Of Paneer, Section 377, Non-Veg Conversations, and Existential Crisis at 3 AM

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect” – Albert Einstein.

I still remember the day I entered law school brimming with optimism about life without parents, intellectually stimulating curriculum, late night parties, interning under the who’s who of the legal world… but unfortunately I forgot to think about one pivotal thing. Food.

An army marches on its stomach. A hostelite, even more so.

Ok, I can hear all of you. Mess food is always a nightmare. Ours isn’t; not exactly. But the diet chart skewed towards vegetarianism caused the fish-loving-Bengali in me ample unhappiness.

So after surviving on three variations of paneer in orange gravy for over a week, I came-out-of-the-closet to a friend and confessed my pining for meat. He was, to say the least, mortified.

Being a self-proclaimed ‘pure vegetarian’ (there are distinct classes of vegetarians: the egg consuming one, the ‘sirf chicken ka gravy khata hu’ one, and, sitting at the top, the unadulterated coterie), the prospect of a human being happily gorging on flesh on a daily basis seemed as unreal to him as the testimony of Salman Khan’s driver.

I was hurled the clichéd “But non-vegetarianism against our culture and religion”.

Spurred on by my love for mythology and meat (not necessarily in that order), I countered that it wasn’t true. Hinduism is a diverse religion, accommodating such a vast number of people from different social and geographical backgrounds that it is absurd to come up with one single ‘Indian’ menu.

Moreover, “Bali” or sacrifice is an integral part of Hindu rituals. Animals have been offered to appease the Gods since the age of Mahabharata (the term “Ashvamedha” in the eponymous Yagna literally means ‘horse meat’).

Scion of the Hindu ‘Trimurti’, Shiva, is often portrayed in religious texts as a hunter, while Kali’s affinity for meat is well known.

I could never grasp the rationale behind our hostel not serving non-vegetarian food on occasions like Janmashtami and Mahalaya. Can I respect the liberty of one group by snatching away the rights of another, even if the former is significant in number?

“I can eat meat and still pray to God”, I fumed.

There is no scripture that prohibits me from doing so; except the teachings of a few self-appointed godmen, whose name occasionally grabs headlines when they mow down trees in order to save Yamuna or partake in other, more engaging activities. Move over Dharti Ma, the age of Raadhe Ma (and Babas) is here.

“And speaking of religious edicts, isn’t tolerance the core principle of Hinduism?”

My makeshift logic eludes him as he casts a mortified glance at me and proceeds to touch the blood red dhaga in his wrist, thrice in quick succession, to ward off any evil emanating from my monologue.

The fear of heavenly wrath runs deep in god-fearing modern India. The ones who rise at daybreak to pray to Ma Ganga and pass less-than-holy comments on college girls wearing jeans and going out with male friends.

Last semester, I was having trouble in securing an accommodation in Delhi for my internship period. A friend pointed me to an affordable flat. So the next morning, I called the flat owner. An elderly man picked up at the other end. We spoke for some time and settled on a rent. Just as I was about to hang up, his voice crackled again.

Beta, please ensure that you neither eat nor cook any non-veg food while you are here. We believe in keeping a pure household. Theek hai?… Hello?”

I was at a loss for words. So I did the most strategic thing that came to my mind. I mumbled ‘Hello!’ for a couple times and then disconnected the call. My internship in the Capital never materialized, but if it did, I bet it wouldn’t have been a pleasant one in terms of cuisine (or personal freedom).

Sadly, the muscle-flexing of the majority doesn’t end here.

A friend of mine, studying in a local law college, had stopped attending classes for months after his ‘mannerisms’ caught the attention of a few ‘right-minded’ (pun intended) people. Section 377 has put at rest the legality; the mentality, sadly, continues to persist.

“Now even the boys are no longer safe in India”, I overheard a person guffawing.

For a second, I thought of explaining to him that decriminalization of the LGBTQ community does not mean that they can make out with any person who catches their fancy. But then I realised that ‘consent’ was too foreign a term to them. To a vast number, the verdict is a license to do (as someone crudely put it) “man-on-man”.

So I here I am sitting before my laptop at 3 am. As hunger pangs from my stomach growl over the sounds of Bon Jovi’s Its My Life emanating from the dusty machine, I realise that the India I grew up in is not the country I currently inhabit and nothing is worse than feeling like a stranger in your own home.

Self-appointed conscience keepers of ‘India’ are the new anti-socials, operating under the garb of social values. They are the modern day Nader Shahs and Tamerlanes, who have swooped down upon a debilitating empire with the sole motive of serving their own greed and vested interests.

It is not so much the glorification of the majority that bothers me, as the demonization of the minority, be it in terms of religion, ethnicity or food habits, does. ‘Unity in diversity’, it seems, is no longer fulcrum behind our nation.

I should probably end my homily by saying, “God save our country”, but then it would be contrary to ‘everything above’ (excuse my poor taste in puns).

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