It was after many phone calls to assorted PR agencies andÂ after being given many a run-around (as they say: bahoot papad belna para) that I was ultimately able to get an interview with the famous Lijjat Papad Bunny, the face of the multimillion dollar Papad industry and together with the dancing Nirma girl and the Hippo of washing powder Hippolin, an icon of the 80s Doordarshan days.
Crunching into a spicy papad, Mr. Bunny appeared relaxed and upbeat.
“It’s been a good year for us”, he chortled “with Shilpa Shetty being called Shilpa Poppadum in the British Big Brother, foreign interest in papads or poppadums has never been higher.”
Indeed. If a has-been like Shilpa Shetty can use this platform to launch her career in the West and even get invited to join the BJP, imagine what a mention on Big Brother would do for something as tasty and addictive as papads.
Coming to the immediate reason for the interview, I pointed to this news item about the standardization attempts of the great Papad, currently underway at the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization.
Is your papad 0.3 mm?
Hyderabad, Jan. 20: The papad, a traditional accompaniment to the Indian meal, will henceforth be made as per international standards. The Codex Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants, controlled jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), has decided to include papads and lassi in its list of food items.
The committee has directed that â€œpapads shall be in the form of thin circular discs having a diameter ranging from 5 cm to 25 cm. The thickness shall be 0.3 mm to 1.2 mmâ€. The committee has also specified that papads should be of â€œpleasant taste and smellâ€¦free from rancid or bitter taste and should not crumbleâ€.
Papads should also be free from frayed edges, holes, dirt and fungal growth. On being fried, they should be crispy, and should not be soggy or sticky. Papads, generally prepared from soaked rice flour or black gram mixed with salt and spices, have to be manufactured and dried under strict hygienic conditions from now on.
With one ear up and another dropping, the Bunny (his picture from the 80s to the left) laughed.
“We welcome standardization attempts —as a matter of fact papad engineers from all over the world collaborated on those standards. With nano-fabrication technologies and laser-guided cavity detection no longer science fiction, papads will soon be engineered to the highest quality standards. And also this will help real papad manufacturers stand apart from those cheats, who we keep warning against.”
Cheats? In the papad world?
“Of course” said the bunny, baring his buck teeth in a distinctly unfriendly fashion “ In foreign markets, we have to deal with cheap imitations —those that burn and shrivel in the microwave and cause stomach gas when consumed. Particularly insidious is the “L-Izzat” brand, which is an abbreviation of “Lootoonga Izzat”, and whose mascot is Shakti Kapoor in a bunny costume.”
I was shocked. Is thereÂ anything that the corporate world won’t stoop to?
Wiping off papad crumbs from his big nose, the bunny reached for another papad good-humouredly.
“Only one regret. With the standardization of papads, we no longer will have those small random production defects—-which have for long been used to determine the character of would-be bahus.”
Excuse me? I asked.
The bunny pointed to a print-out.
It was the norm till about 40 years back, and even today, there are several Marwari families that practice it. In the small towns and villages of Rajasthan, the original practice has seen little transformation. My own grandmother went through it, and till the end averred that it was a sure-shot way of fixing life partnersâ€™, begins Puja.
â€˜Once the traditional matchmaker of the community â€˜the â€˜naiâ€™ (barber) – had introduced the families of the prospective bride and groom, the women from the boyâ€™s side would pay a visit to the girlâ€™s house. The sole purpose was to put the bride-to-be through a â€˜fool-proofâ€™ test: get her to roast a papad.
The secret to her temperament lay in the way she carries out this task. If she was not careful, then parts of the papad are roasted black. For the future in-laws, that suggested the girl was hotheaded, and likely to spread discord in the family. If there were parts that remained unroasted (kachcha), the girl was deemed too mild-mannered or even spineless. She will not be able to hold her own in a joint family where the women-in-laws came in all hues.
Interpretations were also dependent on which part of the papad remained over or under-roasted. If the edges of the papad had been turned into carbon, then the bride-to-be will be hassled by small, relatively insignificant issues, but she can still be moulded as per the wishes of the matriarchal in-laws. God-forbid though, if the burnt parts were around the centre. The young woman was done for. She will wage war on each and every issue â€˜ big or small, important or not .
â€˜It didnâ€™t mean that hotheaded women didnâ€™t get marriedâ€™, my grandmother would add hastily. â€˜Wise mothers-in-law, wanting to create the right balance, opted for such a woman if the son was too mild or gullible or if there was another daughter-in-law who needed countering. Likewise, for the women who under-roasted papads during the test.â€™
The mother and other female relatives of the bride-to-be couldnâ€™t dream of faking the test. The bride inspectors would bring in their own exam material, and each household would prepare the basic papad a bit differently, forcing the bride to be alert. She needed the ability to discern when a particular side of the papad was done, so she could turn it. A hesitation of even a fraction of a second could make the difference between a yes and a no for marriage.
â€˜There could not be any proxy roasting either. A bevy of women from the boyâ€™s side would all be present while the bride sweated it out.
Interesting. Being totally besotted by the Abhishek-Aishwarya wedding, I asked the Bunny if he thought that the Bachchans would use the papad method to check out how “domesticated” Aishwarya is. After all, as we all know they are really serious about her being “gharelu” —-look at how they got Sanjay Gadhvi to edit out the kissing scene in Dhoom 2 because the Bachchans are a very traditional family. I am sure that also being sticklers for consistency, they will soon ask Sanjay Leela Bhansali to edit out Amitabh’s kissing scene with Rani in “Black”.
Mr. Bunny shook his ears from side to side, as his nose turned even redder.
“Do you want to drag me into a controversy, young man? What if the B’s do not serve papad at the reception because I have made a statement about their personal affairs? No no…I cannot comment.”
“But Mr. Bunny. Please. I need an exclusive.”
With Mr. Bunny pressing the papad-shaped big button on his desk, I realized the interview was over. As I was being led out by security, all I heard was a high-pitched voice repeating:
“Enh heh heh Enh heh heh.”
[Bunny picture courtesy here]