The tragic tale of a Lahori vegetarian

Published: November 10, 2011

The maximum I can get at fast food restaurants is french fries - I can't even get a vegetarian burger

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?”

or

“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.

Abdul.Majeed

Abdul Majeed

A final year medical student with interests in history, political economy and literature. He blogs at abdulmajeedabid.blogspot.com/ and tweets as @abdulmajeedabid

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Baba Ji

    http://news.yahoo.com/india-facing-twin-epidemic-time-bomb-doctors-103016026.html

    Ooops … there goes the “daal makhni” & “subjee ki bhaji” clan !!!! Recommend

  • Noshi Asif

    PS To baba ji…..Seems you don’t “get” the internet? It means we can be where we want whenever! and I hope nandita stays right where she wants! Recommend

  • Abhimanyu.

    @baba ji – i so pity you.
    diabetes and hypertension is caused due to sedentary lifestyle and changing diets. Changing diets as in eating out at mcd or kfc …. the pizzas and burgers. Show me one article that says eating vegetables and fruits has ever harmed a human.And also, unlike pakistan, india is actually a developing country. Our economy is booming. We have a zillion engineers here. So you see work related stress plays a part. You don’t have an IT industry in pakistan right. So anyways, ” daal makhni ” hahahaha. daal makhni is a punjabi dish. thats something maybe lahoris or indian punjabis would eat. I doubt if rest of india ever eats such heavy food. You want know what indian vegetarians eat – roti, daal, milk/curd,salads, fruits, dry fruits, juices, coconut water, vegetables like bhindi, mutter, aloo, palak, methi,all green veggies, lauki, beetroot, mushrooms,gobi, all the possible pulses etc etc. NOT DAAL MAKHNI. that’s your heavy disgusting punjabi diet.
    @Nandita – don’t even bother responding to this guy henceforth. Neither will i .Recommend

  • Abhimanyu.

    I would also like to say, BABA JI, we only visit pakistani sites ( the virtual world ) We are not the ones sending boats/ships to karachi and holding hotels in karachi hostage. :) :) :) Recommend

  • Baba Ji

    Ok my friends across the border …. relax we are discussing diets … and I can tell you Pakistani meat is good … if you don’t believe it than ask Bhabi Sania Mirza and Bhabi Reena Roy … they love it and I invite you too to come and taste it … You will love it too !!!
    best regards and I rest my case now …Recommend

  • Cynical

    So much noise over choice of ‘food’, no wonder people are killed over choice of faith political or religion.Recommend

  • Baba Ji

    @Abhimanyu.:
    My friend you got me there this time ……. you are right, we cannot resist visiting Somnath ka mandir and Taj hotel (16 more times to go) !!!! :)Recommend

  • Fahad

    @AUTHORITY

    I agree with you a hundred percent. Damn all those vegetarian and vegan jews…Recommend

  • Irfan

    I am a sworn carnivore and can’t possibly imagine a life without eating meat.
    However, I do feel for the person who’s written this post.

    If this is the kind of hostility, derision and ridicule that he’s handed out for merely stating that he’s vegetarian; what must he go through on a day to day basis?

    Today I shall pray for tolerance all around.Recommend

  • i like what he’s having

    funny to see so many people reading the whole blog and writing long comments about how ridiculous the whole blog was in the first place. if it was a waste of time to read surely writing about the blog cannot be time better spent. i agree that including more vegetarian options in restaurants is good for everyone. after all we were all born omnivores Recommend

  • Vasanth Pai

    there is no connection between being a vegetarian and IQ or EQ. Pasand apni apni, khyal apne apne. It is a fact that meat eaters develop problems in their digestive system particularly the colon if they live beyond 60. Vegetarians can digest their food easily. I am a non-vegetarian Hindu but at times I go without non-veg food for days together. It does not make any difference to me. Religion does not dictate food habits. So eat what you want and be merry. Recommend

  • speed

    @Baba Ji

    Ok my friends across the border …. relax we are discussing diets … and I can tell you Pakistani meat is good

    hehehe baba thanks for the invite,would love to taste it( pakistani meat- vow*)* you are not talking about animals, arn’t you)

    naughty baba!Recommend

  • gazelle

    @speed:

    hahahaha

    never thought pakistani babas were so liberated.

    good oneRecommend

  • k52mx

    @Baba Ji:

    baba you are so generous!

    ( do you realise what meat means as per urban lingo!)

    Please be careful with your words.

    Never mind it happens.Recommend

  • Khuzafa Rauf

    Not fully but maximum of my choice is also vegetarian and believe me not only in Pakistan but also here in Saudi Arabia I am told “You look so weak-that’s because of avoiding beef/mutton..” “You can never grow fully unless you diet has no meat”..n bla bla bla…and in worse conditions sometimes when there is no vegetable curry etc left I have to take some bakery stuff etc…I relay want some blog/website that offers some very easy vegetarian dishes so that i may feed myself fully and happily..!Recommend

  • http://tradersutra.com Hariharmani

    @goggi:
    Those who read E.T. daily must have noticed I stopped blogging,but I do read E.T.You are rare person who tries to be understanding and non judgemental and helpful and atleast try to be kind.It is sad there are very few vegeterian food out let in Pakistan,in USa,more and more people have becoming vegeterian and red meat sales have come down,if you want to be trim and less fatty,it is good idea to be vegeterian,in pure self health intrest,I do not wish to get into debate,each to his/her own.Do what is good for you.Be well.Recommend

  • http://tradersutra.com Hariharmani

    @ramesh:
    You are accurate,and Nandita is good person and ettical person.Sanatana Dharma and Vedas are vast,understanding,as You say abstract concept one need good learned teacher,one can be self thought also,then with self thought,will creep in confusion and misconception.But you have done done well in your brief write up.The reason I visit T.E. it is because there is no adequate out let in Toi or H/t,and many Pakistani do not like Hindus/Indian writing in their Daily,we should ignore this,as our way of life tells us seek enlightenment whereever it is found,that why we remain tolerant and progressive people inspite of widespread falsehood,corruption and upteen flaws in our society,ours is eternal,way of life constantly staying in step with changing time and world,for vedas tell you there is only ONE TRUTH,rest is apparent TRUTh,do not mistake it for otherwise,does sun rises in the EAST?It does not,the earth rotates on its axis and every 12 hour it sees sun in the horizon,which is gives the sees as sun rising, in the east,in space there is no up ,down east west south or north,period.which only apparent truth..Well done,Pl,all well meaning people,salvation and redeemption is personnel so is Karmic cause and effect,do not cross sword with ignorant by argue pointless points,you go no where,it will only bring unappiness,and make you sad.Malice towards none,Thank you.Recommend

  • http://tradersutra.com Hariharmani

    @Nandita.:
    Manu Smruthi is not “sruthi”,it is a commentary for a particular time in society,it is not immutable,Ramesh tried to be very gentle,do not bring false argument,if English translation of “manu’ does not make into “sruthi” it is “smurthi”,that is man made,what is remembered and repeated.Please understand the differance,that’s all.Humility is virtue,by cultivating,knowledge and wisdom will come to you like water absorbed by sponge,ego on other hand will prevent light of knowedge coming in.Malice towards none,thank you,Sorry I was compelled to write,you mean well.Recommend

  • Persian

    @Baba Ji:
    May be that’s why Sania is in Dubai and Reena Roy in Mumbai.Recommend

  • Pavan

    I feel that our society is quite exclusionary i.e. we do not like people who are differ from the norm. . Does somebody check it for weak grammar??Recommend

  • http://www.twitter.com/pavanmehta Pavan

    I understand ur situation @ Abdul Majeed. But I personally never faced the same problem in karachi. People know that i don’t take meat and they prepare separate dishes for me if i’m invited for a party. You can get ample food stalls which sell vegetation buns, fries, Dahi baday, Roti, Daal etc. So Being vegetarian in Karachi is not a problem at all. Even the hotels have Rice, Roti and cooked vegetables. Pizza hut has Veggie Lovers variety. Mcdonalds and KFC obviously don’t have any veg item but you can’t say it’s difficult to live without both and the consider other options..
    And Halwa Puri and CHaai paratha are vegetarian Too. So enjoy the stuff and make it clear to people that you don’t like having meat. I Feel the problem ain’t that big but you’ve exaggerated it.Recommend

  • AUTHORITY

    MEAT EATERS HURT PAKISTANIS & HURT MUSLIMS + ALL RELIGIONS & ALL PEOPLE

    Custard Pie Chucker burped up: “If I choose to eat meat, smoke, live the life of a couch potato and die a slow gruesome death, it’s my choice”-NO, IT DAMAGES OTHERS, NOT JUST YOURSELF.

    The behaviour, the acts, and beliefs of those similar to this meat-eater, is what is responsible for hurting children with cancer, and unleashing the AIDS virus on all mankind.

    Don’t believe it? Verify it for yourself. Put this in GOOGLE: “AIDS Origin Traced to Chimp Group in Cameroon” and view the proof. Confirmed by National Geographic researchers. Read the top of PAGE2:

    QUOTE: “Transmission of the virus, the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), to humans was the result of Blood exposures from the handling of chimps killed by hunters.” for their Meat. “Hunters in the region who caught and ate chimps were probably the first to contract HIV” “Genetic analysis linked these chimps to the source of the main strain of HIV-1, the most prevalent human form of HIV.”

    MEAT-EATERS CAUSED HIV-AIDS [NOW SCIENTIFICALLY CONFIRMED]Recommend

  • Nottelling

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for writing this! I’m a vegetarian myself and being a hijabi, get hadiths and Quranic verses thrown at my face the second I politely decline a meat dish! And the follow up questions like: “Oh, how about some chicken then?” or “What about fish, beta?” And utterly befuddled looks, asking “Oh, what do you eat then?” ARGH!!!! Recommend

  • Indra

    Forget being born on wrong side of border or even religion.
    As an indian born in hindu family i am only vegetarian in my family. it’s really hard to explain to even my family member i hate the idea of putting somthing down my throat which had a heart pumping blood to his brains and must have struggled to keep himself alive.Recommend