Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Memoirs – Confessions of a Grass Eater

Confessions of a Pakistani Vegetarian

Living a vegetarian life in Lahore.

[Text by Maryam Arif; picture by Asad K]

Lahoris are often offended when you tell them you are a vegetarian. It is an insult to their intelligence. How can anyone voluntarily give up the meat delicacies that constitute our cuisine? Surely you must crave Mohammadi Nehari, Behari Kebab from Bundu Khan, Seekh Kebab, Siri Paye, Macchi of Mozang Chungi and the mouth-watering abundance of Food Street.

Many times people do not really comprehend what it means when you tell them you do not eat meat, and respond with, “So have chicken, at least.” Eggs I can understand, that I debate myself and settle for the arguments in favor of eating them, but chicken? (!) My befuddled expression is met with eye-rolling, sneers and all sorts of judging. Some look down on you from their meat-eating position of superiority, while others resent you for being snobbish, elitist or just plain weird.

Being vegetarian in Pakistan is highly suspect, Indian-like; even though most Indians I know ask for beef kebabs first thing they come to Lahore. Yet in our minds vegetarian = Hindu = Indian = weak. The popular thinking is that meat gives us an edge over them grass-eaters across the border. Carnivores are stronger and taller; even light-complexioned than herbivores. Isn’t that so? It has to be (!) The ultimate argument is of course that healthy children, growing bones and intelligent minds need loads of animal protein and animal fat. That kidney beans and olive oil substitute just fine I dare not say.

There is no way you can pass the “Why are you vegetarian?” test. When God has declared it okay to eat certain animals, how dare you refuse goat testicles, cow feet and buffalo brain? I give my ten-minute spiel about animal rights, health consciousness, environment-friendly practices, greed versus need, cost-benefit analysis, simplicity, self-restraint, feelings of guilt, anger and shame over economic disparities. All my arguments meet with the ultimate roadblock: “O yaar, but it tastes too good!” So does boiled rice with daal – not without the fried fish. Aaloo Raita? – only with Chicken Pulao. How about pakoras? – tikkas are better! Wadyasaytathat??!!! (What do you say to that?)

Pakistanis never learn to love their vegetables. Greens are usually seen to be a curse, a last-resort, an enemy. Khichri (rice and daal mixture) for example is only for when you have an upset stomach. Karelas are for the diabetic grandparents. Children are fed concoctions of peas, carrots and potatoes with methi leaves thrown in throughout winter because those are the only vegetables in season. Of course veggies are not worth mom’s creative innovation in the kitchen.

We take for granted the simple pleasures of life that are so rare to find in other parts of the world – Saag and Makki ki roti, Aaloo Gobhi, Baingan ka Bharta, Missi Roti, Kachnar, Puri Channa, Fried Bhindi, Aaloo ke Paratha, Til Wala Naan, Parathas with achar and the list goes on.

Since meat is valued far more highly than any vegetable, as a guest be prepared to be served with massive quantities of Desi Kukar (murgha) in Punjab, Sajji (roasted meat cooked in a special way) in Balochistan, Chapli Kebab in N.W.F.P. and Chicken Biryani in Sindh. The fact is if you are vegetarian, you are pretty much a social outcast. So you may as well throw away those wedding invitations, and stop going to those dinner parties. You’re just going to be a source of annoyance to your hosts. Even staples like rice and bread are usually meat-infested – Keemay Wala Naan and a dozen varieties of biryani and pulaos.

While Pakistanis are a little suspicious of those who prefer leaves over goats, they remain friendly and hospitable. While Korma, Achar Gosht and Degi Chargha (another word for chicken – that tells you a lot!) are a part of the Pakistani experience, they are, I like to think, not a central part of our identity, not the defining element at any rate. It is possible to be Pakistani and vegetarian. It is a tough struggle, but so is life.


karachi wali said...

Lovely analysis!
Being a vegetarian in Pakistan, i can actually relate to all that so well. I always have people telling me how 'unhealthy' my lifestyle is cuz i mite not be gettin all the proteins that i need :P
being a vegetarian is literally thought of as a disease here...

Rajnish said...

Situation is not very different in Indian Punjab ,specially in Sikh houseolds.Recently my daughter gave up Non-vegetarian probabaly she didn't want to add more graves in hers stomach but every one is shocked.Nani says,"Beta kabhi kabhi to kha lena chahiye.Chicken kha lo mutton na khao".
But yes "Butter Chicken" is the state bird of Punjab whether in India or Pakistan.Grass will never have a place on palate ifgiven a choice.

Anonymous said...

i am a 'born' vegie!!!!!
and obiviously indian. hwever it is difficult for me to be a vegie in india than a western world in social setting.
'oh so you can kill plants ,how funny is that'
then it will be
'you must be eating cakes ?they have eggs,ha ha ha'
thank fully i cannt stand eggs so i can be left in peace though i shun eggs not for religious reasons.
the only advantage i had wne i lived in india was i could easliy get vegeterian food whereas in western countries i feel like a goat after somemonths eating mostly salad. i live in a rural setting where vegeterian =peace FIGHTER(!)so not much variety either..dotn worry karachi doesnt sound different from india.once again we are the same.!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I dont know if eating meat is good or not, but as an indian punjabi i only know that vegetatians deprive themselves of a big pleasure of life.

flygye12 said...

great post gal! :)

esp the part vegetarian=...=indian=weak LOL

really an eye opening post.
there are more non vegetarians in india than the whole population of pakistan .lol. and south indians have numerous fish/meat/beef eaters and it doesn't do much for their this post. what is ur blog address mariam

Anonymous said...

18 August 2008
hello Mayank Austen Soofi ..
a very nice blog..!
thank u.
i being born in a vegetarian family, was vegetarian all my childhood, and continued to be a vegetarian in adulthood.
why am i specifying childhood & adulthood? . when we r children we follow what our parents teach,but once we r adults we hav our own choice and we feel we can think for ourselves..
so in my case i could hav chosen non veg, once i could think for myself..
but i never understood how one can enjoy the cruelty against innocent animals?
i always wonder how a meat eater is unaware abt the cruelty & torture that he/she does against innocent animals.
im not talking abt religions..
im talking abt human beings in general..
killing another man is looked down as such a BIG CRIME and SHAME.. but the same thing done to innocent animals is GREAT !!
how can one enjoy the Cry of those animals when they r being killed? how can one have no mercy on them?
why cant they understand the animals hav the same love for their lives just like we do.
will any human agree to be killed if i wish to eat him /her??
just because the animals cant speak english/hindi/urdu/french.. we kill them??
they do cry and beg for mercy in their own langauges.. dont they??
then why not kill a man for meat who is paralysed and cant speak or ask for mercy.. he is no more than an animal isnt it?? then why not kill such human beings for food??
why dont people kill their own pet animal for food ??

dont ask me why a lion or tiger kills for its food..
of course god hasnt given them enough intelligence or feelings that they can think for other animals..
but human beings being superior for their brains.. can think ..
and thats what god expects from us.
If we dont do so.. we wouldnt be graded good marks in our 'exams of life' we would be carrying lower scores to the next life..

Our thought is based not just on the education we get , the families we live in.. but also on what we eat..
if we live on a Beast's diet, so does our mind become.

why cant people realise the superiority of vegetarain diet?
for our body-mind & health..

i wish more and more people would realise their crimes.. and be more kind and healthy in their lives.

thank u

Dr Sanjeev Patil

Unknown said...

A great read...,hi im niraj,a hindu,an indian..i was born in a veg family ,my parents cant bear the smell of most of ma frnds being meat eaters i never had a kind of dislike to it yet i ate my first egg only whn i was sixteen ( coming of age) earlier i used to defend my vegetrianism with all those arguments posted above bt the adventurer in me is always luking for new xperiences n to relax life frm as much rules i can...i am basically afraid of myself i just dnt want to eat beef as its considrd a sacrilege in our religion..i knw many hindus who dnt hv any problem in eatin beef..they say if goats ok why nt cow? ...i cant answer bt its the only non rational tenet of hinduism i believe n want to believe in sum up i believe its ok to eat meat as long as the animal has been humanely killed..i am strongly against religious sacrifices wherein people seem to enjoy the pain of the dumb in the name of god.,if god exists he is the god of all ,he just cant be the god of humans...believe in science..humans today because of their skills are at the top of the fud chain...enjoy whateva you eat! Happy earth!

Unknown said...

Hi everyone,

Great to hear such intelligent arguments....

Hey Huck... the reason the cow isn't killed amonst hindus is coz when we drink her milk, its like taking milk from ur mother and also the cows milk (scientfically proven) refines brain tissues believed to enhance them to understand spiritual knowledge...
Technically all Hindus shud be vegos but there's a lot of hypocrisy these days... The only time they can eat meat as per religon is by offerring a goat in the Kali temple and that too by takin an oath that the goat can revrse roles with its killer and do the same to it next life.. So who'd wanna sign a contract like that??

Peace to all,

Anonymous said...

It is not logical to equate Indians with Vegetarianism and Hinduism. Vegetarianism was mainly propagated by Jainism and Buddhism, not by Hinduism. Indian Hindus from Punjab and Kashmir are voracious meat eaters. So are Hindu Indians from Kerela and Bengal. In fact Beef Fry is the main dish of Kerela and cuts across religious identity. So to equate Vegetarianism with Hinduism is a myth!
To talk about ethics will be a never ending argument. My 5 cents "Why do human beings don't eat other human beings?" Is it because we relate to other human beings with emotion or is it simply because we still have plants and other animals to eat and consume.
The advantages of a vegetarian diet are that it is proven to be easier on the body and the toxins that come with the meat are avoided. Now Meat eating is not prohibited in Islam simply because Islam is a religion that started in the Deserts of Arabia. Now can you imagine Sarsson ke Saag in that environment? Hence meat eating and slaughter of the lamb during EID is acceptable in that culture. At the end of the day, use your judgement and your discretion/empathy. I will prefer to keep "God" out of the equation! Every one can make a choice on what is best for them considering the pros/cons!
But if Allah asked for Abraham to sacrifice the poor goat, then God must be non-vegetarian and probably they serve Lamb Gosht in Paradise!

hindu blog said...

It's Brilliant post and also image. I liked it.