That vegetarians are relatively docile beings is an extremely misleading notion. In my experience, they are actually quite tyrannical. Take for example dinosaurs. Even the biggest of them, Tyrannosaurus Rex was a veggie. As the name itself suggests, it must have tyrannised the rest of its tribe as well as other prehistoric beings.
I had a taste of vegetarian intolerance during the last few weeks of the bird flu hoax that swept across much of the country. The story, in my firm opinion, was a media creation and served certain interests (especially those of pharma companies with excess inventory) rather well. Of course it was blown out of all proportion and cost almost a million chickens their lives. The dreaded flu, if it was indeed bird flu, was confined to a small area in Maharashtra and did not warrant the nationwide panic that ensued. But taking advantage of the scare scenario, veggie fanatics went on the rampage, whipping up frenzy against all forms of flesh.
It is rare for such viruses to survive India's heat and dust as we saw earlier during the much more serious SARS scare. I was sceptical about the alleged bird flu epidemic especially its purported threat to human lives, from the day the story broke. In fact, I argued (unsuccessfully) with my colleagues against making it the main story on the front page. They were all petrified at the prospect of contracting the flu and insisted that it was our professional duty to scare our readers too. Faced with their fundamentalist conviction, I conceded and The Pioneer like every other paper in the country gave full play to the story while it lasted. Occasionally, I managed to squeeze in a report doubting the extent of the disease or pointing out that all blood samples had returned a negative reading.
Armed with these alarmist media reports, veggies ran riot. Non-veg food was unceremoniously turfed out of trains and planes. The few diehard meat eaters like me were compelled to furtively shop for fish or mutton, whose prices skyrocketed. As it is, I belong to an endangered minority since I smoke. With vegetarian cacophony reaching a crescendo, I faced double jeopardy. Travelling to Mumbai at the height of the bird flu hoax, I gingerly asked the airhostess what was on offer for non-vegetarians. Scowling most disapprovingly, she asked me whether I never read newspapers. Apologetically, I ventured to tell her I edited one.
Unfazed, she informed me with all the official authority at her command that non-vegetarian meals had been discontinued in view of the bird flu. Infected chicken being banned, I understood, I plaintively argued back. But what about serving mutton or fish? She didn't bother to reply. From her looks it was apparent she was a vegetarian fundamentalist - the type that drools at the mere mention of the word 'paneer' or 'gobi parantha' or worse, kaddu and arbi! Anyway, I was instantly saddled with a meal of hara-bhara kebab, cabbage-stuffed spring rolls and alu-matar.
Conventional wisdom has it that meat is bad for the heart, cholesterol and what not. Ayatollahs of vegetarianism would probably insist deep fried spring rolls, frightfully spicy hara kebabs and subzi preparations that float in an ocean of oil at wedding meals do wonders to your lipid profile or cardiac condition! Agreed, all vegetarian food is not disagreeable; in fact, Rajasthani food is rather tasty, South Indian is delicious and even Bengali veg is fabulous at times.
Still, I ardently believe that there can be nothing more offensive to the human taste buds than paneer or lauki or kaddu. Tons of paneer invade my house every week because my Canadian-origin, pedigreed Labrador finds that gruesome thing delightful, and gobbles up dollops in seconds. Needless to add, I never touch the stuff.
My suffering at the hands of tyrannical veggies didn't end with the plane journey. Rushed for time in Mumbai, I decided to pick up some fast food to eat in the car en route to Nariman Point from Bandra. Since no McDonald's or Dominos was conveniently located, my colleague suggested a croissant joint, which apparently served some super chicken or sausage croissants. We entered to find two sad-looking cheese and onion variants - the last croissants left in the shop's display cages by hungry Mumbaikars of the locality. Anything non-veg, I dared to query, undeterred by my airline experience. The shocked expression on the salesman's face was reply enough. Okay, okay, sorry I even asked, I mumbled, picked up the dilapidated remnants and forced myself to gulp them down with some diet Coke.
A week later, I took the Shatabdi to Ludhiana to be greeted by the same intolerance. Since chicken was taboo, there was no doubt about which ban came first. Eggs were nyet, nyet. The waiter, who recognised me presumably from my TV appearances, was at least apologetic. Come back next week, Sir, and we will start serving eggs again, he said as if to console. I was served me some cold vegetable cutlet stuffed with yet another subzi I happen to hate - carrots. I have never understood why carrot is referred to with such approval in the expression, 'carrot and stick policy'.
Give me the stick any day, if the alternative is carrot! I had hoped my hosts in Ludhiana would spread out a sumptuous non-veg meal, for the earthy Sardar usually finds a meal inedible without generous helpings of kukkad. Chicken is, indeed, Punjabi by nature and the vice versa is not true. But for once the reverse appeared correct. There was no chicken on the menu, although they tried to make up with lots of fried fish, which didn't quite gel with the rest of the fare.
Mercifully, the conspiracy against non-vegetarians is finally petering out. The Parliament House canteens have resumed chicken. So I gather have airlines. But I am sure the tyrants are displeased about it. This was probably the second time in Independent India's 58-year history that democracy was brutally throttled. I have no doubt that given half a chance their latent tyranny will resurface. I recall an incident when I moved to a rented house in A-1 block of South Delhi's Panchsheel Enclave. This was located just behind Soami Nagar. One day, some worthies from the neighbouring colony landed up, saying nobody was allowed to consume fish or meat in their locality. They produced a document regarding the rules of conduct in Soami Nagar. I was rather baffled, not knowing what they were cribbing about. Finally, they demanded rather categorically that we discontinue our 'obnoxious' non-vegetarian culinary preference for theirs was a 'holy' colony. Angrily, I told them to keep their holiness to themselves and not attempt to expand their zone of intolerance beyond the boundaries of their 'sacred' Soami Nagar.
I am told that a particular shop in Bengali Market is boycotted by the rest of the shopowners because it serves chicken cutlets, shami kebabs and cakes that contain eggs. But unknown to rabid vegetarians, they end up consuming vegetable oils or using soap said to contain beef tallow!
Don't get me wrong, dear vegetarian reader. I uphold your right to vegetarianism. I accommodate sensibilities by shifting to another table if a vegetarian friend seems uncomfortable looking at my plate laden with non-veg delicacies. Live and let live should be one's mantra. But the unseen hand of veggie tyranny doesn't seem to be too happy about that philosophy.
Mitra humorously lashes out his friendly frustration towards fundamentalist vegetarians in India! Mr. Mitra - Have you considered that the pharmacutical industry is behind the situation you describe and is cashing in this uproar surrounding the bird flu? Recently, I read a not so nice article about the 'self-absorbant' vegetarians. I will not even bother quoting the immature article from a juvennile college publication. Being a vegetarian, I can understand Mitra's frustration, but the second publication I mentioned is the one which is 'self absorbed'. Now that I have a wonderful medium of this blog to express my opinions on this, I will do so without further ado.
I prefer to practice a live and let live attitude towards all kinds of diets and hopefully my dealings with my diverse population of friends exemplify that. I don't appreciate infliction of opinion on others. By now, I am used to the blank stares I sometimes get at restaurants when I ask them if they can modify one of their menu items to not include the meat. Some times the restaurants oblige graciously but many times, point me towards their over-priced, wilty garden salads. Luckily for me, I like salads and steamed veggies with salt and pepper :) Lately I have taken to really read food labels and discuss about ingredients with friends and sometimes call the company. It is surprising how many ingredients can be animal derived.
I am a vegetarian due to religious and some personal standards regarding cruelty. The meat industry has become a slaughter factory today, with the most attrocious measures of cost reduction. I won't get into the details here, but there are various grim and graphic resources available, just a google search away. The same cruelty unfortunately is true of the diary industry today. I am determined to pay the extra price for kindness and make necessary life style changes to switch to organic milk and eggs. I agree with the views expressed by Barbara of Tigers and Strawberries in this article (a very well deserved 'Best Post' food blog award). If people killed their own animals for meat, there will be a lot less non-vegetarians in the world today.
I am proud to be a vegetarian, not because my beliefs are supreme, but because for once, I have been able to stand up for something. Among my resolutions to wake up earlier in the morning, complete items on my to-do list, restart abandoned projects, I have been able to continue practicing vegetarianism and stick to my beliefs, in an uninvasive way. If the above sounds fundamentalist, then, well - bring me a dictionary.
I've met my share of 'tyrannous' vegetarians - people who insist on muttering incoherantly under their breath while carrying a raw egg (with shell and all) covered in kitchen napkins, staring disgustingly at their already apologetic room-mates. I understand, and find that over bearing too! But, please, don't blame a poor unsuspecting vegetarian who screams at the sight of raw squids lying in his/her kitchen sink, left by inconsiderate house-mates! Vegetarians come in many flavors, and it is wrong to stereotype them all as 'self-absorbed' or 'fundamentalist'. They are a minority and hence a somewhat oppressed population. Think of the number of products that don't completely reveal their ingredient sources or worse mask ingredients under the two words 'Natural Flavors'. Being a vegetarian in the vast outside world is like having a food allergy, the more information you can extract about the food, the better for you.
I hope this post is not overly opinionated! I express my appreciation to many non-vegetarian friends for their thoughtful consideration every time they have us over! Also, I thank them for accepting food invitations at our place, knowing very well that they will be served boring vegetarian food. Sorry, Mr. Mitra that vegetarians have troubled you :) It is not easy being a vegetarian either (in the US). I do see the satire in your article. It is difficult being different in a crowd... a meat eater in a majority of vegetarians in India or as in my case a vegetarian in a country of mainly meat eaters. Who said life is fair :)