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Grass-roots fascists

Last week, I discovered that fascism was alive and well in this country. No, I’m not referring to a right-wing political party. I’m talking about serving only vegetarian food in hospitals.

india Updated: Oct 02, 2011 00:38 IST

Last week, I discovered that fascism was alive and well in this country. No, I’m not referring to a right-wing political party. I’m talking about serving only vegetarian food in hospitals.

A relative of mine, admitted to a big hospital owned by a big businessman for a minor operation, was aghast to discover they served only vegetarian food. “After a painful night, I was looking forward to a hearty breakfast of eggs and sausages and, who knows, even bacon, when the nurse brings in a tray full of, imagine my horror, idlis,” said the shocked relative. “I narrowly escaped a relapse,” he added. He naturally protested strongly, but was fobbed off by the silly reply that the guy who owned the hospital was a vegetarian.

That’s imposing your own dietary preferences on sick non-vegetarians craving for some comfort food. I’ve been to parties thrown by vegetarian businessmen — and most rich businessmen seem to be vegetarian, there must be a connection between making money and eating cabbages — where they serve only vegetarian food. That’s insulting us meat eaters. We non-vegetarians don’t invite vegetarians to our parties and serve only meat, eggs and fish, do we? Instead, regardless of our own aversion to vegetables, we make sure there are potatoes and pumpkins and other deeply depressing dishes on the table. Simply because we are the hosts and they are our guests. The leaf-eating big shots, on the other hand, have no use for politeness. ‘You either eat what we eat or lump it’, is their attitude.

They will, of course, say they are doing it for our health. That’s what dictators always say. When Hitler, who incidentally was a vegetarian, started World War 2, he told the Germans he was acting in their best interests. When Torquemada tortured his prisoners during the Inquisition, he said he was doing it to save their souls. Those vegetarians who insist we eat only vegetables are a lot like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Potato-the last-named a vegetarian version of Pol Pot.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have the greatest respect for vegetarians. I admire their stern, upright characters and their determination not be led into meat-eating temptation. I fully endorse their attempt to ensure their children too lead blameless vegetarian lives. When little Srinivasavadivelu complains loudly about him being forced to eat spinach while his friends George, Aftab and Banerjee gorge themselves on pork vindaloo, mutton biryani and fish respectively, his parents would be fully justified in forcibly opening his mouth and shovelling the spinach inside.

I also recognise that vegetarianism is an ancient tradition that is approvingly spoken of in many cultures. Look at Shakespeare’s famous lines in Julius Caesar: “Upon what vegetables doth this our Caesar feed/ That he is grown so great.” Or consider the Rubaiyat of Omar Khaiyyam: “A book of verse underneath the bough/A turnip, a loaf of bread-and thou/Beside me singing in the wilderness.” In India, we have the famous mantra, ‘Aham Brinjalasmi’, first uttered when a sage beheld the wondrous brinjal.

Far more importantly, imagine what would happen to meat prices if the vegetarian masses suddenly decided to start eating meat. I would probably be reduced to eating roots and nuts. I am, therefore, a staunch supporter of vegetarianism for other people. In return, all I ask is to be allowed to eat a little meat at their parties, their office canteens and their hospitals. Or at the very least, please label them ‘Vegetarian hospitals’, so that we can avoid them like the plague.

Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint. The views expressed by the author are personal