Thursday, December 2, 2010


No, its not that pigs are an endangered species. Not most kinds anyway. On the contrary, they are prolific breeders and no matter how many get poached, porked, baconed and sausaged, there always seem to be enough around. So, why on earth would I be wasting a whole page and all the time it would take you to get through it on these poor porkers? Well, because it’s the holiday season. And what better way to start one than to atone and repent. More pigs are slaughtered at this time of the year for your epicurean pleasures than any other, and while there was a time I loved pepperoni pizzas and cold ham, I stopped. In fact, I gave up eating pork long before I gave up other forms of meat. And I did that because of an incident that happened many years ago.

I was driving through one of Delhi’s easternmost corners. It must’ve been the height of summer and I remember driving past a slum cluster on one side and a busy market on the other with the windows rolled down. The air-conditioner had gasped its last and I was in a hurry to get out of the oppressive heat when I heard a scream emanating from the very depths of hell. It sounded like a bunch of school kids screaming their heads off in a great fear and even greater pain…a sound so human and yet unearthly. I just had to stop. I parked and half walked-half jogged past the stores and sheds into a clearing… a crowd had gathered. It was a butcher slaughtering piglets in his backyard…

The pig’s squealing was the butcher’s way of announcing to the area that fresh meat would soon be available. The butcher’s knife was working its way down the pig’s belly, cutting it open as the intestines spilled out. One of the pig’s legs was still kicking. I don’t know if it was still breathing…but I looked away. The sun was bearing down. And in the heat, the swirling dust was just beginning to settle, like a frenzied dancer, having twirled round and round in circles finally tiring and slumping on the floor. There were flies everywhere, on hands and faces, on flesh and faeces, on blood and butcher. My eyes wandered to the slaughtered animal’s now lifeless form. Surprisingly, the animal’s throat was intact. So, I asked a bystander how did the animal die when it wasn’t even bleeding from the throat? Was it beaten to death?

No, no, it was nothing half as humane – pigs apparently are a little tough to kill and so they truss it up, and then heat up an iron stake till it’s smoking red and then take it right through the pig’s rear end. Impaled on the stake the poor animal wriggles and writhes and suffers unimaginable agony till it dies a horrible death. I was told this method made the meat tender. Death must have been liberation indeed for the animal that had by now reduced to chunks of flesh, fat and organs. The butcher now rose and walked towards his left . The crowd followed him and as I followed the motley bunch, I realised they were walking toward this little pink piglet that had been lying in the dirt. It must have sensed why the butcher was walking towards him and struggled to escape, but it had been tied up and though it squealed and struggled all it could, the ropes held fast.

The butcher put down his carving knife and picked up the stake as his assistant bent down to hold the pig. At that moment the pig stopped squealing and looked up. For a brief moment, our eyes met. Then it looked at the other men briefly, with eyes that begged and accused in the same glance. Then with a near audible sigh, dropped its head with what I could have sworn was a sense of resignation. It wasn’t squealing anymore and its body seemed limp even as the butcher’s assistant tried to truss up the animal for the coup de grace, as if the animal was willing itself to death before the pain rammed home. I don’t know what it was – the reproachful look in the pig’s eyes, the horrible death that awaited this sweet little creature, or the horde surrounding it, baying for its blood, but I just couldn’t stand there and watch it happen. So, I turned and walked away…

Almost that very minute, I heard the pig let out a terrible scream. It was almost as if it was calling out for help. I clenched my jaws and tried to pull away but my feet were frozen. The squeals were more earnest now. I had to do something, but what? I couldn’t possibly convince them into not killing the animal. I was a pork eater myself, and God knows how many piglets would’ve suffered such a death before ending up on my plate. But I knew I had to do something. I turned and ran, muttering a prayer and hoping it wasn’t too late. To my relief, the piglet had not been ‘skewered’ yet and so I hurried to the butcher and said, “Maro mat! Don’t kill it, sell it to me.” The butcher, a small swarthy man, seemed a little startled and could quite believe his ears. So, I repeated the offer, all the while hoping I would have enough in my wallet. The crowd seemed disappointed, but the butcher was happy enough and we spat and shook hands on rupees 500 for the marked animal.

I cradled the creature as it shivered in the heat and gently nuzzled the crook of my arm. As it nestled close to my rapidly beating heart, I began to wonder, what next? It couldn’t of course stay in the house. These pigs grow too big to be urban pets. And so an animal shelter it would have to be. I drove it to Frendicoes, a well known NGO that does all it can for animals that suffer on our streets. The little porker clung on and just wouldn’t let go. It broke my heart to leave it just when it had begun to trust me, but I didn’t have options.

I went back home and read up all I could about pigs and was stunned. Pigs aren’t just the dirty, fat slobs they are made out to be. They’re in fact quite bright. They can be trained to play videogames and have oft en beaten humans, at their own game, so to speak. They are almost as quick at learning commands and tasks as apes and monkeys and a lot smarter than dogs. I read about pigs that had saved people and children from drowning during floods, and I read about pigs that protected their owners from dog attacks and burglars. We, humans and pigs, are similar enough on the inside for there to be talk of organ transplants during medical emergencies. And interestingly, cannibal cultures had oft en noted that pigs taste the most like humans.

I started thinking of the piglet as a pet and indulged in a fantasy or two about the things we’d do in the days to come. Next morning, I planned to visit the piglet before going to work and thought of a name for the little one. Just as I was about to leave I got a call. It was from the shelter. “Your pig died last night. I’m sorry we couldn’t save it. It must’ve overheated in the sun, or in your car, before you brought it to us.” It was a strange empty feeling. Somehow, I felt I had let the poor creature down – I felt responsible. I had to make up. I couldn’t think of ever being responsible for the cruel death of a creature as capable of love and pain. I swore never to touch pork ever again.

Since then, I’ve given up meat altogether. But I haven’t atoned enough. This story is another apology to that little piglet and those that have gone before him. If you, dear reader, are a pork-eater and this story makes you reconsider, it would be a small step for both of us towards making up for our many murders.


No comments:

Post a Comment