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Angel Dust

By Subba Rao

“Yes, I born in India and came here some years ago,” replied Juggernaut politely to the woman encountered in the apartment corridor. Juggernaut just moved into a nice apartment on east side of Cleveland in an area walking distance to a small Catholic University.

“I am Sister Christina; I live next to your unit, I work at the University as a Financial Controller,” Sister Christina introduced herself. “Several years ago I spent over a year at Mother Theresa’s place in Calcutta serving poor.”

“It was noble of you to spend time among the poorest of the poor.”

“Serving humanity is serving God,” Sister Christina looked serene and peaceful. She shared her apartment with another Sister also working at the University Campus, both wore regular clothes nothing to signify that they were Sisters of some Order in Catholic Church. Both ladies in late fifties, short and somewhat on heavy side walked slowly in the corridors to and from the underground car garage, sometimes carrying heavy loads of groceries with both hands.

On occasions Sister Christina chatted briefly her experiences living and travelling in India.

“I always want to ask you about an Indian dish ‘Sambar,’(spicy split-pea soup) I tasted several times while travelling in India, you see, the ‘Sambar served in Indian restaurants here in the United States  do not have that special aroma I tasted in restaurants in South India.”

“Well, in that case, I invite you to taste ‘Sambar’ I just made,” Juggernaut instantly invited Sister Christina into his apartment to taste ‘Sambar’ he made along with warm Idli (steamed rice cakes).

“You believe in Angels, don’t you?”

“Of Course; I believe in Angels, I am a devout Catholic.” Sister Christina looked serious pouring boiling ‘Sambar’ on small pieces of warm Idli in shallow porcelain dish. “Yes, I can taste the characteristic aroma of South Indian ‘Sambar’ now,”
Sister Christina looked pleasantly surprised.

“Well, then the Angels came to bless ‘Sambar’ with the characteristic aroma you were longing to taste,” Juggernaut looked mysterious.

“How did the Angels bless Sambar?” Sister Christina looked puzzled.

“I added a pinch of ‘Hing’ to Sambar to get that special flavor you missed in Sambar served in Indian Restaurants here in the United States.”

“Hing?” “What’s that?”

“Indians, particularly from South India use ‘Hing’, a spice if one calls it a spice to soup dishes particularly flavoring ‘Sambar.’ Hing is also unfairly called ‘Devil’s Dung’ for its pungent odor.

“You mean, the spice ‘Hing’ gives all that special flavor to the Sambar?” Sister Christina looked surprised.

“Yes, ‘Asafetida’ or ‘Hing’ is a plant resin containing some strong sulfur compounds that give that pungent aroma liked by some and a stink for many others not used to the product.”

“How ‘Hing’ is made?” Sister was curious.

“Hing plants make strong smelling sap and is collected by cutting the stem just above the roots; the dried sap or crystals of amber colored resin is sold in the marker as ‘Hing.’ Additives such as rice-flour and other plant gums are added to the pure ‘Hing’ crystals to stretch it for commercial purpose but it decreases its purity and quality.” Juggernaut gave a detailed explanation.

“You know, all these years after I left India, I could not figure it out what was missing in the flavor of ‘Sambar’ served in Indian restaurants here in the United States, but now I know it was ‘Hing’ as you said.

“Since you love the special flavor of ‘Hing’ and also a Sister of Catholic Order, I sincerely request you to christen the name “Angel Dust’ to “Hing’ so Americans of all walks of life use the word “Angel Dust’ rather than ‘Hing’ a foreign sounding name or worst ‘Devil’s Dung’ a name unfairly attached to this wonderful spice with lots of health benefits despite its strong odor,” Juggernaut begged.

“Sure I now baptize “Hing’ with the new name ‘Angel Dust’ and henceforth be called “Angel Dust’ in all public pronouncements and recorded as such,” thus Sister Christina   made it official the new name “Angel Dust’ for ‘Hing.’
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