When director Bhaskar Hazarika’s film Aamis released last November, after a stellar festival run at such reputed places as Tribeca Film Festival, the Covid-19 pandemic was still a month or so away. However, the film already presciently contained aspects of the coronavirus crisis that would go on to occupy all of humanity this year – namely, our interactions with wildlife, the cultural significance of varied eating practices, and the very way we traverse across the binary between edible and inedible. Following the story of Sumon, a Ph.D student researching the culinary cultures of North-East India, and Nirmali, a married pediatrician, the viewer very soon turns unknown corners, and descends deeper into something much more transgressive than extra-marital affections.
The much sought-after mithun meat, usually smoked and dried, from Arunachal was not on my wish list. What was: The Khasi-Jaintia doh khleh, a pork, onion, ginger and chilli salad with slim sliv- ers of fat from the pig’s head as the main ingredi- ent; the Khasi tungrymbai, a dark, almost black, paste which looks and smells unappealing—with a most strong smell of akhuni, or fermented soya bean—is a surprisingly effective side dish, especially with little pieces of pork meat; the Garo stew-like kapa spewing chillies; the nakham bitchi (a soup, the star of which is fermented fish, the closest relative can be anchovies minus the salt overload); Naga style pork with akhuni and gener- ous lashings of bhut jolokia (ghost chilli) or Naga mirch.