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“Biryani Is My Idea Of The Nation”

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By Rohin Verma:

As a foodie, I sense Biryani to be under threat when the state constitutes ‘police team’ to ‘vigil Biryani’. I argue in favour of Biryani as my idea of a nation.

A popular propaganda is under progress to relate Biryani to a particular community. The rise of ‘Biryani Police’ is a unique development added to this process. Is it just about testing the ‘type meat’ in laboratories or there’s some sort of a well-organised agenda behind it? The timing of these developments makes the intentions doubtful.

Well, judging on the basis of food or eating behaviour is not a very new form of racist or communal stereotyping. “Chinese people eat snakes” or “Nagas eat dogs” or “Muslims eat beef” are some of the most common trends of stereotyping which almost work as an insult and are largely used to convey ‘disgust’ towards a particular community. Big thanks to Bear Grylls, Man vs Wild to enter Indian homes via television and hammer the Indian ‘yuk’ culture.

When I Say, “Biryani – My Idea Of India”; What Do I Mean Actually?

There are no documentations on the origin of Biryani. However, Mughals are widely believed to have introduced Biryani in India. I would say, probably it came from outside the subcontinent but Biryani was smart enough to adapt to the Indian ethos. It spread from north to south and east to west. For Awadhi Nawabs, biryani shed its spicy strength; but for the Awadhi Brahmins, it assumed the form of ‘tahiri’, substituting meat with potatoes. For strict vegetarians, Jains and Buddhists, biryani took the form of onion-less vegetable biryani. For the vegetarians who are okay with eggs, biryani was reincarnated with the addition of eggs. Some from the southern and northeast part of the country added beef to its composition.

Biryani travelled regions, it added unique varieties and flavours. This also added regional identities to biryani like, Ananas ki biryani, Rose biryani, Motiyon ki Biryani from Lucknow, Hyderabadi from Hyderabad, Thallassery from Kerala, Vaniyambadi from Tamil Nadu, Kutchi from Gujarat, Amritsari from Punjab and many more. Then, how could a cuisine that is assimilated within the country suddenly become a monopoly of a single community?

Communal Formulas Might Turn Biryani ‘Anti-National’

Remember when public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told media that Ajmal Kasab asked for mutton biryani in jail? Later the same man confirmed that Kasab never asked said so this was concocted by him just to break the ’emotional atmosphere’ that was taking shape in favour of Kasab during the trial. Of course, this is utterly shameful on part of public prosecutor to lie but, here it’s more important to understand why was only ‘mutton biryani’ chosen by Nikam to create this ’emotional’ furor.

Was Biryani presented as a royal dish in Pakistan? Anyway, today if I don’t abide by the right-wing discourse, it almost means I am a Pakistan sympathiser hence, I should go to Pakistan. ‘Pakistan’ or ‘Pakistani’ is generally being used as a derogatory term and no matter how many times the Prime Minister goes for surprise visits to Pakistan, it remains the same.

‘Tahri’ is claimed to be a variety of ‘pulao’ now (and not of biryani). Attempts of appropriation have worked both ways. For most non-vegetarians, it is biryani only when meat is added to it. Many ‘theories’ developed around Biryani, like – only Muslims could prepare delicious biryani or only Muslim hotels could ‘value money’ for biryani. It is widely believed these days, that beef is cooked in all ‘Muslim’ hotels. Thus, making the religion impure, since beef is cow meat and cows are considered holy. Clogged together this hurts the ‘popular idea’ of the nation, making this it ‘anti-national’.

Instrumentation Of Hatred Via Bakri-Id

Above mentioned situation has reached a stage where a set of people peep into biryani-pots to check the ‘type’ of meat. About a year back, Akhlaq, a 50-year-old man, was lynched by the mob and now, a woman was raped in suspicion of consuming beef. More interestingly, now people are talking about ‘eco-friendly’ Bakri-id. The media is equating the wastage of water in Holi with eating habits (eating meat). They are talking about animal rights on the eve of Bakri-id. I wonder how wise my countrymen are!

Eco-Friendly Bakri-Id, Why Not?

I feel, sacrificing in the name of Allah or any deity is actually nothing but practising dogma. Progressive societies talk of abolishing capital punishment on the virtue of natural rights. According to me, they require to champion same for animals too. The medieval age religious ritual slaughter to appease deity should be contested and abolished.

But, let us not confuse ritualistic sacrifices of animals with the eating culture. Are we also going to ban the poultry and slaughter houses? V. Balamurgan’s essay in International Journal on Current Research and Academic Review state that the broiler industry is the fastest growing industry. He further adds that it has potential to tackle the problems of the agrarian distress, unemployment, standard of living etc.

Hindu deities include fish (Matsya, considered to be the incarnation of Lord Vishnu), cockerel (Bahuchara Mata), goat (Pushana and Mangala). On the contrary, there are various governmental schemes that promote fishery and poultry farms. The obvious question hence arises – why give beef the upper hand?

Thus, it is necessary to deconstruct the hatred theory of meat. It is also an attempt to mix two different debates of animal rights and freedom of choice to eat together and create tensions within communities.

Role Of Media

In the times of water crisis and heavy pollution, when media appeals and suggests that we play waterless holi, it is understandable but what’s the rationale behind ‘meatless’ culture? We need to be reminded of the great Indian biologist Jagdish Chandra Basu, who analysed and shared with us that plants too feel pain, affection etc. Then, should we argue to stop consuming vegetables?

Usually, we see government imposing bans on those particular species that are sensing threats of extinction. So, hey dear media, are goats on the verge of extinction or even endangered?

Recently, certain media houses shared an ariel view of a water-logged road in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Surprisingly, the images came out with captions like –“Bakri-Id ka khuni khel”, “Khun ki Nadi” etc.. I felt the element of stereotyping within media for a particular community with the way they reported the Dhaka water logging.

To conclude with, I would just want to add that we should avoid the politics of ‘convenience’. And I feel promoting Biriyani is one way of going about it.


Image source: Jim/ FlickR
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