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Podcast: Ragi Represents The People It Nourishes

13/04/2016 8:18 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Healthy food ragi or finger millet with its green and dried stalks.

Food and literature may seem like two immiscible things, but the rare novel that allows food and drink to play a supplementary role to the actual plot sometimes bridges the gap. This happens in small ways, like Aunt Petunia's Violet Pudding in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; and the way tea and dinner always alludes to something else in Wuthering Heights. The Ramadhanyacharitre, which was written by Kannada poet Kanakadasa in the 1500s, merges the two completely. Food plays the protagonist in this piece.

The central characters in the epic poem, which advocates caste and class equality, are two grains - one, a grain of rice, and the other, a grain of ragi. The story goes somewhat like this: The two grains argue about which one is superior. True to character, the grain of rice represents those who are socially and economically affluent; and the grain of ragi stands for the working class. As the conflict grows larger, the two parties finally approach the King, Rama, to decide who is superior - once and for all. The King is not too pleased with this, and sentences both to half a year in prison. The outcome? The grain of rice rots, and true to its nature, the hardy finger millet survives, winning the King's respect and blessing.

Finger millet is known to reduce the risk of diabetes and gastrointestinal tract disorders and is an excellent source of calcium and fibre; it also helps to lower cholesterol levels in your blood. This leads to less plaque formation, prevents blood vessel blockage, and reduces your risk of heart attacks. The same hardy grain serves as the perfect first solid food for infants because of its digestibility.

So, it's safe to say that Ragi represents the people it nourishes: Earthy, resilient and nutritious.

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