I landed in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state, Gujarat, in 2014 in the middle of the scorching heat of March. I was beaming with excitement as the city had transformed into the epicentre around which the Indian political scenario was revolving. And being a budding journalist, it was a great career opportunity to witness the madness in the newsroom around the time of the Lok Sabha election that ‘changed India’. But hardly had I known that my non-vegetarian taste buds would soon lead to a nightmare and cast shadows on my happiness.
March 12, 2014, my first day in Ahmedabad was spent hunting for a rented room at a nominal price. Finally, a broker showed me a flat within my budget near a Muslim-dominated area, Vejalpur. As it was just 10 minutes away from my new office, I readily agreed. Next day when I returned to sign the agreement, my landlord in a stern voice threw a list of back-to-back questions at me, enquiring about my marital status, drinking habits, job, education and friends. And finally, for the first time, I saw him smiling when I answered his last question.
“What is your religion?” he asked. “I am a Hindu and a Brahmin by caste,” I replied. He grinned showing a sign of relief and signed the agreement without any other question.
In Gujarat, Brahmins are generally vegetarians but it is just the opposite in Bengal. Fish is our staple food. We can live without water but not without non-vegetarian food. My landlord was unaware of this. And to my bad luck, I asked him if there was any fish market nearby.
This question turned his face pale, holding the agreement in his hand, he angrily asked me, “Why do you want to go to a fish market if you are a Brahmin?” I understood my mistake but it was too late for any explanation and the agreement was cancelled.
Thankfully, that very day, my broker managed to provide me with another flat in the same locality. But it came with a statuary warning: ‘No non-veg’.
I avoided thinking about it, presuming it was just a one-time incident. But the discomfort was back again just after six months when I shifted to a new house in another locality with an office colleague. And yes, again the landlord asked me the same questions and I replied with similar answers:
“I am a Hindu.”
“I am a Brahmin.”
“I am vegetarian.”
“I don’t even eat egg.”
For the first time in my life, I thanked my parents for being Brahmins.
After shifting to our new apartment, I used to go to a local tea stall every morning to drink tea which would often be followed by chit-chat. One day, I took the risk of asking him if there was any meat market nearby. He ignored the question which really annoyed me, so I asked him again.
“Wait, I will tell you… let the person go,” he whispered.
To my surprise, I searched for the ‘person’ and I saw a man between the age of 40 and 50 years was staring at me when he overheard my question. Later, I got to know that he was the pandit of a nearby temple and strictly, avoided even the shadow of people who ate meat in the morning. “But I am a Brahmin too,” I replied hastily.
In my 22-month stay in Gujarat, I have gained total control on my non-vegetarian desires. Due to the fear of the locality, we didn’t dare bring raw meat in the flat for cooking or order something from outside. But thankfully, my roommate was also a hardcore non-vegetarian so we would often hop on my scooty to visit Bhatiyar Gali, a minority area and the hub of non-vegetarian food in Ahmedabad. Later, I found other colleagues in office who also shared the same love, and they never gave me looks for having a soft corner for non-veg food despite being a Brahmin.
I left Kolkata in 2012 for Bangalore, to pursue my higher studies, and stayed there for almost three years. But I never felt the need to flash my ‘Brahmin identity card’ and/or lie about being a non-vegetarian. I don’t mean that such incidents don’t occur in Kolkata, Bangalore or in other cities but thankfully, I hadn’t experienced them earlier. In every new city, I see new classifications of Indians. In Kolkata, it was political and apolitical Indians; in Bangalore it was mainly North and South Indians. And in Gujarat, I got to know about another bifurcation – vegetarian and non-vegetarian Indians.
I never thought about sharing this experience until the Dadri incident where in the name of religion, a 50-year-old man was killed for allegedly eating beef.
Does eating non-vegetarian food make anyone non-religious? Yes, I am a Brahmin and I like to eat mutton keema, chilli chicken, fish fry and beef leg, so what? These classifications have been so deeply imbibed in us that we don’t even mind rejecting a flat to a homeless girl in a new city, or even killing a man. India is already divided into so many castes and religions, do we need to add another diversification?