The year was 1990, the four of us, myself, Deepika Sethi, Jolly Jain and Robin Sethi were sitting in a restaurant in Connaught Place after office. We ordered for beer asked the ladies what they will have. To that Jolly asked, “What is there in the menu?” Just for fun sake Robin said, “Jolly try this root beer, it’s quite good.” Jolly agreed and I asked Deepika if she too would have it, but she refused with her impeccable logic that the drink has ‘beer’ in it, therefore, untouchable for her. She settled for a sweet lime soda. For the main course, Robin and I had ordered Biryani while Deepika and Jolly ordered some vegetarian dishes as both are born vegetarians. While we were cribbing about the workload at the office and long hours, the food arrived and we concentrated in our respective food. Suddenly Jolly said, “Aranjit, can you put the mutton pieces on one side, the Biryani is smelling too tempting, I want to try out the rice part.” I was taken aback for a moment but readily did as requested. Jolly took a spoonful of Biryani rice and said “Its yummy yaar, wish I could eat this without guilt.”
Years have passed since that evening, Deepika and I had tied the knot and till this day she remains a vegetarian but not as staunch as her mother (my mom-in-law) who refused to eat cakes because it may contain egg (even in the eggless variety). Jolly too remains a vegetarian, buys eggless cakes for a festive occasion and laughs when reminded of that evening. Robin and I are hard core non-vegetarians and are omnivorous and so are our children. My son loves non-veg food as much as he loves Paneer preparations and Dal Makhni. In our home, there is an unwritten rule that 5 days in a week, we are Ovo-lacto-vegetarians i.e. egg and dairy is allowed but no meat and fish.
Four months after our marriage, my father passed away and on the sixth month we decided to establish our own home and separated out from the joint family. My mother decided to live with us and we unknowingly rented out a floor in a (so-called) vegetarian colony Soami Nagar next to Pancsheel Park in south Delhi. When we moved in the house, the landlord came to see us and said, “You are Bengali and I know you have non-vegetarian food, just ensure that you pack the bones etc separately and throw it in the garbage dump outside the colony. Also, if you can avoid making fish at home, that will be great.” I assured him that with two vegetarians among the three inhabitants, there will be no non-vegetarian cooking at home except on special occasions and further that I being a non-fish eating Bong, there will be no fish cooking at all. We stayed in that colony of vegetarians for over three years and never had any issues with any of our neighbours with regard to the food habits.
I am told that there are different kinds of vegetarians like –
- Ovo Vegetarian – includes eggs but not dairy products
- Lacto Vegetarian – includes dairy products but not eggs
- Ovo-Lacto Vegetarian – includes animal/ dairy products such as egg, milk, honey
- Vegans – excludes all animal flesh and products such as milk, honey, eggs besides any other item that is remotely associated with animals
- Extreme Vegans – includes only fresh and uncooked fruits, nuts, seeds and vegetables
- Fruitarians – includes only fruit, nuts and seeds. Any other plant matters that can be gathered without harming the plants
- Satviks – Also known as followers of yogic diet, include dairy (not eggs) and honey, but excludes anything from the onion or leek family, red lentils, mushrooms, blue cheeses, fermented foods or sauces, alcoholic drinks and often also excludes coffee, black or green tea, chocolate, nutmeg or any other type of stimulant such as excess sharp spices.
- Buddhist vegetarianism – Different Buddhist traditions have differing teachings on diet, which may also vary for ordained monks and nuns compared to others. Many exclude not only all animal products but also vegetables in the alliums family (which have the characteristic aroma of onion and garlic): onion, garlic, scallions, leeks, chives, or shallots.
- Jain vegetarianism – includes dairy but excludes eggs and honey, as well as root vegetables.
I remember my sister telling me that in her in-laws house, they make mutton curry without onions and garlic because these vegetables are considered amish by her father-in-law who was a renowned Pandit Ji. The chicken never entered the household, even today. The children relish it but have it outside at restaurants. Then someone in my office narrated an incidence of a colleague once commenting that he refrains from having non-vegetarian food on Tuesdays because the restaurants might use the same ladle (Karchhi) that he uses to pick up food with onion in it!!! To that, my comment was “What the Fuss?”
I fail to understand that how come vegetables and lentils are classified as non-vegetarian items? I am fortunate that in my extended family on both sides are filled with vegetarians, but none is fuss-pots with regard to the foods they have as long as it does not have meat/ egg in it. My wife does not take egg normally but is open to having it if the situation demands it.
I am of the view that food habit of people is determined by nature like so many other things. People living in the coastal areas are habituated in having fish as their staple food while people living in the land locked areas tend to depend on vegetables and other form of livestock. In other words, one cannot force the other to follow a certain food habit. The intolerance shown recently by few state governments of India in declaring Meat Ban during a festival of Jain community is totally uncalled for as was the social media flooding with gory pictures of slaughtered animals just before the Eid festival. In my locality, there is a particular eatery run by a Sardarji and serving mouth watering non-vegetarian fare is closed down voluntarily during the Navratras, twice a year. Then there are a few restaurants which serve complete vegetarian dishes that are without onions and garlic during the nine-day period. Same is true of all the famous restaurants at Pandara Road. All these actions are completely voluntary, no one forces them.
To all those (vegetarians) who claim to be animal lovers and tell us (omnivorous) to convert to vegetarian because one should not kill life forms, kindly remember that it has been proven that Plants too have life and you are killing them for your food. So please stop patronizing and let the Mother Nature decide how she wants to exist. Mother Nature has a unique system of balancing out the excesses that we humans inflict on her, be it the tsunami, avalanches, drought or sudden growth of vegetation in the otherwise arid region. Let us follow the concept of food-chain and not disrupt it in the name of religion, which I feel does more harm than any good to people. The dinosaurs have become extinct because they had no further utility for Nature and shall we humans too will vanish from the earth one day. Till then, let us enjoy our food in the ways we like it, you have your paneer delicacy and let me savour the biriyani. Amen!!