Some people become the change they want to see — like these three ‘vegetarian' women

All it takes is a lunch to dissolve the thin line between knowing people and knowing about them. Last week, I found myself enjoying the enviable distinction of sharing the table at a boutique restaurant with three lovely women. We had gathered for lunch to celebrate a birthday. I knew the women well — that's why I was invited — but knew very little about them.

I was going to know at least something about each of them, and I didn't have to wait long. My learning began as soon as the waiter placed the menu on the table. As the laminated sheet got circulated around, I noticed that all of them straightaway skipped the non-veg section and ran their fingers through the vegetarian dishes. I was relieved. As someone who eats meat with great reluctance, I often find myself the object of ridicule when eating out with people: “What man! What kind of a Bengali are you!” That afternoon I felt assured. No one was going to taunt me.

“So you guys are all vegetarians, is it?” I asked, to no one in particular — I had bounced the question to break the silence that had descended on the table as soon as the waiter left after taking our orders.

“Of course!” they replied simultaneously and emphatically, as if being thought to be otherwise would be sacrilege. Now Chennai is a city of extremes: on one hand you have restaurants that serve even rabbit and pigeon meat, and on the other hand you have people who don't even touch onion and garlic. Nothing ever surprises you. But the emphasis on their “of course” made me curious. I probed.

“You can call us militant vegetarians,” said Ms. L.

“We are also non-leather people,” Ms. S chipped in.

“We are also anti-silk!” declared Ms. A.

Militant vegetarian; non-leather; anti-silk — these were terms I was hearing for the first time in the 40 years of my existence on this planet. Maybe I have never been a part of any animal-loving group, even though I love animals too. It didn't take me long to realise what these terms stood for — the three women basically shunned everything that required the killing of a living creature. No wonder they were friends. They had willingly, and without making any noise, given up a woman's natural instinct to admire an irresistible leather handbag or crave a silk sari put up on display.

Ms. A, who has been feeding crows and playing with rats since childhood, became a passionate animal lover after she happened to read Maneka Gandhi's book “Heads & Tails” when she was in college. Since then, she has worn a silk sari only once, on her wedding day, that too on the insistence of her mother. “Imagine someone pulling out my children's skin just because they are able to do so. That's how I feel when I think of leather or silk,” she told me.

Ms. L, on the other hand, shopped for ‘ahimsa silk' saris for her wedding. But a few years later, she realised that while the creation of ‘ahimsa silk' may not involve killing of the worms, it eventually led to their death once they were let out of the cocoon. But the realisation came too late — by then she had spent a fortune on acquiring ‘ahimsa silk' saris.

Ms. S is still single, and she would like to marry a man who shares her love for animals — which means he should be the kind who does not wear leather shoes and belts or use leather wallets, and loathes meat and egg. And no, she does not envy women sporting expensive leather footwear — she, in fact, pities them as much as she pities the animal that must have been slaughtered for the leather.

Until now, animal activism for me meant images of naked women parading on the streets of Europe, covering themselves with banners that read something like: “Better go naked than wear fur”. But the women I had lunch with are silent soldiers. They do not preach or lecture people, they do not take out processions, they love their non-vegetarian friends — they are just being the change they want to see.

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012

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