Vegetarian woes on a Sunday morning

 

Peeeeee Peeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwww, I was honking my presence felt, with the thumb on the shrill vocal button of my sister’s Activa— that was already kind enough to carry a person heavier than it — unempathetically navigating it on a particularly slushy stretch at northwards of 60kmph. Early morning winds blowing against one’s face, while uncombing his hair is only as pleasurable as one’s mind lets it be, which at times turns way too turn cynical to acknowledge anything other than deep slumber behind closed doors as being beautiful. At that moment I was hoping I had learnt to drive a car, my mind wasn’t exactly taking to nature’s expressions of sunshine and zephyrs with open arms.

It was five shy of six in the morning at the Anna Salai stretch. I was riding home from a sleepover at a friend’s. The roads are usually modestly occupied at this time, but it was a Sunday morning. Or the aftermath of a Saturday night to put things into context. Most people taking the road at this time aren’t going as much as returning home. And there were those commercial trucks plying to and from markets, to accommodate the spike in consumption that was typically anticipated from the day.

I was at midway point, a few hundred metres before Gemini flyover, when I saw this bike before me. It had a pillion space, wider than an average bike, covered with a green coir sheet that was wrapped over what appeared to be a sizable heap.
Sometimes the most affecting incidents in life unfurl in a languorous manner, like toothpaste emerging out of a squeezed tube. No dramatic contraptions, just impact enough to pierce the most naked part of the soul.

A leftward bound gust of strong wind, lifted the coir sheet along with the normalcy of the morning. Lying below the sheet were pale mammal carcasses— goats most likely —one above the other. Aghast with a lump in the throat, I had to pull over to avoid getting any closer to the bike. It’s not like I was seeing meat for the first time. I’ve been around meat eating people, without making faces about erstwhile living being floating in their gravy boats.

Just that I’ve  always been this frail-hearted person without an appetite for seeing, say mangled animal carcasses on a busy highway, run over by vehicles . Or a suspended headless corpse hanging on the entrance of a shawarma parlour. I tend to cringe, reimagining the pain the creature would’ve gone through under the tyres of a speeding heavy vehicle or a swinging butcher’s knife. It could’ve probably been easier I were a vegetarian alone, but I was a hopeless animal lover.

Over the years I’ve learnt to come to terms with the world around me, in which meat eating people comfortably outnumber the non-meat eaters. I’m no stranger to the killing and their place in a parallel food chain—  that lets cruelty and cooking coexist — I’m not a part of. Just that the sight of the absolute insensitivity with which it is carried about is deeply unsettling. Like the guy on the bike before, who was carrying them like a batch of gunny bags with absolute disdain. The dispassionate conditioning of his mind to see them as mere raw materials was a painful sight to witness.

I started several seconds after the morgue bike had disappeared over the flyover. I was trying to undo what I saw by focusing on things a tad more pleasant like the sight of crisp vadas blooming on a frying pan of a tea shop, a neurotic dog cleansing itself with it’s eager tongue and an elderly couple jogging together on the pavement. And just when the mood was starting to lighten up like that, a truck overtook me from the signal.

It was carrying cages— arranged in columns —with hundreds of hapless hens, suffocating against each other from within. Here was a colony of birds, most of them aware about their impending end. Some were screaming resiliently, some were protesting at the cage doors, while some were still, having given up already. If they thought the commute to the butcher’s was the painful part, they had no clue of what was coming their way. The eyes with which they saw their first sights after hatching out, would be plucked out as waste. The beaks with which they made conversation and consumption, would be no different. As if this wasn’t gruesome enough there were a few dead ones scattered across the floor, like rotten vegetables, next to the feet of the men overseeing the shindig.

History unforgivingly remembers the ones who oversaw the holocaust of thousands of their kind to upkeep the whim of their patriotism, ethnicity and creed. Yet the violence perpetrated to usher every Sunday, that too in a city alone is enough to pale every significant genocide to insignificance as a blob in history. “Livestock” to me is the worst euphemism that there is.The churn in the belly left a bigger ripple this time as the lorry went past. At the back of my mind I felt a guilt colored helplessness about not being able to do anything about all this, than just feel bad  But I was glad that home was only a minute away. Wish I could tell the same about humanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Jallikattu issue- of raging bulls and flying bullshit

What keeps us away from the advances towards the fairer sex of the same genetic fabric?Most of us have sexual urges- passive or active  – tucked under the tight vigil of family, friendship, faith and social acceptance. Our perception of an woman changes with her designation. This is what makes us prostrate before a semi naked Kali, revere mothers, dote on sisters, fantasise actresses and make love to beloveds. We feel territorial from the side of the line drawn on a piece of earth; call it patriotic. Decapitate and mutilate members from the same species who trespass, call it warfare; do the same thing within the line, call it murder. We tear apart, relish and deconstruct into nutrition, meat of lesser species in hordes, slip it nonchalantly under a broad cuisine preference called “Non-vegetarianism”. While our kitchen’s oversee holocausts on a daily basis, some of us would still domesticate, pet and cuddle select animals and declare ourselves to be animal lovers. Civilisation has always been about giving reasons to stay away from our primal nature through the systematic implantation of moral and legal fictions in our minds in the form of relationships, taboos, codes, directives and norms. This Jalikattu outburst exists in this melting space to seek civil intervention for a primal pursuit-to tame beasts without being tamed.

18th of January,2017, Chennai

I see the platforms on either sides of a rather strangely empty OMR stretch populated with youngsters- some with placards, some with mobile cameras pointed at them – on my way to work. I begin to ponder about what would’ve brought them to the streets like this in such thick unison at 2.00 in the afternoon, from the confines of their air conditioned cubicles. I had an air about the ongoing Jalikattu unrest and the Tamil marginalisation rhetoric. But I was pretty sure that it wasn’t reason enough to incite a civil disobedience of this magnitude, that too in the technological corridor of the city. But in a couple of hours, as I drove out of my workplace, I knew I was wrong. The crowds had bulged, become more boisterous and were screaming out foul. It should be a massive movement by now in the other parts of the state as well- I thought to myself -if the city itself was reacting this way. With the roads rendered unwilling battle grounds, the traffic swelled with meagre locomotive possibility. The youth had taken to the streets and the city had come to a stand still of sorts.

In all my 28 years in the city, I’ve never seen an agitation, leave alone of this gravitas. The only civil disobedience I’ve been part of all my life should range from bunking English periods in High school to jumping signals during peak hours. So this name calling by thousands, lined up like infantry, was a virgin sight to me. I knew I was becoming part of a potential chapter in history in Wikipedia, if not in CBSE books. Who knows, even a picture of me weaving through protests might show up as a search result for Jallikattu protests years later.

Enough of the irreverent narcissism. As I drove past the human chains decorating the side walks, I started hearing “Ban Pepsi & Coke“, “Ban PETA” and anti Modi cries along with the “We want Jalikuttu” chants from morning.

It was funny, the irony in the sudden incessant need to ban pepsi/ coke and preserve the farming fraternity .

These were people clad in clothes that weren’t contributing to the indigenous weavers, consuming food and beverage which weren’t motivating the indigenous cultivator either, working in institutions with roots abroad shouting slogans in a foreign language to protect an ethnic identity. You’ll see such oxymoronic collages only in this part of the world.

There were more curious things about the crowds. Most hands were raised skywards with well endowed mobile phones pointing back to capture the poker faces below. And the mood in the camps across the board was a tad too jubilant for a grimace. Probably like RJ Balaji put across, they weren’t fatigued; rather celebrating the protests. A convenient inference to draw one might say.Maybe. Maybe not.

The Genesis

The issue as most would be knowing is of the contradictory stance of PETA in banning Jalikattu, a sporting tradition which has been an indispensable emblem of  the Tamil populace- a little older than Christianity and Islam -while choosing to overlook the rampant beef export and other bovine cruelties meted out in the nation. Another vertex of this issue, is the looming possibility of extinction of the indigenous breed of cattle which find their posterity in the heart of the sport. Seen as an elaborately drafted corporate conspiracy, it is worried that the end of the sport would eventually bring about the end of a virile cattle race, which would pave way for automation in the existing cultivation methods and induction of foreign breeds into the rearing ecosystem. Thus conceding another of our ethnic constituency(dairy) to western monopoly under the pretext of globalising.

This call to remove the ban on Jalikattu, has been warming the back bench in many a institutions which hold locus standi in the State, to no effect. Till now it has been contained between a bunch of men, who’ve been conducting demonstrations for almost a decade now to put the issue on the map, but to no effect.As it happened, Pongal(the harvest festival) was denounced as a public holiday in Tamilnadu this year. And there has already been murmurs of the marginalisation of the Tamil diaspora for a while now. Add to this a rap musician here, a bunch of desperate youtube attention seekers, a few disgruntled celebrities there and their misguided army of followers who were hitherto playing conscience keepers to the state on social media while not abusing each other over favourite movie stars- we have a recipe for some large-scale finger pointing raring to go off the deep end.


The Capitalism aspect-fault lines in the demand

Thronging the streets to revive the fortunes of the local dairy farming ecosystem is a wonderful initiative, no two ways about that. But isn’t it at some level over-reaction to a phenomenon we’re so used by now, that of a corporate behemoth taking over an indigenous practise; subtly, surreptitiously and certainly. It happened with Goldspot and Kalimark loosing ground to Coca Cola, jeans usurping the market share from its Khadi peer, Kiranha shops rendered irrelevant in the storm of supermarkets, multiplexes looming over single screens and eating patterns tilting global with pizzas, burgers, noodles and pasta competing alongside dosas and sambar rice for appetite attention.

This is what capitalism does to kindle consumer curiosity. It thrives on human greed for newer experiences. Like war and love, it’s fair to leverage this implicit urge to be on the lookout for fresher pasture. It is how business empires have been set up, by trampling over existing ones, in a phased manner at times and in a hostile manner on some other occasions.Bending in the altar of commerce is a sin all of us have been committing. All of us drawing a remuneration, making profits do it at the opportunity cost of our next best alternative waiting behind.

So more often than not in a free market economy, capitalism and altruism don’t come eye to eye.

Some forgotten issues

Some say that Jalikattu is only the flagship issue which rides on the wave of pent up rage from a lot other political disparities over the years. This argument makes for a firm scaffolding to base upon the emotional core of the issue. But where was this collective rage during the Cauvery crisis that has been going on for decades now, much against the ruling of the Supreme Court. Much like here, the moot with Karnataka has left the state’s agrarian fraternity reeling under severe drought for years together due to dire water shortage in comparison to the irrigable fields. But we never batted an eyelid. We never asked for a ban of a cola company sucking water from our backyard.
Ditto with the ethnic cleansing that has been happening in Sri Lanka. We’ve never starved or sweated to bring to the world’s notice the genocide which has been happening there for decades now. We’ve let it remain an one lined artifice in political manifestos. But most appalling was the tepid public response to the mysterious circumstances looming over the late chief minister’s demise and the following murky political developments in her bastion. Instead of collectively questioning the self appointed successors vying for the throne, we went on an overdrive of paying homage. And whatever was left of the seriousness, was diluted through numerous memes. Even before the maggots could gather under the coffin we had moved back to normalcy- overlooking what looked like one of the biggest political conspiracies in the State’s history – like it was only a bad hair day. We never really got angry.

I’m reminded of a Shepard whose flock over the years,was targeted by a bunch of wild animals- tigers, leopards and foxes. Every time a sheep went missing he would resort to  sweet inaction, writing off each sheep as a normal loss. Finally one day, he decided that he had had enough, when another sheep went missing. He descended with a gun and took shot at a scurrying figure from behind a tree. When he went to the fell target, he saw a wounded urchin with a bottle full of sheep milk tied to his waist. Jubilant by his victory, he went around the hamlet calling for his tribe to take charge of the situation. The awakened tribe took matters to hand and the milk thieves were wiped away. So was the core issue of missing sheep. All were happy. Happily oblivious to the continuing existence of tigers,leopards and foxes in the woods.

Small victories are low hanging fruits; a short in the arm. Problem is with the sense of entitlement that accompanies them, which makes the higher hanging fruits appear more distant. The solidarity of almost a five million people cannot be slighted like that. It’s no mean feat, it is a strong statement of resilience. Just that a few years back, millions put their weight behind an octogenarian, a crusader batting for an anti corruption bill. He starved till decay, they starved as well. And in the end, some kind of a mid point was arrived at. Now neither the crusader’s there, nor the angry mob that sat behind or the cause they sat for. All that is left of is a politician who epitomises everything they stood against, basking in the very leverage they left behind.

Hope the next time Tamilnadu bats together in unison, it does so for reasons far beneath the surface of culture and tradition.For its entitlement or the violation of it. And I would happily dissolve as a foot solider in its cause.