Peeling Back the Days: The Year of the Onion – An Autobiography

News18.com

New Delhi: The year 2019 has been an eventful one for me. From being a humble ingredient and garnish that lent its aroma and flavour to make curries thicker and gravies more sumptuous, I have grown in stature to become perhaps the most important political issue in India today.

But my journey has been full of ups and downs, mostly in my price. I started the year at Rs 500-600 per quintal in most parts of the country including Maharashtra that contains some of the major onion acreage districts. By May, however, thanks to floods and damaged harvest in Maharashtra, Telangana and Karnataka, and slow arrival of new crops to wholesale markets, my value crossed Rs 1,000 per quintal and I was selling at Rs 70-80 per kilo. In December, I became the king of the vegetable market. The Sofia Vergara of vegetables, if you will. My prices touched Rs 200 per kilo. My mother would be so proud.

I feel bad for the farmers, though. You may think that higher prices spell higher income for the producers but since my kharif crop output itself was diminutive, farmer losses could induce tears more stinging than peeling my skin. Because only the bigger and wholesale farmers and exporters can benefit from higher prices. Poor primary producers will get a much smaller share of the onion pie even at higher prices. Maybe the government should have stored up more of my Rabi crop. But I'm a celebrity and celebrities don't lose sleep over the trifles of the aam aadmi.

The rich attract the media and I started attracting all of their attention. It's like I had won the lottery. Much like many people who are famous because they are rich, I started inspiring columns, fiery articles, protests, even misguided political speeches.

I entered the Lok Sabha for the first time, thanks to my new found value. So many politicians debated over my status and wondered how I had suddenly become so rich. I loved the attention, but like any rising celebrity, I too had my fair share of haters. I was deeply hurt when our finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said she came from a family that did not eat onions.

She wasn't the only one. Samajwadi Party's Azam Khan also tried to diminish my value. "What is the compulsion to eat it?" he asked. Our Jain brothers do not eat them. Stop eating onions, stop eating garlic, stop eating meat, everything will be saved," he joked. Or at least I hope it was a joke. But it didn't stop there either. Once the royalty had initiated the trolling, junta filled in the gaps. An overzealous strategic affairs expert proclaimed on social media that Hindu Bengali households did not eat onions. Kashmiri Pandits informed that they did not use me even when they cooked meat.

That's when I really lost it. I had always thought I was an areligious, casteless onion. I was free to be used as garnish or the primary vegetable of a dish. But ever since my fame, my country's politicians have been trying to give me labels and divide my followers – “non-vegetarian”, “non-Brahmin”, “non-Hindu” – all attempts to restrict my omnipresence and trivialise my role in India's culinary tradition.

Imagine biriyani without me. Imagine chicken curry or fish jhol without me. Imagine salad without me. Imagine spicy dal and chhole without me. Imagine a burger or steak without me. From rich to poor households, from Hindu to Christian to Muslim households, I am omnipresent. Forget Marx, I am the biggest class unifier. Perhaps that is why my fans across the country have taken to the streets to protest my unavailability.

Now, the government is strictly regulating my exports so that none of us can leave the country. Meanwhile, many of my brothers and sisters have been brought in from Egypt, Turkey and Afghanistan to tackle the deficit.

At first, I thought that people were jealous of my fame and that's why they wanted to reduce my price. But as the year draws to an end, I find myself in a mood of pensive reflection. I realise now that people want to lower my price so that more people can enjoy me. It’s actually their love for me that is bringing them out to the streets.

And that scares those in power. Every time I go missing from the plates of the common man, governments fall. After all, it was I who brought about the fall of the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Delhi in 1998, making way for Congress's Sheila Dikshit government that reigned for 15 years. But I’m no friend of those with hubris. When they neglected me again, I retaliated and Dikshit's 15-year-long reign ended in 2013, making way for Arvind Kejriwal. The Congress government in Rajasthan faced a similar fate.

As Delhi is set for yet another election, I wonder why no one is talking about solutions. So many denigrating me on the basis of my caste, vegetarianism or religion, yet not focusing on how to manage my surplus so that sudden rain or floods cannot damage my crop? I am a staple part of India's diet. Not just that, I am also rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre. Research suggests that I can also improve heart health. And guess what? No calories. And I'm a great source of ancient medicine.

So while some try to leave me out of ancient Indian tradition as "sinful", “un-yogi-like” food by way of killing my demand, I am happier being the "badass" of the vegetable world. After all, my prices have brought staples such as pulses, meat, potatoes and tomatoes to shame. Do I really need the country's approval? Not as much as they need me.