What’s in a parval? Usually, a bunch of seeds as hard as grapeshot, which alienates those who have not been raised on Trichosanthes dioica. But if you encounter it in Kolkata’s international airport, it could contain forex reserves. Customs officials seized euro banknotes worth Rs 44 lakh earlier this week, from two passengers headed for Bangkok with 5 kg of the pointed gourd, neatly sectioned, stuffed with banknotes and joined back together. Their suspicions were aroused when they noticed that the bags contained only the vegetable, and absolutely no clothes. A naked lunch of parval in Bangkok? Anything is possible, but nevertheless.
Within its cultural context, though, the cover story of the two currency smugglers was bulletproof. They said that they were carrying the vegetable for friends and relations resident in Bangkok. In a Bengali context, this is a credible story. Until Trichosanthes burst the historical bounds of Anga, Banga, Kalinga and Kamrup and swept the markets of the heartland, it was customary for Bengalis to carry the gourd to relations who lived in parval-starved regions. But the smugglers overlooked the obvious — airports exist outside geography.
They all look the same because they exist in the geography of the airline network, and exist only for uprooted people in transit. And their security staff are drawn from all over, across geographies. A Kolkata recruit may have been won over by their cover story, but someone from other parts would find it preposterous.
The parval is a polarising vegetable. The world is divided into a small minority which loves it, and the teeming millions who don’t. The currency smugglers might have been more successful with something that does not arouse strong passions, like a pack of Pringles. In international airports, globally generic goods arouse the least suspicion.