Sunday, January 06, 2013

A non-vegetarian family cornered among vegetarians during a train journey

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

I was travelling in a North-bound train, perched on the side upper berth when I witnessed this interesting spectacle in the compartment.

Often during journeys, one or two people due to their nature, change the atmosphere of the 'coupe' and then everyone gets into talkative mode and turn friendly. So it was the case here.

There was a couple, in late 30s, who hailed from Bihar, on the lower seats in front of me along with their children. There was another family--Mr and Mrs Maheshwari with their kids. Apart from them, two other men, one of them was Mr Agarwal from Bhilai (Chhattisgarh). Another was Mr Garg who was basically from Indore.

Mr Agarwal brought out a pack of cards and soon he was playing cards with Mr Garg and another person from a nearby seat who came there. He was cracking jokes also. The children were also taking interest, and were keenly watching the three 'uncles' play 'taash'.

From 4 pm when I boarded the train, till 8 pm, they had all got friendly with each other. The kids were loving this new 'uncle' [Mr Agarwal] who could show them all sorts of 'jadus' [tricks with cards] and tell them jokes apart from recalling funny anecdotes about his family including his nephews and nieces.

All of them had become a big middle-class family, who had discussed everything under the sun in these four hours. They were quite aware about each other, now--the jobs, the places where they lived and whose parents or in-laws stayed where in India.

You eat 'Non-Veg'....

It was at around 8.30 pm when the family [Bihar origin] decided that the kids should have their dinner. The Tiffin was brought out. Mrs Pandey opened the boxes one after the other. As the aroma wafted in the compartment, Mr Agarwal asked, 'Non-veg hai kya'.

At that moment, the chirpy Mrs Pandey seemed to have lost all her confidence. Mr Agarwal was surprised, 'Aap log non-veg khate hain'. Poor Mrs Pandey was embarrassed though Mr Agarwal was so mild. Now Mr Garg also jumped into the fray, 'You people are Pundits, na!'

Mrs Pandey was totally on back foot now. She was fumbling for words. 'Bachchon ko khila dete hain' [we let the children eat it]. The guys said, "no we don't have any objection but...". Mrs Pandey had now put the lids back on the dibbas.

"I will send the children to the XYZ's seat [perhaps a relative or acquaintance was travelling in same bogey] at the other end of the compartment'.

"No, no you don't need to do that", Garg sahab said, touching his nose. Koi problem nahi hai. We are not used to anyone eating non-veg.

"We don't even eat eggs. My wife in fact doesn't touch onion or garlic", he added. All the fun had ended by now.

Mrs Pandey murmured: We make it for kids. She seemed really sorry for her existence. "We don't eat regularly now.

Actually we are from Bihar na, Brahmins eat mutton in Bihar", she said. Her husband who was squirming, said something about the days every week when they keep fast.

Vegetarian Virtues

Mr Maheshwari, who wasn't talking much, suddenly joined the conversation. "Once my brother's friends had come and cooked mutton on our 'chauka' in our absence. You know, she [pointing at his wife] had got the entire cooking platform washed so many times. She didn't step in until we had the kitchen white washed again", he said with pride.

It was going too far now. Politically speaking, a 'vegetarian majority' here was psychologically crushing a minority non-vegetarian family which had allowed itself to be bullied. It was like, 'We thought you were just like us, how come you be so different'.

One felt like intervening but then they were all so close just a while ago that interference would have seemed odd. The Pandey couple was silent. But Mrs Pandey's behaviour and mannerism suggested that she was 'apology personified'.

Being Brahmins [highest is caste ladder, the other three families were Vaisyas and veggies], they were supposed to uphold the vegetarian values but here, they were caught 'red-handed' and that too when passengers all around [coupe's on either side] were listening to this conversation.

Apologetic about Eating Habits

"Arrey bhai, bachchon ko khane do", said one of the veggie brigade. The discussion on Indian values and how non-vegetarian food [taamsik] leads to corruption of not just soul but also body, took off. Even Mr and Mrs Pandey were supporting the virtues of vegetarianism.

They said how because of their upbringing in Mithila region, they had this habit, but that they no longer cherished mutton or chicken. Mrs Pandey suggested that even the kids were not too fond of it and will perhaps shun it once they are old enough.

It was sad to see the two kids [bhai-behen] go towards the window, sit and eat without talking. The elders' conversation continued about how people in Rajasthan and Gujarat have 'saatvik' food and that it is so tasty. The wonders of desi spices and the miracles the 'maida' and 'besan' can do, were discussed.

From 'baati' to 'baafla', we heard about all unique vegetarian delicacies. And how celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan don't eat non-vegetarian food. If the couple had any plans to eat the food brought along by them, they couldn't dare to think of it.

The ordered the 'thaali' and had it along with others. After all, they had claimed that the non-vegetarian food in the Tiffin was for kids.

Call it 'Food Fascism' or just a funny episode!

Though it was a pretense. Perhaps, the veggie brigade also knew it. None of them asked the couple that they  should eat the non-veg food.

The Bihar couple was clearly under massive moral pressure and feeling guilty. No one had blamed them. They should have spoken for themselves.

Had they taken a stand and said that food habits had got nothing to do with religion or given examples and said that 'Look, its our choice what we eat', the situation wouldn't have taken such a turn.

They could have said how Brahmins originally in the Vedic era ate mutton but later under the influence of Jainism or due to other factors, quit it.

But they did nothing of that sort. They sounded apologetic. Perhaps, because they really felt that being Brahmins they should have protected the 'tradition', which all the Bania families around them were doing with such conviction.

The manner in which they got cornered was a bit sad. It took a while before the topic of conversation changed. But it couldn't get as lively as in the earlier phase. However, as the journey was coming to an end, they all noted each others phone numbers and promised that if they visited each others cities, they would make a call.

The kids said goodbye to the uncles. Perhaps, they will remember them for a long time. Often people get friendly during train journeys but the promises to call or meet are forgotten once they get off the train. But this episode will surely stay with me for quite sometime.

Is there any moral to draw from this incident?

READ my experience of journey along with members of Tablighi Jamat AT THIS LINK