The ‘i’ Word | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 04, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 07:30 AM, October 04, 2019

The ‘i’ Word

As Houthi drones strike Aramco oil refineries in Saudi Arabia, the world holds its breath. For the Houthis (reminds me of the nineties band, Hootie and the “Blow” Fish) are backed by Iran which in turn may lead to Operation Desert Stormy Daniels. But if president Donald Trump has done anything wise, it is the firing of the hawkish John Bolton, the anti-Michael Bolton of love themes, as any acting successor of the former would act with prudence. Besides, the commander-in-chief is busy pillow talking with his counterpart in Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, prompting the latter, a former comedian, to wonder whether it is the former, or the latter, who is the actual formal comedian to the letter. Kim Jong Un may be the Rocket Man, but President Trump is disposing himself to be the Pocket Man of yet another foreign government from the same vicinity as Russia.

The whistle has been blown. President Trump is now among the ranks of the ‘i’ words that grab headlines, one way or the other—iPad, iPhone, iRaq, iRan to now the latest—iPresident, aka, the “impeachable” president.

This is bad news for the record low unemployment enjoyed by comedians since January 2017. In fact, even I, a Muslim comedian, recited a silent prayer for the president’s White House rizik (livelihood) as the Mueller Report came out. For President Trump is the cure for depression, with billions being entertained with his daily tweets. Even his ridiculing the 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, while greeted with wrath on social media, has put myself, the comedian, on his defensive, rationalising (a tough word to use with Mr Trump) the exchanges between the two as being those of equals. After all, both are 16, one chronologically and the other…It is only natural that there be high school jealousy. The 16-year-old man has been craving and claiming the Nobel Prize, while the 16-year-old girl has already won the Right Livelihood Award, known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, which the 16-year-old man will surely snub as Alternative Facts.

Many adults have opined that Greta should go back to her books instead of galivanting the world on the issue of climate change. Sure, as long as WE the adults do what we SHOULD be doing to ensure there IS a world left for her to house universities. And 16-year-old man, that includes Trump University too.

Alas, nothing has changed, nothing will change. Air Force One will never do a fly past over the melting glaciers. Status quo…

But perhaps there HAS been a fly past of a squadron of Houthi drones in Indian and Bangladeshi airspace, dropping munitions on onion fields. How else do you explain skyrocketing prices of onion as had happened with that of oil after the Aramco attacks?

The hike in prices in Bangladesh have been attributed to India putting a halt on its export of onions to Bangladesh. Can’t blame them. They need to retain for themselves first. At least 500 tons are needed for making delicious shorshey ilish (hilsa in mustard) with the 500 tons of hilsa that Bangladesh is sending to India as a goodwill gesture on the occasion of Durga Puja. And the gastronomical us will never have the heart to wage a Trumpian trade war by halting exports of shorshey.

I suppose onions are also needed to serve the tapings of Zee Bangla serials—as the remnants of the monsoon thunderstorms provide the sound effects during the announcement of the true father of the expectant mother, the inevitable and ensuing barrage of tears are powered by the un-exported onions.

Besides, who is to say that the perception across the border is not that of us actually being self-sufficient in onions? After all, Bangladesh Television does air programmes on bumper crops and BTV is now aired in India where viewers are tuning in to it en masse by way of an exodus out of Zee, Sony, Colours and NDTV.

All said and done, it is their onion. It is their decision. It is theirs to keep.

What gives then? Cut down on onion consumption? Over our [onion] fed bodies! Whether we have the precious commodity or not, we need the staple from jhaalmuri to daalpuri to fuel our daily calories.

The outcome? First, the consumer. His eyes well up in tears at the mere sight of onions, well before even peeling the first layer off. He is now faced with the choice of buying half a kg of onion or an iPhone 11. Needless to say, even the diehard techie is avoiding Motalib Plaza like post-raid casinos and making a beeline for onion plaza.

And then the onion trader. He is the bionic Six Million Dollar Man—better, stronger, richer. He is destined to be cast as the villain in the first Masud Rana episode.

And finally, the hording places. Maybe the yet to be discovered casinos will yield sacks full of onions, unless they have already been hoondied off, thus kicking off a phenomenon called onion laundering.

Despite the situational imbalance, the onion, for us, bears the “i” word—indispensable. We have thus swallowed our pride to import onions from Myanmar so that we can swallow the dopiaji (or even ek piaji or half piaji) that we cannot live without. Yangon, thank you for feeding us onions in return for us (happily and selflessly) feeding over a million of your citizens while you continue feeding the world layers (like those of onions) of bull.

Aung San Suu Kyi Ma’am, thanks to the lopsided arbitrage, you can now claim the Nobel Prize for Economics.

 

Naveed Mahbub is a former engineer at Ford & Qualcomm USA, the former CEO of IBM & Nokia Networks Bangladesh turned comedian (by choice), the host of ATN Bangla’s The Naveed Mahbub Show and the founder of Naveed’s    Comedy Club. E-mail: Naveed@NaveedMahbub.com

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