Self styled Indophiles and western and westernized authors propagate the myth that an ideal Hindu is an idol worshiper, a snake charmer, a fatalist, a peace-loving tolerant compromiser and above all, a vegetarian. Of course, it is a statement of half truths.
When it comes to vegetarianism it can be said without being politically incorrect that Hindus are selectively vegetarian. Contrary to the practice of the pro-genies Abraham, non-veg foods are absolute no on religious occasions for the pro-genies of Brahma, the exception being certain festivals and rituals connected with shakti and tantra.
South Indians who have never come in close contact with the Brahmins of Odisha, Bengal, Bihar or the Kashmiri Pandit, may generalise that a Brahmin has to be a vegetarian. This again is far from the truth, the exception being the Bengali Brahmin for whom fish is a vegetarian delicacy.
Rather I should say that among the Hindus some are vegetarians, some are selectively vegetarians and some are selectively non vegetarians. When I say selectively non-vegetarian it is applicable both across the spectrum of time and the spectrum of non-plant based foods. This again is region specific.
I come from a family of Odiya Brahmins where some of the elders did not believe in the practice (not in principle) that a Hindu, that too a Brahmin, has to be selectively vegetarian. For them it did not matter whether it was a Thursday or the Janmastami. Without some kind of non-veg sides their stomach refused to accept any kind of food.
Now I am a converted vegetarian. The transition from being a selectively vegetarian to a pure vegetarian happened when I became a certified yoga teacher. I was supposed to warn my course participants about the perils of non-veg foods and the related issues like cruelty to the animals. There was no way I was not going to practise what I preached. Frankly speaking my transition was not a difficult one. I am not a foodie and before becoming a full time converted veggie it was only on rare occasions that I used to take non veg food.
So now, having adopted vegetarianism as a way of life I am not looking back in spite of the fact that it has now become an expensive lifestyle choice for a city dweller who does not have the luxury of a kitchen garden. I remember that during our childhood days in the village half of our vegetable needs were fulfilled by our own vegetable garden in the backyard. Even half of our non-veg needs were fulfilled by the river flowing by.
On a sleepy Sunday morning you go to the local vegetable market to wake up to the fact that today tomato has decided to act pricey and hence out of reach. Some other day you get exhausted chasing the onion that is playing catch me if you can. This does not happen with the prices of non-veg food items that do not go through seasonal fluctuations even though they are subject to normal market inflation like any other item. Forget about mutton and chicken, these days, the transportation networks ensure that even fish never goes out of fashion.
You may safely eat fish salad, but unless your vegetables are cleaned by a Hema Malini recommended scientifically sophisticated vegetable washer you would be eating raw vegetables at your own risk. Same goes for the carbide laced fruits available in the market. After getting mouth ulcers on a number of occasions, these two items – uncooked vegetables and ripe fruits – have entered my not-to-eat list along with non-veg items, further narrowing down my to-eat list.
To avoid the ill effects of the chemical and colour laced fruits and vegetables, now a days, you have the choice of upgrading your status (both real and Facebook) from being a simple vegetarian to an organic vegetarian. That again comes with its own price tag further increasing your cost of maintaining a vegetarian lifestyle. Further, there is no way of ascertaining, if someone is taking you for a ride in the name of organic food.
Indian hotels too give the vegetable lover a raw deal. The word vegetarian has a close connection with vegetables. When you go to a south Indian veg Hotel, the only item containing vegetables sometimes could be the pickles.
In a north Indian pure veg hotel when the waiter sings the menu starting from various combinations of paneer and mushroom I feel like shouting at the top of my voice, you *** let me tell you paneer is not a vegetable and mushroom is a controversial vegetarian delight as my friend from Andhra testifies that in their family it is considered a non veg item. By the way, someone following the vegan philosophy would not certify paneer, which is of animal origin, to be conducive to a vegetarians lifestyle. Now, tell me about a dish containing vegetables. Then his answer would be, ‘Sir there is mixed veg, veg kolhapuri, ……’ Being allergic to over-spicy dishes I opt for the mixed veg highlighting the fact that it should be less spicy.
When the waiter brings me the dish of mixed veg, do I hear the poor vegetables singing:
"dhondo dhondo re sajna.. bits and pieces of us in this ocean of gravy and spices"
When it comes to parties- official, unofficial, formal and informal- it is not a nice feeling these days to belong to the disadvantaged minority. In our family we have this ritual called the sacred thread ceremony where the son of a Brahmin is certified to have known the Brahman and become the twice born after not understanding a single word of what the purohit was chanting for three hours. Now a days even such a religious occasion demands at least a fish dish. Like any other buffet party here also your area is quarantined.
When I was a neo convert to the cult of vegetarianism I would go to any such party with the airs of moral superiority over the people who are directly or indirectly responsible for heinous cruelty to animals. It would take some time for me to realise that actually I was looked upon like a criminal there as someone would remark with a disdainful look, ‘Oh! You are a vegetarian’. Even some well wisher friends would bestow me with tons of sympathy for what I was missing in life.
So, with chemically conditioned and artificially colored vegetables and step motherly attitude of the hoteliers and party organizers, the tribe of vegetarians will continue to face the existential crisis for years to come.
It is said that Budhha had fixed a maximu limit of begging for his bhikhus. Those days it must have been simple – A few handful of anna and vegetables. I think if Budhha were alive today the limit would be something like this: 150 grams of rice and vegetable (both organic) and two liters of mineral water. Alternately, he might have set a limit for daily cash receipt with an inflationary component factored in.
Mad charvak says that in this ghor kalyug even a monk needs money, a lot of money. After all, he has to purchase the water to drink and maybe, after a few years, the air to breathe.
P.S.: To be fair even though occasionally the price of a particular farm product sky rockets, the farmer hardly gets anything out of it. Rather, in some seasons we come across the phenomenon when tons of rotten vegetables are thrown away or vegetables are sold at throw away prices. Over the decades, food prices have not been subject to the same rate of inflation like other consumer items. In spite of the compensatory measures like fertiliser subsidy and other slogans, the overall condition of the Indian marginal farmer continues to deteriorate.