Chilli to the burn
There was a time when I occasionally indulged in beverages brimful of beaded bubbles instead of liquids intended merely to prevent dehydration and desiccation. It was at one such occasion, in an oil company’s members’ club, as I pursued enjoyment through effervescence, eschewing substances intended for mere sustenance and survival, that I was the recipient of a remarkable confidence. An older gentleman (for want of a better word) was ardently, arduously and amorously pressing his suit, and most of the rest of his clothing and anatomy, upon an unwilling waitress. While he was trying to create two words out of the singular “harass”, she was vainly attempting to discourage and dissuade without planting a knee in the member’s member. Had she so acted the poor waitress would have become even poorer since a pained member with a painful member would have prompted her immediate dismissal.
As I commiserated with her, she declared derisively, “He more hot than sweet!” I was stunned into silence and reflection. “How would she describe me?” I asked myself, preferring to explore the subject internally and intellectually, vicariously and virtuously, instead of seeking to acquire hands-on experience or indulging in experimentation that might affect my member’s standing. I could hardly do like the high society lady who acquired an aphrodisiac and administered it in her husband’s dinner. As she explained to the doctor from whom she had obtained the medication, “It worked immediately. He threw me on the table and made mad, passionate love to me. Unfortunately the club’s management was furious and threw us out.”
I don’t believe I am that hot, assisted or unassisted by concoctions, however pronounced. In terms of my club, while no longer as active as I used to be, I continue to enjoy the occasional benefits of a member in reasonably good standing. However, what I am is spicy and that is because of my Caribbean heritage augmented by my East-Indian ancestry. In fact, if the research is right and turmeric destroys organisms responsible for cancer of the blood, and perhaps of the bone, I am immune to the point that malicious carcinogens bent on cell destruction prefer to try the metal bars of similarly named cubicles in the Royal Gaol than come near me.
Hot I am not, but when it comes to spicy, neither Grenada nor Java, noted for the pungency of their natural products, can hold a candle, curry or casserole to me. I am not sweet enough to attract bees (Africanised or otherwise) or diabetes specialists.
Of course, we never knew turmeric as turmeric. In Trinidad, because of its deep yellow, orange colour, it was wrongly called saffron. We also knew it by its Hindi name, “hardee”. Turmeric is a vital condiment in our curries and is still used as a medicinal rub, a paste smeared on the bride and groom in wedding ceremonies, a poultice, and a drink to reduce internal injuries or inflammation.
No curry is complete without pepper; no dish is well done or done well without the addition of the genus Capsicum. When Sparrow sang about an assailant who was “hot like a pepper”, the true pepper lover, while empathising, would have requested further details such as, “Cayenne, Scotch Bonnet, Cherry, Habanero, Jalapeno, Moruga Scorpion, Bhut Jolokia or the mix that in Trinidad is called “Mother-in-Law” (so named because of the contention that the mother-in-law is generally hotter than the daughter-in-law)? Or was he merely Chilli?” While most people fear the double burn that pepper produces, first as it enters and then as it exits, I have met four people for whom pepper holds no horrors before, during and after. Two are medical doctors, one was Keith Smith (who sat in the hot seat of editor-at-large at the Trinidad Express), and the other is my deceased uncle who ate his pepper raw with an onion and hot radish chaser.
Recently, researchers discovered that the hot compound in chilli peppers, capsaicin, might cause mice to live longer although with the constant pain in the butt they might not enjoy the longevity. It is believed that pepper could be very useful not only for relieving pain, but also for improving lifespan and metabolic health, and in particular for treating diabetes and obesity in humans. Also, some Indians are convinced that people who eat a lot of hot peppers have a lower incidence of prostate cancer. Some even say that eating large quantities of pepper cures migraine headaches. I believe it works because the pain from the pepper entering and leaving your system is so intense that it makes you ignore the one in your head.