As I had mentioned yesterday, my light-hearted article on the troubles of the total vegetarian, which marked the beginning of my 50-year-old association with THE HINDU, was a rather insubstantial piece of writing compared to a series of insightful essays which followed. This was so because the article projected only a partial view of the outlook and personality of the total vegetarians, merely taking a laughworthy look at their self-conscious discomfort in highly Westernized five-star dining circles in India, and totally ignoring the rationale and virtues of pure vegetarianism.
I've often wished I had made my debut as a journalist with my second article, The Marker, which had the true colors of a classic essay, comparable with the best in the English literary tradition. But reviewing the whole context now, I am inclined to think that there was really nothing wrong with this humorous commentary, and that what had actually gone wrong was not the text, but the title -- which had suggested an all-round view of the vegetarian's concerns.
Total vegetarianism is a traditional phenomenon which probably exists only in India -- and that too only among very small sections of India's immense population of over a billion people. Its hallmark is absolute-zero tolerance of all meat products and other animal-related food articles including hens' eggs. However, in an expedient perspective which shows utter contempt for logic, the cult not only excludes milk (of cows and buffaloes usually) from the forbidden foodstuffs, but considers it to be an essential element of even purely vegetarian Indian cuisine.
In recent decades there has been a progressively growing world-wide awareness of the merits of a purely vegetarian diet in terms of health and hygiene, particularly in the wake of alarming new epidemics like bird-flu and mad-cows, And consequently, there has been universally growing respect for total vegetarians and their viewpoint and values.
However, that doesn't save them from finding themselves in serious trouble in glamorous dining circles now and then. A spectacular instance of this was the crisis faced by the Indian contingent in the recent film festival in Cannes, as can be seen from the following news reports:
Thali -- In North Indian restaurants or dinner parties, the food is traditionally served on a very large brass plate (called thali) individually for each diner, with an array of small bowls containing assorted dishes.
Palak-paneer -- Spinach cooked with cheese.
Makhani daal -- Liquid cereal side-dish laced with butter.
Bollywood -- Popular name for Bombay's film world, still in vogue even after the city has been re-named Mumbai.
Amitabh Bachchan -- An iconic Indian movie superstar, still dominating Indian cultural life as an elder actor, film producer and television personality. Has recently made his Hollywood debut as a supporting actor in The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Big B -- Indian media's favourite tag for Amitabh Bachchan.
Report from Cannes
Vaiju Naravane, Paris Correspondent
The special Indian evening to celebrate 100 years of the country’s cinema began with a screening of Bombay Talkies, a four-handed exercise, consisting of four short fictions by our best new talent. . . .
The atmosphere at the massive sit-down dinner that followed was very similar to a noisy marriage-party in India. . . . No kudos to the caterers at the dinner, however. The meal was Indian with a pretentious, mile-long menu, [but] the waiters had not been briefed about the large number of vegetarians amid the diners. . . .
It took an interminable time for the thalis to arrive, and the vegetarians, who had missed their entrée, had to wait an eternity before being served cold, rock-hard poories straight out of a lunar landscape accompanied by a teaspoonful each of palak paneer or makhani daal. The pudding never turned up because by then the guests were so fed up of waiting they had started moving towards the doors. . . .
Did Amitabh Bachchan get anything to eat at the opening gala dinner of the 66th Cannes International Film Festival?
Cannes, 16 May 2013
We hear that the gala dinner at the opening of the Cannes film festival consisted of a four course meal, with every dish a non-vegetarian one. And since Big B is a devout vegetarian, we have to wonder how he survived . . . .
Amitabh Bachchan looked dashing as he made an appearance . . . . in a sequin studded jacket, posing with Leonardo DiCaprio and spreading his charm on the red carpet. . . . We hope Big B found a solution to his food problems. We don’t want the superstar to sulk like a kid who’s forcefully asked to gulp down a bowl of cornflakes instead of chocolate cake, especially while he’s represeting India on the sunny Riviera!