December 11, 2009 1 Comment
The Dawn published from Karachi is one of my favourite newspapers. It has some of the best columnists writing for them save for Jawed Naqvi of India who often uses the Dawn platform to score silly brownie points against the BJP.
That however is not the subject of this note. This is about a wonderful post in the ‘dawn blog’. Titled ‘Veggie bashing’ the writer, a good-looking-but-sadly-married journo cum foodie writes to stand up against her own Prime Minister.
Here is the link to the blog : http://blog.dawn.com/2009/12/11/veggie-bashing/
Prime Minister Gilani in his response to a question on whether his country could be taken over by the Taliban said that ‘Pakistan is a country. It’s not a vegetable that someone can come and take it.’
The article then goes on to examine the cultural influence on vegetables in Pakistan. Being a theocratic Muslim nation, it is natural that vegetables don’t find the pride of place in the Pakistani palate. Even if I had pretty much expected this, it was interesting to read that vegetables and vegetarians were treated with derision.
Eating meat is associated with machismo, sexual stamina, strength – we all know this – and strangely cricketing skills too, notes the author. It is also the way a Muslim can distinguish himself from the ‘hindu’ other adds the writer.
Strength is something we all knew had strong association with meat. Javagal Srinath, who started off as a vegetarian was, in a lighter vein, called as the fastest vegetarian fast bowler. As a staunch vegetarian, he often had trouble finding something to eat while touring abroad that he resorted to just drinking litres of milk.
And when he sought out Aaqib Javed the fast bowler from Pakistan on some fast bowling tips, the advice he got was to start eating meat. I suspect that Srinath turned a non-vegetarian.
While it was not surprising that Pakistan as the land of intolerance has strident views on vegetarianism, the article also got me to think about how we in India handle the divergence of the palate.
Do we have prejudices against the cuisines not our own ?
I actually think we are prejudiced society although our prejudices are not as virulent as those of the Pakistanis.
We grow up believing that Chinese eat snakes , Japanese eat poisonous fish and Russians bathe in vodka. I have also heard weird tales about Koreans and Pakistanis.
Even within our own country we have our own biases against other cuisines. We believe that Andhra food would mean smoke coming out of ears, Bengali would mean Rosogullas and fish, Punjabi would mean ghee-dripping parathas and gujarati meaning cloying sweets.
In India the debate between vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism is very old. Infact we are similar to Pakistan in terms of associating “morality” with vegetarianism. Actually I think that the divide between vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism is the kernel of our caste system.
The first objection, I guess for an inter-caste marriage would be emphasizing the “differences” in the palate.
I am largely a vegetarian but every now and then I have indulged in trying out non-vegetarian.
Did I say trying ? Well, my colleagues who would read this may chuckle especially the ones who had seen me tuck into skewers of barbequed prawns, last Christmas.
I have to clarify that I don’t seek non-vegetarian fare voluntarily though I was not averse to trying (there I go again !) if I had company. But now I have resolved to remain a vegetarian for the rest of my life.
I have to state that I didn’t enjoy eating meat and I don’t think it contributed to “expanding” my palate. Ofcourse I haven’t travelled overseas and so I cannot respond to queries on how I would manage in a Japan or a Korea.
Before this note becomes completely biographical, let me get this back on track.
I don’t have a particular view in the debate of vegetarianism versus non-vegetarianism. Certainly I don’t associate morality with the choice of being a vegan or a non-vegan.
I have been part of a forum where the topic of vegetarianism versus non-vegetarianism would evoke strong sentiments among the posters. Being a tamil forum, vegetarians would often quote Saint-poet Thirvalluvar who devoted an entire chapter exhorting people to avoid meat. ‘Pullal uNNamai’ roughly translated as ‘abjuring meat’ is the preferred weapon of argument.
The next line of defence would invariably be Gandhi. He is eternally popular with the vegetarianism for his vow of not eating meat though the vegetarians would have no qualms about not following his other ideals. Cherry-picking one would say.
Non-vegetarians would often cite the lack of protein-rich vegetarian food as the reason for choosing meat. They also claim, which I don’t support entirely that the range of vegetarian food is limited. Certainly not, I would think given the fact that we have over 10 varieties of the humble aubergine. My dear friend Venkataramanan, I am sure would be reacting to this with utter disgust as he absolutely loathes aubergines and cauliflower.
Vegetarian fare also retains the pride of place in our bollywood movies. There are any number of sons separated from their mothers in a ‘mela’ (exhibition) only to rejoin them years later identifying their mothers courtesy the ‘kheer’. It is reliably learnt that ‘kheer’ is the favourite sweet-dish of Virendra Sehwag.
I have also seen how it surprises people to see someone “unlike” their community. The prospect of seing a Brahmin tucking into meat has become commonplace. Atleast one of the CFOs I worked with prided that he is a ‘beef eating brahmin’ something he shares with Mani Shankar Aiyar.
I have seen a friend react with “utter surprise” when a common friend of ours, a Muslim, professed to being a vegetarian. I had also encountered a Christian who wouldn’t even touch egg.
We should not associate any value system with the palate and rather take the differences in our stride. Afterall a country as diverse as ours cannot have a common palate.
I strongly believe that we should approach different cuisines with a sense of ‘adventure’.
Vive la difference.