By Neerja Singh



“Are you sure you want to get into this? Wasabi is the world’s hardest plant to grow!” Qamar gave her questioning husband that steady look.

“It is a superfood Rahat, a powerful plant, both in taste and value. What a challenge it would be to cultivate! I have had it easy far too long with my Flamingo flowers and Dahlias. And how can you forget that taste, remember the Sushi we had at Heiroku Omotesando, that typical flavour, my nose used to tingle with its pungent hotness. I can’t wait to begin!”

“You have a point there. They are growing it in so many countries, why not here in India?” Rahat conceded gracefully. Tempted briefly to recite the long list of firsts such a project would entail, considering there was no definitive guide on growing wasabi, he decided to keep his counsel. He knew, from past experience, Qamar would go forward anyway. “No gain without pain, the harder it is to grow, the more money it is likely going to make us. Let’s do this,” the lady had come to a conclusion.

True to her fibre, Qamar got down to work, gamely supported by her now converted husband. “I have booked you into a wasabi growing laboratory in Japan,” Rahat grinned at that look of intense pre-occupation on her face. His wife of fourteen years looked up from the papers strewn on her bed table with excitement, “We can source plant material from the New Zealand experts. We must set up a system to grow the best wasabi in the world”.  It all seemed as suddenly plausible as it felt thrilling. But the more she dug, the more the toil ahead began to emerge.  The best wasabi needed running water and a narrow range of temperature, between 12 to 15 degree. “And how in the world were they going to keep the water aerated? Top grade wasabi needed large quantity of water flow with high oxygen, nutrients and slightly acidic pH,” Qamar began to get into the nitty gritty, as was her wont when she took up a new project.  “This is like jumping off the cliff into the unknown, the success rate is low, there seem to be just a handful of successful growers,” Rahat sounded his usual note of caution amidst all of this wasabi fervour.

With no background or experience in wasabi farming, they were literally going to cut a path through the wilderness. “It will be a long term project but will bring us a lot of satisfaction. Imagine, a 110 USD for a kilo!” Qamar had a talent for excitement that was a perfect foil to Rahat’s usual playing of the devil’s advocate, “We will have to finance ourselves Qamar. No bank will fund a plant that takes upto three years to grow to maturity and is not even a tree at that! Forget about personal guarantee, we will probably be ploughing our profits back into research. Wasabi is a tricky one.”

“Well, but all we can do is to give it our best shot. The idea is to make 100% pure Wasabia japonica. Let us begin by selecting every crop only for the best of plants which in turn will be cloned for the next set. This will continuously improve the plant stock. One day our plants could cure cancer,” Qamar was in the habit of cultivating visions.  “Water could be a scarcity, let me warn you! Better be prepared to arrange tankers for these exotic plants,” she brushed aside Rahat’s pragmatic words.

Spreadsheets grew frothy and the laptops sticky with notes. Their house began to hum with the sound of revving up.  There was the workforce to organize, markets to identify, personal lives to be realigned. “We will not waste time on markets that have preconceived ideas about wasabi. Let us team up. You look after the technical development and marketing while I deal with clients, keep track of stock etc. We might have to hire an accountant.”

Never at a loss with abundant precaution, Rahat intoned, “Growing wasabi is completely different. There are special skills required for harvesting and most of the local help have bad habits we will have to work to break.”

“I know I know Rahat and that is not all. Listen to this from the article I am reading. It says here that 99% of wasabi being sold today is coloured horseradish. There is more, importers cheat with impunity, lying and changing the terms of the contract as and when they please.”

The more the pair read, the more they needed to research, “Wasabi  is best grated afresh when it has a lovely pale green colour and the typical  pungent heat and flavour.”

Rahat knotted his brow, “The rhizomes can be stored only two weeks and that too if kept damp and refrigerated.”

“We will buy an exclusive cooling unit for our produce and place it in the extra space next to the garage,” Qamar had an instant solution.

Exhausted with the video conferencing and networking with wasabi growers in different time zones across the globe, Qamar was late getting up the following day. Steering sleepily past the work zone she caught sight of a courier package on their dining table. Bending over low towards the label she straightened up slowly, turning to Rahat stirring his glass of wheat grass and aloe vera juices in their kitchen, “A full body plastic cover for the yet to be bought cooling unit! Rahat?” The man was defensive, “Well, I know the cover might raise the humidity a shade for wasabi but with that expensive farm produce inside, we can’t risk the unit gathering dust and debris near the garage.”

Qamar stared defeated at her business partner then closed her gaping mouth, “Abort project wasabi! We are Indians first. The gene for risk bypassed us.”