By: Kamal Baruah
When we talk about Gujaratis, we see a picture of a business community across India but never go anything deep other than buying from their shop. I had the opportunity to visit great length to discover the lifestyle of Gujju. What many don’t realise that Gujaratis have a simple lifestyle. They’re friendly, approachable and talk to outsiders with a smile. They love doing business and have business ethics. It’s truly a land of Mahatma that makes Gujarat a friendly tourist destination. I adventured once in early 2K to set sail on a treasure hunt. But what truly makes them so good? I reminisce about our time in a city Jamnagar located on the western coast of India.
We were struggling to find a rented apartment. I was shocked to hear a deal with a landlord “are you a vegetarian?” I thought it was kinda funny from the outset. He wore a very serious expression and I knew something was wrong. Eventually I reached a compromise. Yup, we’re vegetarian. Gujaratis are strict vegan and even the state has imposed a ban on the cooking and consumptions of non-vegetarian food in guest houses. I was awestruck by the name of apartment highlighted “for Vegetarians”.
There is no unrestricted freedom available to meat vendors, sellers and slaughterhouse owners to do business in meat on the ground of religious occasions. We‘re amazed to discover that it also prohibit preparation and display of non-vegetarian food in public. The butchers are allowed to open manshani dukan only in authorized areas twice in a week. The local oppose it arguing that displaying meat hurt their sensitivities. Even eggs are not sold in open. Outsiders have been sidelined and barred from visiting locals as they’re surnamed machli-khane-wala. It’s a wonder that fish are considered to be kide (insects) in water.
Fish is delicious but its pungent smell lingers long. Its delicate flavours and aromas would arrive a bitterly complain from your neighbour. We were forced to eat ghas-phus (plant based food) that caused fatigue and loss of appetite for the weekdays. Sundays were a special days meat and seafood markets are open so does a day for fresh shak bhaji bazar (sabji market). Though leafy greens are not produced yet bundles of spinach, methi, coriander are sent in trucks to Gujarat from neighbouring Maharashtra. Fresh onions, tomatoes and capsicums are a bit expensive due to the cost of transportation while potatoes, peas, and cauliflowers are produced there. We would fill a vegetable bag at a paltry Rs. 50 then. We enjoyed living life to the fullest during weekend.
All these signs of Pure-Veg across food outlets found us offensive and a caste marker too as localities cater to different food habits on those places only. Onion and garlic are forbidden too as they carry the energy of anger. But tomato is loved by all. Even years after leaving from the Saurashtra, old habits die hard. I still carry a jhola bag on Sunday for a bagful of sabji, no matter how much a refrigerator could preserve it or not for the coming week.
The other day evening at super market, while on the way back from office saw eggs and tomatoes are sold side by side from a shop selling puja items. Eggs are no longer untouchable in eastern India but soaring tomato prices have burden common people and turns untouchable nowadays. It started vanishing from basket of common man. My jhola was also not filled that day. After tomato, onions price also saw a hike. The prices of all commodities are jacked up but I wouldn’t mind spending for a tomato-onion-meat recipe for dinner at home, to be honest. Now we no longer live an apartment in Jamnagar.
Much to our surprise, no more tomatoes listed in McDonalds Burger now. In days gone by, meat eaters were labelled untouchables, now tomato turns untouchable. Imagine life without tomato, the indispensable tomato fills in dishes as Gujaratis are strict vegan.