Royal Purple with a Green Crown

There is a story about Birbal and Akbar that goes something like this:

One day Akbar invited Birbal to join him at Lunch, one of the dishes served was the Brinjal, called Baigan in Hindustani, akbar liked the preparation and said as much, Birbal not only agreed but also praised the vegetable to high heavens, talking about its great qualities and about its ancient roots in the Indian lore.  Several days later he was invited for another meal with the Emperor and this time too Brinjal was on the Menu, Akbar did not like the preparation said that Baigan was an affront to finer sensibilities, Birbal promptly agreed and added that it had no taste of its own, had the consistency and colour of mud and destroyed anything that it was cooked with. Akbar remembered the fulsome praise that Birbal had just a few days earlier heaped upon the vegetable and reminded him. Birbal bowed his head and said, my lord, I am beholden to you, not to the Brinjal.

The same lowly Brinjal has recently overcome attempts to interfere with its genetic make-up and we can, at least for the time being, continue to enjoy or dislike the veggie as we have done for centuries.

Brinjal, or the egg plant as its white variety is called, has been cultivated in India for a very long time, botanists tell us that the vegetable is endemic to the Indian subcontinent and has spread all over the world from here. That is probably why we have so many  varieties of the vegetable cultivated and cooked  in India.

According to researchers working in the area the origin of the word Brinjal is a corruption of the Sanskrit Vatingan, which became Baigan in Khari Boli and Hindustani, turned to Badingaan  in Persian, Al Badinjaan in Arabic,  Berenjena in Spanish, Aubergine in French and Brinjal in English.

It travelled through the land route via Persia to Arabia, and also through the sea route. The Arabs on their conquest of Spain took it there, the Portuguese and the Spanish, introduced the Brinjal, Sugarcane and Banana to South America, from where these crops travelled to North America.

Is it not a little strange that we are now debating whether to allow the last receiver of this vegetable to tell which variety of Brinjal to cultivate and how?

[The piece will  also appear in the March 2010 issue of TERRASCAPE]

One thought on “Royal Purple with a Green Crown”

  1. An interesting travelogue of our very own Vatingan. Its very obvious that we are fighting the last recipient of Royal colored veg, for making its complete ‘bhurta’ by fiddling with its natural personality!
    Good one indeed.


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