The Hilsa Alive (But They’re Fading Fast)

This week, Salon’s regular Eat and Drink series features a piece by Cambridge-based food writer Chitrita Banerji. Banerji, who has written for Gourmet and The Boston Globe, delicately turns the piece from general, “Mrs. Sen”–style musings on her Bengali roots and their connection to her craving for freshwater fish, to a contemplative examination of the ilish, or hilsa, the species most central to the Bengali culinary imagination. Industrialization and over-pollution of Bengal’s major rivers have played hard and devastating with hilsa populations; the likelihood that the fish will retain its powerfully symbolic stature, notes Banerji, fades with each season that the number of fish plummets.

Hilsa [Wikipedia]
Review of Banerji’s Life and Food in Bengal [The Hindu]

July 3, 2007
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  1. March 5, 2008, 5:48 am Krishen Kak

    Chitrita Banerji (“Eating India”) makes it clear she is embarrassed with her Hindu ancestry. Yet, settled in the USA, she has no qualms living off it by writing “exotic” and “feel-good” accounts of her ancestral land in a breathless, romantic style clearly aimed at the English-speaking West. If she stuck to food to titillate her Western readers, fine, but the excursions she makes into religion and religious history are unnecessary, ignorant and biased. Some examples:

    1) More than one reference to the Aryans migrating into India, though (like the earlier, now discredited, Aryan Invasion Theory)there is absolutely no genetic or historical evidence for such a people in the subcontinent
    2)claims four “castes” for Hinduism – is ignorant of the difference between class (varna) and caste (jati).
    3) claims centuries of peaceful coexistence between Islam and Hinduism, ignoring the steady and and horrendous 1000-year jihad against non-Muslims documented from Islamic sources by SR Goel’s “Hindu Temples” What Happened to Them”, but making it a point to mention any retaliation as “Hindu” fundamentalism
    4) claims similar peaceful coexistence in Kerala, ignoring the gruesome Moplah massacre of thousands of Hindus, but making it a point to mention one assassination by a “Hindu”
    5) refers to the “two evils” of caste and untouchability in Hinduism, sings a paean for Sikh “equality”, omitting to mention that Sikhism has its “scheduled castes” (and Muslims have their castes to, from the Sheikhs and Sayyids downwards)
    6) critical of foreigners being prevented entry in certain temples as if this is typical of Hinduism, though they can and do enter hundreds of other temples. Ignores the fact that non-Muslims certainly cannot join Muslim congregations at worship.
    7) glories in the Goa cathedral, without a word that it is built over temples razed by the Jesuits; is ignorant of the horrors of the Goa Inquisition, but criticizes the destruction of the disused Babri structure
    8) refers to Mughal cuisine as India’s haute cuisine – obviously, since the Mughals had destroyed the indigenous patrons of fine cooking
    9) glosses over the violence of the Khalistanis, but it is “Hindu” mobs who hit back after Mrs Gandhi’s assassination; refers to the ruling party in Gujarat as Hindu fundamentalist, but forgets the anti-Sikh riots were actively enabled by the “secular” Rajiv Gandhi and his Congress Party, and defended publicly by Gandhi in his Boat Club speech
    9) repeats as history the Syrian Christian origin myth, though it’s been thoroughly demolished by Ishwar Sharan’s “The Myth of St Thomas & the Mylapore Shiva Temple”
    10) …..and so on.

  2. March 18, 2008, 1:18 pm Nalini

    Funny. I thought it was about fish.