It is one of the most common scenes in Bollywood films. There has been a jewel robbery in the house of a rich man. He comes walking down a long staircase and asks all the servants to gather. Then his eyes fall on the oldest servant. The servant falls on his knees and says Sarkar aapka namak khaaya hai (My lord, I have eaten your salt).
Remember the dreaded dacoit Gabbar Singh in Sholay, one of the biggest hits in the history of Bollywood, released in 1977? This action film, made like Hollywood westerns has Gabbar Singh pitted against our heroes, who have taken the challenge to catch him. In one scene, Gabbar is angry that three of his men could not manage to catch the heroes. He walks past the shamefaced gang members and asks (yes that famous dialogue):
Tera kya hoga Kaaliya (what will become of you, Kaaliya).
Kaliya replies, Sardar, aapka namak khaya hai ( O leader, I have eaten your salt).
To which Gabbar says, Ab goli kha (now eat a bullet), but that is a story for another time.
These examples were mentioned just to show the importance of salt in the history of human beings. Did you know that in ancient times Roman soldiers were paid their salaries in the form of salt? The word soldier comes from the Roman word saldare. It means to give salt. The Latin word salarium too means salt money.
More than 700 years ago, the famous Venetian traveller Marco Polo, journeyed to China, and he noticed something interesting. The people of Tibet used packets of salt as money. These packets bore the seal of the powerful Mongol ruler Kublai Khan, who then ruled China.
In fact, as far back as 4000 years ago, the Chinese laid out in great detail every step in making salt from sea water. These are some of the interesting facts that K.T. Achaya pulls out from the past — like a magician pulling rabbits from a hat.
You might ask who K.T. Achaya is. He is an expert on food like very few people. Like historians talk about the rule of Akbar, he will tell you about the long reign of the mango in India – almost 3000 years. Or he will tell you about the vegetables that came to India with foreigners who made a home here.
Since we are talking about salt, he can tell you that under the rule of the first great empire in India of the Mauryas, more than 2000 years ago, salt could be produced only by the ruler. It was that important a good.
Not only that, those who sold salt had to pay four different taxes. And those who bought salt had to pay two taxes on its purchase.
The adivasis or the tribals often exchanged their goods for salt from the people living in towns.
Salt can be made in various ways: from sea water and salt lakes, from solid deposits of rock salt, or from underground salt springs. In India, seawater is the main source of making salt. Salt is also made from several salt lakes: Sambar Lake in Rajasthan, Chilka Lake in Orissa, salt springs in the Rann of Kutch, the Manekudi Lake in Kerala and the Vedaranyam swamp in Tamil Nadu.