Ye Olde Herbivores!

 My wife is a diehard fish eater. Most Bengali women are, in fact, created that way. I enjoy my fish too, but not the same way that she does. For her, a fish-less day bears a precarious resemblance to the hapless day Yudhishthira encountered hell. And believe me, she enjoys her fish to the last fish-bone she crushes, chews and extracts the juice out of!

I love my food, non-vegetables included, but I’m not an expert in the food technology. It’s she who loves buying the raw materials for the delicious victuals she prepares. And I cannot help admiring the ecstasy in her eyes when she dances back home with what she calls a live fish, even when it looks a dead as a doormat!  

“It was still jumping,” she informed me with unadulterated excitement this morning, meaning thereby that it was gasping and struggling for life when its flesh was being weighed prior to being slaughtered. Believe me friends, such live fish are the tastiest of them all.  

I know of course that I shall enjoy the fish curry she will prepare. Yet, I need to admit that she made me worry, the same way I worry to distraction every other time she succeeds in laying her hands on “live” fish. On all such occasions, I temporarily put on a vegetarian-hat and ask the question that people have asked ever since human beings were created.

“Do I have the right to destroy a thing that I can’t create, especially one that has never done me any harm?” Quite obviously, I know the answer only too clearly, as clearly indeed as I have known it the innumerably many times the question blocked my way. I can’t possibly evade the grim reality of the answer. The result is that I begin to bother  myself with other inane questions. Such as, “Does God exist? If he does, then will I not be answerable to him on the day they push me inside the crematorium?” Assuming of course that God will keep me company inside the burning chamber.

And the contradiction in my daily existence continues. Like any other animal eater, I do enjoy sinking my teeth into well-cooked flesh. And there is no end to the variety of meat that I have partaken of. I am no cannibal of course, but I have rarely shirked from eating exotic delicacies offered to me across the world. Fish, yes, any kind indeed, from large to small, cooked as well as raw fish Japanese style. Meat too, though I have got to admit that I’ve never eaten a cat or a dog and I did shudder when I learnt about a delicacy from the Far East prepared with cats’ eyes. I understand that a row of eyes, exotically garnished, stare at you from the middle of the finest bone China when they serve you the meal.

Nor, for that matter, have I ever tried to taste a tiger, alive or dead. And this thought, I mean chewing over (Ha, ha, what a silly pun!) tigers, lions, hyenas and the all the rest of the dreaded carnivores (leaving aside predatory human-eatarians needless to say), brings me pretty close to the heart of this gastro-philosophical discourse. I find myself trapped in fact in the Socratic Method of Elenchus, or dialectics if you will.  

“Isn’t the tiger engaged in the same sin that I commit everyday?” ask I, doffing the veggie-hat.

“No, it isn’t,” answer I to myself, this time donning the vh.

“Why not pray?” say I, vh-less.

“I hope you mean pray and not prey. Or else, I’ll call you a dirty scoundrel next time,” I reply vh back in place. 

“That’s what happens to veggies. They forget polite language. Ok, I will call you a rotten veggie instead. Well, tell me rv, why isn’t the tiger sinning?” I reiterate, baring my pate.

“Simple answer, ds! God didn’t endow the tiger with a mind that can ask ethical or moral questions. He didn’t deprive you of one, even though you happen to be a ds. Use that mind and ask. You can survive on vegetables alone. In fact, quite apart from moral questions, I doubt that tigers can digest grass. They are physiologically different.” I the vh gives I the non-vh a ds, this last ds being an acronym for dirty smile. Sorry, I am running out of acronyms.

“Idiot! Do you know that my wife can’t survive on vegetables alone? Like the tigress, she is physiologically different. And now, don’t you make snide remarks about my wife. It will arouse the cannibal in me,” I growled, imitating as well as I could a hungry leopard who has spotted a lonesome goat. “And remember, cannibals prefer vegetarians to non-veggies.”

“Look, don’t bring wives into this discussion. Women are beautiful creatures. That compensates for everything else.” Vh was clearly on the defensive.  

“Good,” say I to I, somewhat placated. “Don’t say anything against non-veggies. It will implicate my pretty wife.” I grinned, my teeth in full view of myself, a reminder of possible cannibal propensities.

Veggie fell silent at this juncture, partly scared, but more importantly attracted by a little news item. In fact, the non-veggie I actually pointed it out to him. He was literate I found as he read it with the speed of lightening. Here is the unedited clipping.

“The Daily Telegraph, London, Dec. 5. Garden vegetables such as tomatoes and potatoes have been found to be deadly killers on a par with Venus fly traps, according to research.

Botanists have discovered for the first time that the plants are carnivorous predators who kill insects in order to ‘self-fertilise’ themselves.

New research shows that they capture and kill small insects with sticky hairs on their stems and then absorb nutrients through their roots when the animals decay and fall to the ground.

It is thought that the technique was developed in the wild in order to supplement the nutrients in poor quality soil — but even domestic varieties grown in your vegetable patch retain the ability.

The killer plants have been identified as among a host of species that are thought to have been overlooked by botanists and explorers searching the world’s remotest regions for carnivorous species.

The number of carnivorous plants is thought to have been underestimated by up to 50 per cent and many of them have until now been regarded as among the most benign of plants.”

“Ye Olde Herbibore,” guffawed Ye Olde Carnivore, “What sayst thou to this bit of intelligence? Are you ethically justified in eating a potato?”

There was no reply. I looked around. Not a sign of the vh. He had melted into thin air. Total silence reigned, if you agreed to ignore the light snore my pw was producing as she blissfully dreamed her way into the hilsa filled Haldia world.

Peace at last. Like Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux, I think I am finally at peace with God. I don’t think I have any conflict with humanity either, but then this may be a contentious issue. It all depends, as the wise might say, on your point of view.

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  • Sujatha Umakanthan  On July 29, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Wow, the beauty of your language is astounding !!! Adored your dialogue – should we be calling it “OJ and his dialogues” soon :))

    My husband hates his veggies and the reason he gives is that he is a staunch biologist :)) Most vegetarians claim they do not kill a life when they eat the plant products, but given my limited knowledge of how tubers are reaped, doesn’t the plant get killed? Would that not be counted as life? Ah well, you are right, we can continue on this discourse and never reach anywhere 🙂

    Anyway for me, this is what I think my life ought to be:
    “Life is not a journey to the grave with intentions of arriving safely in a pretty well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming … WOW! What a ride!”

    So, till then I would go around enjoying delicious food – veg or non-veg till the end 🙂


    • dipankardasgupta  On July 31, 2010 at 8:14 am

      Dear Sujatha:

      Thanks for reading this. After going through your comment, I took one more look at what I had written in this post and discovered a typo. I had said “prey” when I should have used “pray”. That was a bad slip. So, I re-worked on that line for things to make sense.

      Your philosophy of life made good sense. I don’t know if I could have thought as clearly as you on the subject, but, inadvertently as it were, I might have followed the same course through my now “almost over” journey.

      Also, your observation that plants too are living made good sense. Reminded me of an aunt (no more), who got into an argument along the same lines with a veggie travelling in a train from Delhi to Kolkata. She even took extra pride in pointing out that J.C.Bose, the scientist who established proof that the plant world was living. Her companion I am afraid took her to be a looney, not having ever heard of Bose.

      Arguments apart though, I do feel somewhat unnerved when faced with an animal’s dying pangs. Plants fortunately don’t protest in a manner that invades our sensitivities.

      Yet your point is pertinent. For life to continue, life needs to destroy life! Paradox?


  • Shail Raghuvanshi  On August 13, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Dear OJ Da,

    I loved reading this article on a non-IL platform. Not that I have anything against it. It just makes one’s work a wee bit more subjective in the sense that we are not so conscious about people watching each and every move of ours. Secondly, it is something like belonging to a caste less society – no community, our space, our place.

    I turned veggie after waging a long battle with my non veggie desires. Conditioned to eat non veg food since childhood, it took me years to realize that killing animals and munching into their flesh certainly does not give pleasure in the real sense. And, I wanted a peaceful joy, not a kill and eat kind of joy.

    Nice Writing OJ Da.

    • dipankardasgupta  On August 19, 2010 at 9:15 pm

      Thanks Shail for reading. I have been far too preoccupied till today to respond. However, now I think I shall find more time to spend on my hobbies.

      I will never be able to settle this inner struggle. But I know that I can survive for days on end on veg food. On the other hand, I don’t think I can survive forever that way.

      But then who survives forever anyway?


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