The tragic tale of a Lahori vegetarian
I am coming out of the closet. Yes, I am a vegetarian in Lahore - and I hate qormas, beef kebabs and siri paye.
The value of a society is usually gauged by the way they treat their minorities. Folks, I confess to being a minority. No, I am not a non-Muslim; I am not gay, or a lesbian; I am not an atheist, nor am I fat (not that there is anything wrong with that).
I am a vegetarian and I have spent most of my life answering stupid questions with uneasy looks and evasive answers. Questions like the following have often been put to me:
"Why aren't you eating anything baita (child), do you have a medical problem?"
"You don't eat red meat, that is all right. Have some chicken?"
I have had to laugh off jokes about me being 'born on the wrong side of the border' and 'born to the wrong parents'. I have left countless weddings, dinner parties and Eid get-togethers with an empty stomach. I have quoted facts and figures and even Dr Zakir Naik to argue against the assertion that you just can't live without consuming meat. I have frequently been diagnosed as someone who has 'nakhra' (attitude problem) or a phobia.
There are no exclusively vegetarian restaurants in Lahore, Islamabad or Peshawar. I haven't been to Karachi yet, so I can't say with accuracy if the same applies there. The maximum I can get at fast food restaurants is french fries - I can't even get a vegetarian burger like the fast food chains abroad offer. This is despite the fact that around 5% of Pakistanis are vegetarians (this is mostly speculative as no definite data is available). There is even a Pakistan vegetarian society whose primary objectives are to 'promote humanitarian, moral and nutritional aspects of vegetarianism'. There is a group on Facebook named “Pakistani Vegetarians” that has a grand total of 21 members.
According to blogger Maryam Arif:
“Being vegetarian in Pakistan is highly suspect, Indian-like; even though most Indians I know ask for beef kebabs first thing they come to Lahore. Yet in our minds vegetarian = Hindu = Indian = weak. The popular thinking is that meat gives us an edge over them grass-eaters across the border. Carnivores are stronger and taller; even light-complexioned than herbivores. Isn’t that so? It has to be.”
Amber Raheem Shamsie writes:
“In our culture, the not-eating of meat is considered a compulsion rather than a choice. Vegetarianism in Pakistani culture can be a rebellion.”
As if living as a vegetarian was not difficult enough, living as a vegetarian in Lahore is even worse. It is a bit like blasphemy to live in Lahore and not eat meat. Lahoris are often offended when you tell them you are a vegetarian. It is an insult to their intelligence. How can anyone voluntarily give up the meat delicacies that constitute our cuisine? Surely you must crave Mohammadi nehari, behari kebab from Bundu Khan, seekh kebab, siri paye, macchi of mozang chungi and the mouth-watering abundance of Food Street.
I have decided that enough is enough. I am out of the closet now. I am sick of your siri paye, qormas, seekh kabab, gurday kapooray or whatever. It is my choice to willingly forsake such pleasures, so please stop pestering me.
I feel that our society is quite exclusionary i.e. we do not like people who are differ from the norm. We do not appreciate the value of minorities. We tend to like conformity more than dissent.
The original blog post appeared here.