By Mahak Raithatha
The boy at the counter had put a nice and big chicken leg piece today in my plate of Chicken Biryani. “That leg is going to last long!” I thought, overjoyed. I took the plate and turned around to find where my colleagues have sat. I arrived at the table and was checking whom I am sitting next to. It was right beside Anuja, a Jain colleague. The chicken’s deliciousness had reduced to half then.
As lunch progressed, I learned that Anuja actually didn’t have a problem with anyone eating chicken however I was feeling conscious because I had heard how uncomfortable people can become when something that hurts their religious sentiments is happening around them; but this was Mumbai, the most open minded city in India. My worries were unwarranted.
I finished most of what was on my plate. There was still flesh stuck around the bone. I was tempted to finish it the desi way – holding the chicken piece in hand and searching for the soft meat stuck around the bone and chewing it. But keeping Anuja’s presence in mind I decided to let it be. However, she encouraged me to not resist and eat it the way I would like it to. I was relieved to know my Jain friend didn’t mind any of it!
As I started to dig in, paranoia stuck again! What if the chicken bone fell out of my hands and landed in her plate! “I should always eat boneless meat in office.” I thought to myself amongst other random things. As luck would have it, the colleague on my right got up with a jerky move and the greasy piece of chicken leg jumped out of my hands and fell at the edge of Anuja’s plate, on my left. From the edge, it toppled right at the center of her plate. My worst fear had come true! I could feel the sweat beads appearing all over me.
“It’s okay,” she said, “I am almost done”, I heard it faintly through the fire alarms in my ears. “Arey relax! It doesn’t matter.” Anuja shut down the alarm calmly.
Her words threw water at my fired up fear. “I will buy you another lunch or an ice cream” I said with the stress calming down slowly. “No, it’s okay. No problem at all!” Anuja said smiling.
“I am sorry.”
“Chill. But you will have to do one thing for me.”
“Anything!! Just say.”
“You will have to eat the Jain meal that I bring tomorrow for lunch!”
“Done!” I said immediately. It was hardly what I had expected! I knew Jains don’t use root vegetables, so no onions, ginger and garlic in the gravy hence I imagined the food to be bland but I was more than willing to have it as penance for what had just happened.
I picked the chicken bone from her plate and put it back into my mine; then we dispersed and disposed the left overs.
Cut to the next day:
Anuja had brought my lunch today. I took the packet that was for me and opened it. There were puris. “Pheww..No cactus served” I thought. She gave me another box containing curry. I opened it. “Chole Masala!” I said melodiously. Chole is one of my favorites and I was going to have it Jail Jain style, without the essential ingredients of traditional Indian gravy – onions, ginger and garlic.
To my surprise the food tasted so good that I didn’t realize when I gobbled up all the puris. In fact, I grabbed a spoon and finished whatever of chole masala was left.
In the end, I wanted to lick the bowl containing the gravy like I clear chicken from the bone – but I was in office, surrounded by people and I reminded myself it was perhaps better to not indulge in any bowl-licking in that situation.
However, the meal was an eye opener for me! All my notions about Jain cuisine stood falsified. My taste buds had found another cuisine to crave.
“Are you treating me or punishing me?” I asked at the end of the lunch.
“Good food is worth sharing!” She said.
Poem – Food has no religion
At the weddings, the rich & lavish dinner was forbidden,
So in the bliss of dresses and the family photo sessions we always remained hidden,
It became a fact that always during this time, my sister goes a miss,
To search her everywhere, the pain was mine to bear,
But tonight, I kept and eye, to find out why and where,
So I followed and found her near parking lane.
My eyes and jaws widened and strained,
I wailed, “You cannot eat that, You are a Jain!”
“It has Potatoes, Garlic and ONIONS!!”
And when I demanded “Why such a treason?”
She kept her plate aside silently, lifted me up from my neck
I heard a whisper without hesitation – “Food, has no religion”
About Mahak Raithatha