Are you 100% vegetarian if you have a sexual self? If you believe pleasure, not procreation, is why we like to get naked. If you believe this despite your good Indian upbringing. If you’re an equal opportunity lover and demand orgasm rights. If you don’t follow prevailing rules about whose needs must come first (ladies always, in case there was any doubt). If you need stimulation before penetration. Foreplay, in other words. If you’ll do what it takes to make your partner happy.
Are you 100% vegetarian if you get easily aroused? If you have multiple erogenous zones. If you are game to experiment. If you fantasize about other people, gender no bar, even though you may be in a committed relationship? If you find it easy to discuss your inner sexual self with your friends. If you are sure you’ll need sex even when society declares you’re old enough to renounce it. If you don’t pass judgement on blue pills, drunken encounters and women who are turned on by sword guys. Look it up, this is a family newspaper.
Are you 100% vegetarian if you have Western body language? If you stand up straight, stomach in, chest out, and walk like you own the world—even when you’re wearing a bikini. If you like the swell of your cleavage or the feel of a hand on your bare back. If you know the length of your skirt is not an indicator of your loose morality but just a hint to the world to understand how you’re feeling today.
Are you 100% vegetarian if you think virginity is overrated? If you make a mental note to yourself that when your daughter grows up you will encourage her to be comfortable in her skin and to love freely. Don’t be like your mother, you will tell her, so awkward and full of self-doubt. Always use protection. Most importantly, stay away from people who are 100% vegetarian. Back in the day when your father announced to his friends that he would never marry a vegetarian, it was considered a joke. But times have changed, you will caution her. Be very careful.
Bear with me, I’m asking all these questions because I’m no longer comfortable being a member of a group that is increasingly associated with policing personal freedoms. It’s not easy being 100% vegetarian in New India. I started with sex because we’ve always viewed it as the most non-vegetarian aspect of our personality. We even use the word “non-vegetarian” to describe adult jokes.
People look at me suspiciously when I say I’m 100% vegetarian, no eggs and fish even. Yes, every single day of the week. No, I don’t eat the gravy of a meat dish, and no, I’m not comfortable using the same spoon. I don’t like quiche because it smells eggy and I threw up the couple of times someone fed me chicken accidentally.
Luckily I have curly hair and, usually, a beer in my hand when I break this news. Never have I been more grateful for the Indian ability to stereotype before I can say cheers. I don’t look vegetarian, I’ve often been told. I say a fervent prayer every night that I won’t look vegetarian when I wake up. Most people think vegetarians don’t have any excesses or addictions—I offer thanks for all of mine.
I’ve never cared for what’s fashionable, what people are watching and what’s on everyone’s playlist. I’ve dressed the same way and liked the same music for as long as I can remember. So when vegetarians became uncool overnight, it didn’t bother me.
But these days whenever I see a sign saying 100% vegetarian, I shiver and sweat. I feel anxious, alone, fearful, unloved.
I don’t want to belong to a minority that people look at warily. Shh, she’s vegetarian, don’t discuss that in front of her, I can hear them say in my more paranoid moments. I no longer want to be the one who’s sitting at the green table in that far corner. The one who’s food always comes last—I’m convinced this is because restaurateurs hate vegetarians.
I’m not a fascist, the favourite term used to describe my ilk these days. Google it if you don’t believe me. I hope my therapist friend will read this and offer to buy me breakfast this week—100% vegetarian only.
One hundred per cent vegetarian is no longer a term used to describe a person’s dietary choices. These days the phrase refers not to the list of things you don’t eat but also to your political ideology, your way of life. And mine is certainly not 100% vegetarian.
When I now think 100% vegetarian, I visualize a joyless existence; a severe face, angry, appalled, judgemental, a person who’s always berating someone. An individual who has lost the ability to respect people who are not exactly like her. Someone who thinks pleasure is overrated. Someone who will definitely think I’m a traitor in the 100% vegetarian ranks.
Are you 100% vegetarian if your vegetarianism is a personal choice and not religious dogma? If you married a man who once ate a seven-course snake meal. If your only daughter ate camel and rabbit before she was 3. If she refuses to take a bite from your 100% vegetarian plate. If you can understand the joy on someone’s face as he uses his steak knife lovingly. If you’re the one who has the muttonwala on speed dial. If your mother is human, not bovine. If you couldn’t care less how people dress, what their favourite sexual position is and what they eat.
I don’t eat beef, pork, fish, chicken or eggs. But I can tell you for certain that I am not 100% vegetarian.
Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.
She tweets at @priyaramani