YOU PROBABLY DIDN’T watch Dil Bechara. It is a movie that came and went without much of a trace. And yet, in Google’s Trends for 2020, it was the number one movie that Indians searched for this year. This is because of its actor Sushant Singh Rajput who committed suicide. The death itself was related to the pandemic, depression fueled by the lockdown’s isolation being the most obvious cause. And so by that curious chain, Dil Bechara got its moment under the sun. It has a reason to be there.
These Trends are in different categories. Overall, Indian Premier League topped in searches followed by the coronavirus. This, too, is not much a surprise given the obsession with cricket in this nation. In things searched for ‘nearby’, there were ‘food shelters’ with ‘Covid tests’ in second place. Third was cracker shops, and fourth, the predictable liquor shops. In personalities, Joe Biden trumped Arnab Goswami, which might upset some nationalists, but then Goswami has been around forever while the US president has the pull of newness.
Among these trends, there is one that beats all reason. The category it falls under went by the label ‘How To’ do something. ‘How to increase your immunity’ should be an understandable question in times like these when the first consideration is staying alive. But that search term was only runners-up in India. What people wanted to know most was how to make paneer. ‘How to make sanitizer at home’ was ranked fifth, a full four spots below paneer.
Compare the same trend for the US, and there the first and second ranks were—‘How to make hand sanitizer’ and ‘How to make a face mask with fabric’. It is the same two in the UK. In Singapore, again the same but with the order inverted. In New Zealand, again the same two questions. Most countries in the world were clear about what they wanted to know as a DIY exercise in times of Covid. In India, we wanted to make paneer instead.
It even gets more curious when you look at the detailed statistics that Google helpfully provides. The interest in paneer was more or less the same low level throughout the year, but in July it went off the charts and then sharply swung down to normal by August 1st. Something happened in July that made the making of paneer an object of online curiosity. Again, when you look at which parts of India searched the most for paneer tips, one comes unexpectedly at Goa, followed by Chandigarh, Uttarakhand, Nagaland and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. In sixth place, there is Karnataka, rounding it up as an all-India appeal.
Possibly, people sitting bored at home suddenly discovered that what they considered a delicacy could be cheaply made at home with milk and a few drops of lemon. But it still doesn’t explain the phenomenal performance of paneer. Unlike, say, sugar or salt or rice, life goes just as usual even if you don’t have a single morsel of it for the rest of your lives.