I love prawns. I love them so much that when I was in college once I even thought of doing my masters degree on a research on ‘Shrimps, Prawns & Lobsters’. My professor disagreed and said that a B.Com could not do that. Instead he suggested I concentrate on my accounts and earn some money and then do the practicals directly on the “Shrimps, Prawns and Lobsters”… and that is what I went on to do…And that’s why I still can’t understand the difference between the three…
During those days the only variety of prawns I could taste was the ‘South Indian Pigmy’, which I also christened the ‘Ethiopian Famine Area Prawn’. I hadn’t yet become a gulfie then and hence could not demand a prawn that was fatter than me. Still it was difficult to find these in the tasty coconut gravy that mom made and I was not allowed to use a tea strainer to separate the prawns from the curry or even to separate them from the ‘bhendi’ which were the accompanying curse in the otherwise delicious curry.
This was in the early eighties when the number of gulfies in our village was just a handful. They were still called by the respectable title of ‘Saudigaar’ and ‘Kuwaitgaar’ back then and not the cheap ‘gulfie’ as now. They could be distinguished by the Raybans and the Nikes and the Brut. Now of course there are tens of other brands and of course all used by the local Indians working in some call centres or tech companies while the gulfies are flying once in two years back to India to learn what it the latest trend in fashions while desperately trying to hide behind their cheap Chinese fakes. As i realized some time back from one of my “niece-in-laws” in her Mumbai English that the gulfies have no “want” now!
Back to my ‘Pigmy-Prawn’ days. My heart’s desire was to taste the jumbo variety and was by elders in the family that due to reasons of ‘economics’ we could not eat them. No wonder I hated ‘Economics’ and except for the law of demand and supply could not comprehend anything else.
Once defying the elders ban I went to the market and asked a “Mogorlem” the price of jumbo prawns. She said a couple of hundred which I thought was the price of the whole basket. So I said “No, I want just a kilo?can you make it Rs. 10/-“. That day I realized that to know one’s genealogy you don’t have to go to the parish priest and look at old records, just a visit to a ‘Mogorlem’ is enough. The plastic sheet that she threw at me with the fish-water, I respectfully returned but the shape of destiny was taking root in my mind. The stench of that water did not leave my clothes for a couple of months nor did the desire to fulfil my desire of prawns. Next day, I met a ‘mogor’ who seemed a bit less aggressive about the ‘prawns’. He blamed the ‘export’ of prawns to the gulf countries for the lack and the high prices in the local market. Not knowing that he was the husband of the ‘mogorlem’ in question, I joked that they should have ‘exported’ all the ‘mogorlem’s to the gulf instead of the prawns! Just a co-incidence that I lost my ‘sense-of-humour’ for the next 10 years!
My quick departure to Bombay soon thereafter was not in anyway connected to the above incident.
But I had made up my mind. I was going to the gulf. Just as someone traced the route of Christopher Columbus to the Americas some time back, I was going to trace the route of the ever evasive prawns to the Gulf.
Finally I landed in the ‘Prawn land’. To save the taxi fare to the ‘prawn market’ took another couple of years. And finally I went to the market with my friend. When I said I wanted to buy “jumbo prawns” he said I was crazy!
“Because you don’t eat them here.”
“Not good for cholesterol?”
“Dost?” he said “You should understand human psychology? Desire to eat jumbo prawns has nothing to do with your taste buds. It is the ‘status’ that is associated with the eating of the prawn that you are craving. Now that you’ve ‘arrived’ why waste your money on such expensive things?… listen to me? We all work hard here. Save all the money here. If you want to eat then eat them when you go down to India?nobody will see you eating ‘jumbo prawns’ here. What’s the use?'”
I did eat the jumbo prawns. And they tasted quite rubbery. I am still wondering if my friend’s ‘psychology’ after all may be correct?
Author: Clifford DSouza- Kuwait