Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Ready for some chicken?

The news (at least in Bombay) these last few days has been monopolised, not by terrorists or tycoons making big time business deals or not even movie star scandals, but by… chickens. So the pages have been full of stories about chicken accompanied by life sized portraits of poultry. Live chickens, dead chickens, chickens hanging upside down, chicken legs popping out of gunny sacks.

Many of us hit with patriotic fervour are going to be forced into gluttony. Egged on by the government, which assures us that it is perfectly safe to eat poultry, we will soon start to look like those mad people in eating contests whom I wrote about, a couple of weeks back, who keep stuffing themselves with mountains of pizza or hotdogs (65 pizzas in twelve minutes or 49 grilled sandwiches in ten minutes twenty eight seconds) to get their names into the Guinness Book. But the cause of our gorging will not be a claim to fame. It will be all on account of bird flu.

Bird flu has resulted in huge losses for poultry farmers in India, to make up for which the union agriculture minister (who denies that there has been any flu around these parts) has been persuading us to eat chicken "with a vengeance." (His words). Sharad Pawar, has actually said (and I am quoting directly from the yesterday’s DNA) that as far as he is concerned, “vegetarians can eat vegetables or grass.” (Grass? Oh, grass! Yum yum!) But human beings (ok, my words) should start consuming chicken “with full fervour so that the backlog of the past fortnight … be completed.” 20 lakh eggs are at stake, and if we don’t consume them at express speed, they’re likely to end up just rotting.

In Tamil Nadu they had a chicken and egg mela in which 500 kg of chicken and 5000 eggs were cooked for a feast in which some 2500 people participated. This morning’s papers carried a huge photograph of the chief secretary of Maharashtra stuffing his face with chicken wings.

So far the public doesn’t seem to have responded and it looks like it is going to take a while for them to be reassured that chickens are not dangerous to eat any more. And it is apparently going to take more than Sharad Pawar to convince them about that.

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