We are a large family of eclectic food eaters; there are few universal favourites such as Baskin Robbins ice cream and chole bhature, maybe at Bikanerwala or Haldiram, served straight out of the karahi, unhealthy, fattening, heart-bursting and shimmering with oil. Excessive intake of Chole Bhature can be suicidal due to the destruction they can cause to arteries, yet they are wolfed down in copious amounts.
Though individual gastronomic sensitivities are respected in my family, permutations linked to eating non-veg can be as numerous as marriage rituals in a largely Hindu set up such as ours. Meat needs be devoured outside or it can be home delivered but cannot be cooked in the kitchen or there is need for separate utensils and area for consumption; no flesh days include Tuesday, Thursday, auspicious or shubh dins when deities need to be pleased in different ways.
My mother was a non-veg, but turned voluntarily veg after marriage to be in synch with my father’s preferred choice. But, like all good moms, she cooked for me, a hardcore carnivore as I grew up in the north-east. So far, I have not noticed any behavioural or gender stereotypes linked to meat eating. Tattooed boys who drive rashly or girls in short skirts who like to party are equally likely to be veg, while ladies who are comfortable in salwars and men in Khadi attires, could very well be non-veg.
The veg versus non-veg debate in my family also evolves as per the changing literature sourced from scientific journals and advisories by specialist bodies such as WHO. No red meat, only fish, no yolk, only egg white. I like my egg full-bodied and fried as there is so much tasteless protein I can withstand to keep the muscles from wilting. I also have a fetish for half-plate chicken steamed momos as they are cheap, contain little oil, keep body immunity mechanisms street-fighting fit and are accessible at any market corner in Gurgaon, where I live.
The momos selling Sikkimese boys are also least likely to be pounced upon by anti-meat vigilantes, emboldened by the dominant BJP leadership in North India, who like to forcibly shut down a KFC during Navratras in order to make some point.
The subject of beef has been more controversial than other forms of meat intake. Though I have had my share in South India, abroad and Shillong, the religious sentiments attached to cows run very deep. For instance my parents have no problems if I happen to try out a snake, snail or sushi. But, have issues with beef.
Cracking down on illegal cow slaughter and smuggling naturally has its large share of supporters in the country. I too back such moves. But, my fear is that in this day and age of post-truth politics, revering cows is the kind of demagoguery that finds resonance with the self-appointed upholders of our cultural, moral, nationalist moorings and ethos. The Modi government likes to put-down the previous Congress regime under Manmohan Singh for the endemic corruption.
The constant churn of distorted ideas under Saffron rule that is permeating across the country is equally unacceptable. This can take the form of a divisive Ram Mandir movement, anti-Romeo squads, beating a Muslim to death due to unfounded rumours about storing cow meat, banning movies that ask uncomfortable questions, banishing artists or cartoonists, browbeating books, intellectual debates and couples in a park or metro. Or worse, ask girls to stay at home or cover up from head to feet in order to attend college. There is a fine dividing line between what is right and what is warped.
Stalwarts of the BJP including Modi or Yogi Adityanath need to ensure that some of their actions in the name of protecting the Hindu faith and identity does not degenerate into the farcical with goons, gau rakshaks, cops and the state unleashed on the citizenry.