Yesterday, there were two social commitments I ended up avoiding. The first was a wedding of a relative followed by lunch. The second was my folk, who did go for the wedding, returning with a few close relatives, who in the evening, they then took out for dinner. Now, the only thing vegan at Muslim weddings is water, and the dinner was at a Rajasthani restaurant where ghee flows like water.
Thus, my parents, especially my mom, had to do overtime explaining to folk why I wasn’t coming, and then what veganism is. Many people in India still don’t know what it is – they think it’s another term for vegetarianism – and Muslim folk don’t even know what vegetarianism is. I mean, they do, but you know what I mean.
In the evening, my sweet hapless mom came up to me and asked, “What exactly is veganism? What exactly do I tell them?” I did my number of asking her back – to know how much she knew. She managed to an extent (she does make vegan dishes for me, after all), and I filled in the rest.
So, is veganism just about avoiding animal products, things that have come from the exploitation of a sentient being? When you really become vegan, or when you become really vegan – in spirit – the answer too goes beyond. And this came out in the recent Chennai super-rains.
We were stuck at home for four days due to the water and two days due to no electricity. We did whatever work we could in the natural light, and then went to sleep early. We rationed our provisions, wanting little, wasting nothing. We performed our ablutions sparingly and absolutely thoughtfully. It felt like living in the village or in the early 1800s. And when the power came back and the water subsided, we didn’t rush to the nearby supermarket – there was still enough at home. Veganism is about austerity.
Then, you finally went to the supermarket, and found people hoarding up for the next 100 years. You spotted only two packets of your favourite snack left – anything is food in times of flood. So, you took both, right? But what if someone else wanted it – even if one – as badly? Veganism is also about thinking about the other. Comes from thinking about the “really lowly other” – the animals.
The rain and the collected waters receded, but fear psychosis took over. Words started flying around that there’s an even greater storm coming; this – these two – was/were just the appetizer/s. Someone’s got to keep the calm in the storm and tell people that for all practical purposes, the worst is over, storm can’t strike the same place thrice, and that if indeed it does, with what you’ve just experienced over two-three weeks, you can handle it. Being/Keeping calm. Veganism is about that too. Coming as it does from patiently answering countless and ceaseless queries like “Where do you get your protein from?”, “Don’t animals die in farming?”, “It’s not sustainable”, the epic “What would you do if you are stranded on an island with only a goat?”, and from fighting for the freedom of beings whose protection laws have been formed by humans.
Life finally started getting back to normal, enough for people to then play the blame game: ‘Rampant construction.’ ‘Improper planning.’ ‘Building on marsh land.’ Veganism is, and always has been, about being sustainable. Sustaining animals, their habitats, the earth, and thus humans. Else, the next deluge will happen in less than 100 years. If not earlier.
Really short: Vegan’s about… thinking with the heart.