Ten years ago, when the pontiff of the Siddaganga Mutt was a mere 100 years old, an early-morning customer at the Shivalli Restaurant on Mysore-Bangalore road asked for Pongal.
It was 7 am.
The rice dish came with a small bowl of ‘pachadi‘, with raw onions doing free strokes in the curd pool.
The customer was aghast at the sight of onions and called for the manager, who explained that this is how “most people” wanted their raitha—even at 7 am—with onions.
That old chestnut—onion or not—has been opened again.
The Karnataka government has reportedly decided against awarding the catering contract for the Jayalalitha-inspired ‘Indira Canteen’ that it wants to open for the poor, to the superbly run kitchens of the Bangalore-based Akshaya Patra Foundation.
The Foundation, which has its origins in the ISKCON movement, was the frontrunner to be the official caterer, as it serves free midday meals to 1.6 million children in over 13,500 schools in Karnataka and 10 other states, and had the infrastructure and experience.
Then the realisation dawned that Akshaya Patra followed a strict ” sattvic” diet that excludes garlic and onions, key ingredients for most non-Brahmin cuisines in the state.
A recent survey showed that 78.9 per cent of Karnataka is non-vegetarian, and 21.1 per cent vegetarian, meaning four out of five people in the state eat meat.
“Bland is not for us,” a state government official is quoted by The Telegraph as saying, the inference being that while sattvic non-onion, non-garlic stuff was fine for kids, paying customers would not brook such food, however cheap it was.
After all, onions and garlic are reputed to have aphrodisiacal qualities.
According to BBC GoodFood, besides being delicious, an onion has serious medicinal properties. The Roman emperor Nero used it as a cure for the common cold. It was a preventive measure during cholera and plague.
Onions contain natural sugar, vitamins A, B6, C and E, minerals such as sodium, potassium, iron, and dietary fibre, besides being a good source of folic acid.
Akshaya Patra is now out of the project, but will a BJP government bring it back in?
Onions, after all, made their entry to India with the Mughals! And then, there is the Nero link (wink, wink).
Then again, if four out of five in the State are non-vegetarian, by what logic is Akshaya Patra’s sattvic food OK in meals for their children?