Thursday, January 13, 2011


I’m in pain. It’s not mortal agony just yet but it still hurts, and leaves you feeling oh so empty. And no wonder I feel empty. I haven’t eaten since morning. It’s not like I couldn’t… it’s just that I didn’t! I’m at a Sunday barbecue and every once in a while I see liveried waiters marching in purposefully, cradling shiny handsome platters in their neat whitegloved hands. And as they walk by, the nose follows in the smoke-stream, inhaling aromas that speak of sensual pleasures, of juicy roasted hams that’ll melt in your mouth and exquisite fillet mignons, of smoking grilled lobsters and golden chicken wings dipped in deliciously full-bodied barbecue sauce. Ah, the undying ache of unfulfilled dark desires that leave you aching deep inside.

I look, longingly, eyes smouldering with desire, but I don’t touch. Instead, I tear myself away from the warm, happy and sizzling meat counters and drag myself towards the vegetarian cold and green vegetarian counter. Ah cheese, and baby corn… and ah yes some more cheese, and then they have broccoli, and I did I mention some more cheese and then of course there’s chick peas and there you go… yet more cheese. I oscillated between cottage cheese and blue cheese and sampled some gooey cheese with a bit of smelly cheese, threw another long look at that leg of ham and then sat down at the table and stared reproachfully at the lumpy mass on my plate. My friends at the table were busy chewing on succulent pieces of chicken breasts and I happened to see my reflection on a pair of sun glasses. Th at grave expression on my face that seemed to say “darn! Now what do I do with you?” seemed strangely familiar. Now, where had I seen that expression earlier? Was it…no, not that...or was it…? No, unlikely… No…no…it was…it was… ah yes, it was my math tutor from school!

Overcome by nostalgia and empathy, I felt sorry for that sorry little plate and choked down some chunks of cheese and a mouthful of ferns and weeds. I kept at it till I gagged and then gave up… giving up meat wasn’t easy. For those of you who have always been vegetarians and for those of you who’ve never considered giving up scavenging, here’s an analogy that could perhaps help you understand how blue one gets when one decides to give up eating meat after having been a connoisseur of ‘fine meats’ for most of one’s adult life. Imagine this…you are back to being 20 something and are single and alone at a beach resort in Goa, or Ibiza if you will. The sun and the sand and the rush of the surf as you would know is a heady cocktail… you spend the days by the beach and the nights at the taverns. The whirling blur of toned bodies, intoxicating rhythms and the whiff of the sea floods the senses...Then one evening in the pool you are gently undulating into a relaxing backstroke and accidentally bump into someone. Disconcerted, you turn and come face to face with this rather attractive young lady (actually feel free to choose a gender that suits your mood at the moment) in a saffron sarong, rubbing her forehead where she got poked by your elbow…you apologise, she smiles…there’s small talk as you both wade out, and then you remember to look away…you hope you made the right impression. Looks like you have…she’s smiling at you next morning. You meet, you talk, you preen and dance…Then you feel like you have known each other forever. You love the way she makes you feel and you know there’s no one who made you feel this way before. You share your nights and your days and that time and space you wish that time would stop, but nay, the grains of sand are always shift ing, slipping and sliding into unwanted tomorrows. Before you know it, it’s time to go… You promise to keep in touch but life has plans all its own, and as it twists and turns into the alleys of time. The years roll by and you get busy. Friends and cities come and go and memories of that enchanted holiday so long ago gather dust and mist. But every now and then, on balmy nights and breezy days, you hear her voice and see her smile…you miss her so and long for the warmth of her touch…you feel a sudden lonely pang and wonder where she might be. But you’re all grown up now and too busy to fall in love, so your folks find you a nice agreeable young lady and you marry her to live happily ever after. You move into a bigger house and life is good. You can’t complain.

You are leaving for work one day, while sending texts in a hurry and bump into someone accidentally. You turn to apologise and (I too apologise for the corniness…) and whaddyaknow… it’s her again, rubbing her shoulder as she looks up and smiles that sweet gummy smile you had once known so well. The clock turns back in a hurry and freezes, till your wife calls out and asks if you are fine. She’s your new neighbour, and she’s unattached, still.

Now imagine the pain that’ll wrack your heart everytime she waves at you, smiles and walks by. Th at is the pain I feel at Sunday barbecues and tandoori dinners when I’m stuck with a plate of cheese while you are tucking into those plates of well done steaks and tiger prawns that I had once known so well.

So if it really hurts so much, why bother, you ask? Well, if I haven’t said it often enough, here’s one more reason why. A colleague of mine, a staunch PETA type who would’ve happily posed nude for one of their campaigns, if not for the fact that he’s so hairy he might actually look like he’s campaigning ‘for fur’, once declared that a non vegetarian’s sins are no less than the sins of a rapist. After a dramatic pause punctuated with a few ‘how could you’s, he went on to explain that since most of mankind, except for perhaps the Eskimos, eat meat purely for sensual pleasure, they are no better than those vile men who rape and ravish a weaker individual to satisfy one’s carnal appetite, for little more than pleasure.

I had to admit that logic, though distant, wasn’t absent in the argument. And if one were to say that it isn’t fair to equate the rights of fellow human beings with that of lesser fellow creatures, isn’t it the same mindset which allowed white man to rape, enslave and even murder blacks, browns and yellows for centuries without guilt because they were considered lesser beings? And isn’t it the same mindset of assumed superiority that encouraged the upper castes to ruthlessly exploit the lower castes in this very country? And isn’t it obvious that it is only a matter of time before we also come to realize, or more appropriately, before we have the honest courage to admit, that those we kill and eat for our pleasure today are also creatures with equal rights to life and liberty even though they be very different?

But when that day arrives, I wouldn’t want you to look at your plate the way my math teacher looked at me so I’ll go looking for some vegetarian delights in the coming weeks so that you can see the light without losing your appetite…bon appetit!


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