beginning of the year. And these are just the wholesale prices. Austerity is very expensive these days. Thankfully, though, the price of barley has fallen by 3 per cent since the beginning of the year. It’s a health food, easily digestible, so switching to barley may actually be good for you.
In fact, the government may be trying to nudge us into eating more healthy food. For instance, eating meat is one of the reasons for global warming. That is why the government has allowed wholesale mutton prices to rise 33 per cent this year and chicken prices to go up 29 per cent, while allowing prices of sea fish to decline by 1 per cent. As you doubtless know, fish contains Omega-3 fatty acids, good for the brain, the heart and what not. Funnily though, the price of river fish has soared by 76 per cent since the beginning of the year. But that’s probably part of a Trinamool Congress plot to unseat the Left government in West Bengal.
Should we stick to vegetables? No way — potato wholesale prices are up 155 per cent this year, onions 52 per cent, green peas 117 per cent and tomatoes 17 per cent. Yes, but potatoes make you fat, onions are bad for ulcers and tomatoes have uric acid. Instead, look at okra or lady’s fingers, the price of which, according to the government, is down 20 per cent this year. And lady’s fingers contain lots of fibres and are good for your digestion. Indeed, if Pranab Mukherjee was a latter-day Marie Antoinette, he could easily say with a clear conscience, “Let them eat okra.” Also coconuts, which are rich in fibres, vitamins and minerals, have seen their prices come down 18 per cent this year. You can now experiment with new low-cost recipes, such as a lady’s finger-cum-coconut chutney, or a barley and sea-fish soup.
They’ve even increased the price of aerated water, up 10 per cent. Clearly, the government wants us to wash down our meals with Indian-Made Foreign Liquor, the price of which is down 2 per cent this year. Their thinking seems to be that it doesn’t really matter whether you get your calories in solid or liquid form. That’s apart from the IMFL helping to ease the pain of the new diet.
So all you have to do to beat food inflation is become a barley-eating, coconut, okra and sea-fish consuming, IMFL-swilling person. Maybe Pranab Mukherjee has secretly been trying out the new recipes, which is why he’s been in such a foul temper lately. And just in case you can’t take the diet any more, you can always end it all by trying rectified spirit, price down by 0.5 per cent.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
The views expressed by the author are personal.