Kashmiri saffron is the sweetest, most precious spice in the world. For Kashmiri farmers, saffron was once a booming business, the crop sells for as much as Rs 2.5 lakh per kg.
A Kashmiri dry fruit seller was attacked in Lucknow, I read the news on my phone as I walked into the kitchen. I wanted a snack, something that could fortify me. I don't need chips or Chow Mein now, I reach out for a bunch of dates and a few pistachios. I watched the video of him being attacked. The goons wore saffron.
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Kashmiri saffron is the sweetest, most precious spice in the world. For Kashmiri farmers, saffron was once a booming business, the crop sells for as much as Rs 2.5 lakh per kg. Today, the crop doesn't grow well, the red is now grey. The yields have dipped.
Saffron was also the colour of the clothes, the attackers wore as they pounded the hapless dry fruit seller.
It needs only a few strands of saffron or kesar to colour an entire cup of warm milk into the hue of sunrise. The reddish-gold welcome of a well-made biryani, the warm flavour in the dry fruit kheer. The Kahwa (green tea spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, rose petal, saffron) sipped with a sigh of satisfaction, are all gifts from the spice that grows in Kashmir.
What is saffron? The tiny red strands, that are found in the delicate purple flower, Crocus Sativus. The botanical name of the flower doesn’t invoke any feeling, it is too sterile to help you feel the deep connect that more than 150 volatile and aroma-yielding compounds in the strands invoke in Kashmiris around the world. The botanical name of the strand is again ironical - stigma.
In the aftermath of the Pulwama suicide bombing on February 14, in which 40 CRPF jawans were killed, a number of incidents of violence against people from Kashmir were reported. In Dehradun, several Kashmiri students were reportedly harassed and beaten up, forcing many to leave Uttarakhand. The social stigma will haunt them for decades.
The conflict in the state has already taken its toll on the people, their physical and mental wellbeing compromised. There is no escape from the crosshairs targeted on the Kashmiri populace not just by the terrorists, militants but now, the entire country which sees them -- unfortunately, through fascist saffron-hued tones -- as outsiders.
But authentic saffron is essential to our social fabric. You cannot go to Banaras take a boat ride on the Ganges, visit the temples and not have Malaiyoo, a saffron-flavoured sweet fluffy milk froth (in winter) or Thandai (in summer) a chilled drink with dry fruits and kesar.
We cannot celebrate a happy Diwali without Kashmiri saffron. The spiral, sweet jalebi is dunked in a sugary syrup infused with saffron. Pedas are made with milk mixed and garnished with saffron. No biryani, kheer or payesh across India is complete without a bit of kesar.
Saffron is a part of our Indianness, but let us not be blinded by the colour. We cannot fool ourselves and attack our own countrymen. It is time to preserve, protect and respect our own people.
First Published: Mar 8, 2019 4:27 PM IST