CPEC May Reduce Your Cholesterol

  • 16 Jun - 22 Jun, 2018
  • Usman Mustafa
  • Humour

This CPEC business is a real humdinger. Some say its idea has come from Das Kapital, others argue it’s Homer’s Troy, the best source to track its origins, that it’s a great big Trojan horse – quite literally, and in time, when the old, corrupt hats running Islamabad are asleep, which is just about any time there is a second in a minute, Chinese folks will break open its cloaked doorways, and oodles of them will descend down upon us like Gog and Magog, capturing our Helen: Gwadar.

On the scale of one-to-ten, the probability of this is about ten. But then there’s the other side to the argument. Some say it’d be an economic corridor fetching growth and prosperity the world hasn’t seen in a long time, some think it’d tame and countermand the neighing and twittering horse US of A has become, some think it would attract tourists to Pakistan, some believe it is essential for the world’s peace, order and harmony.

Me? I want CPEC to bring us some Chinese cooked food.

Yes we have our own cuisine, and yes it is exquisitely delicious, but much more than that, it’s unhinged and wicked, and the blame of it, jolly well rests on the Moguls. These folks were total kooks, if you ask me. Their occupation it seems was beheading siblings, savouring gentle strolls before and after, in serenities of their Shalimar Gardens. They won’t fund any schools, universities, hospitals, dispensaries, libraries, industrial initiatives, political forums or indeed any form of modernity, even of military for that matter. To them, the concept of preparing for a naval warfare was a big load of elephant poop, and admiralty would have been a pointless austerity to their harems of 700 women. Evidence has me convinced that if Isambard Kingdom Brunel – the greatest engineer of all times, was born in the Mogul regime, he wouldn’t have been making railways or bridges or ships, masterminding the industrial revolution; his genius instead would have been employed decorating tombs of some dead mistresses, or worse still, formulating a new type of high-end Biryani for the Jahan-panah – the emperor of India, or his pet cockatoo.

Moguls’ patronage of chefs was a total frenzy. They hired them from four corners, held high-stake competitions and awarded riches and recognition to the winners. For cooks too, it wasn’t as if their work was cut out for them. They saw themselves as artists, often made decent living and had a treasure of ingredients to rummage through, not just from India’s own produce, but spices, herbs and what have you, arriving from ends of the world. This meant that the only medium which can blend it all, adding taste and texture to their creations of seduction was ghee or fat, demanding an ever increasing amount of energy, time and resources for the cooking process. This though was ok: India, after all, was the richest country of the world.

The results of this indulgent extravaganza can still be seen today: an average dish of the subcontinent requires more ingredients than the making of a Boeing 747 jumbo, takes an eternity to cook, and two eternities to digest if you have just consumed it.

Across the Himalayas, something very different was happening. Destitution was what everyone was born in, and died to. Living off the land often was the only way, which too had its bad moments. Energy was scarce, and too expensive, especially after everyone had paid for their daily dose of opium. Oil, with very high heat capacity, takes in a lot of energy; using it would have meant that by the time it was to heat up aptly, Mrs. Cheung would have run out of wood to keep the stove going. With oil gone, too much of spices wouldn’t have worked either. Other ingredients were only a few, and had to be cut small; utensils were kept paper-thin, responding instantly to the heating, water was used as the base, and veggies they could only manage half-done. And yet, despite all these limitations, its flavour never fails to leave you charmed.

This, perhaps inadvertently, is not so much a diet, more a hearty attempt at the elixir of life. In my imagination, God must have laid redundant some brigades of His death-decreeing angels, responding to this Chinese take on wellbeing. There’s not enough work to go around, He must have told them.

But then, to the rescue of these unemployed angels, came another vice of the subcontinent: our marriage ceremonies. It is an occasion of a union of the two, often chosen randomly, but to the question of who throws the most lavish party, it’s also an opportunity for everyone to compete, not merely against each other, but also with the Roman Emperor, Caligula. Over the decades, perhaps centuries, these ceremonies have played a conduit to take what once were delicacies, and only for the exclusive rich, to an everyday dinner table of a common household. Perfect for if the entire human body had a form of a tongue alone, nothing else beside.

And it shows. While an average 55-year-old Australian man rides a bicycle to work every morning, runs marathon, canoes out in Yarra every weekend, and travels to Thailand to look for new mistresses, an average Pakistani man of the same age appears too busy existing, walking away on streets, bewildered at how hot the sun is, and the hotter curry he had for supper, smouldering within. By the time he reaches 60, he has had it. Women are even worse. At 50, they have the physical age of 75, and mental of 9.

No matter. CPEC now is riding out to the rescue of our nation, bringing along some healthy eating and general well-being. Cynics may say, oh we do already have Chinese eateries. We do, yes, and they sell Chinese of course, just as much as the devil loves the holy water. In fact, it’d be surprising if you present the visiting Chinese CPEC engineers, the Karachiite’s street-food version of the Chinese soup, and don’t thank you for letting them try the world’s famous, korma or chicken makhani.

Persuade as you may though, cynics still won’t play ball: the point of CPEC, I am told, is to be the goose that lays golden eggs, balancing out our books. Good. Better still, I’d be, I maintain, if is to balance out our books of the cooking range too.