Those of my readers, who have kept the ‘child inside them’ alive and well, must be familiar with the pair of rascally crows known as Heckle and Jeckle. These ‘do-no-gooders’ have an insatiable craving for corn-on-the-cob and the duo’s repeated escapades involving the gun toting farmer, have been a source of amusement to cartoon-lovers all over the world.

Now, I know a lot of people that have no relationship whatsoever with the likes of Messrs H & J, but who begin to drool the minute one mentions corn. Take for example a cousin, who will risk life and limb to stop his car in the middle of rush hour at the sight of a corn-on-the-cob seller. Another friend from my Lahori school days, finds the urge for corn so irresistible that he is more than likely to drop anything he is engaged in, to rush out and buy a hot, steaming bag of salt roasted shelled corn from the humblest of push carts in the Federal Capital. What makes these perfectly respectable individuals behave in the manner described, has always been a source of acute curiosity for me. I have therefore found no other cathartic option, but to share my thoughts on the subject, in this week’s piece.

Corn or Maize aka ‘Makai’ is a large grain bearing plant, which was domesticated by the indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. The leafy stalk produces ears or cobs containing the grain or kernels. Corn is a wholesome source of starch and can be cooked on the cob, shelled or ground into flour.

It is not only humans that relish eating corn and corn products, but non carnivorous animals have a taste for the entire plant root upwards. The English language too, derives sustenance from the word with the caution that calling someone ‘corny’ may result in the user of the adjective being struck from the dinner guest list.

The charisma of this four letter word is further compounded by the intricacies of English grammar (an understanding of why this language is what it is, can be acquired from the book ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’). For the sake of argument, one can always query language gurus as to why is the fruit of the mighty Oak referred to as an Acorn, when there is no similarity between these two members of the plant family.

There is another species of corn that is named so, because it looks something like a single ‘kernel’, when detached from its resting place upon the smallest digit of the toe family. Members of the Pedicure Profession can vouch for the fact that this variety is absolutely inedible and extremely painful. Thank God for modern science, one can now get rid of the menace through the mere application of a special sticking plaster.

The word ‘corn’ also has showbiz celebrity status - thanks to the hit song ‘Ichak Dana, Bichak Dana, Danay Ooper Dana, Ichak Dana...” featuring Indian Film Star Nargis and Raj Kapoor. Even Hollywood blockbusters seem afflicted with the word as evident in the Walt Disney musical called ‘Into the Woods’. At one point in the film, the witch sends out the hero on a quest that involves acquiring a milky white cow, a blood red cape, ‘hair as yellow as corn’ and a golden shoe. Our very own Punjabi cinema has made extensive use of corn fields, which provide the perfect setting for the ‘Gandaasa’ bearing hero and the not-so-slim heroine perform their dance number, while squashing a path through some one’s corn crop.

And last, but not the least - lest my brotherhood of pipe smokers be angered into ‘blackballing’ me, pipe bowls made from corn cobs (shelled of course) are considered rare and expensive. The last time I saw such a pipe was almost thirty six years ago - in a Hilly-Billy TV show.

The writer is a historian.