Monday, December 29, 2008

The carnivores

Dad took me to the meat market for a bit of Christmas shopping. We headed past the fish vendors and stopped at the stall selling mutton.

There were three headless carcasses hanging from their hooks, cleaned and ready for the pot. Dad pointed out the piece he wanted and explained how I ought to buy meat. “Look for this… This is how it shouldn’t be… If it’s this colour, the meat is old,” bla bla bla. While the man chopped up our meat into the size required, my eyes roved around. I couldn’t see too far over the counter without my head touching the meat, so I peered as much as I could. I saw three goats squashed in a corner, waiting to be slaughtered. They looked frightened, and I’m still glad we didn’t buy any of them. One of the two men in the stall was cleaning a fresh carcass. I couldn’t see the carcass, but I tried identifying what he was cleaning. It looked to me like the intestines were being washed and what came out of it wasn’t a very pretty sight.

They were chatting animatedly, the two men behind the counter - one chopping meat, the other cleaning the carcass. I turned to my right. Two goat heads stared at me mid-air. I looked to my left. There on the floor outside the next stall were three heads. The unseeing eyes stared right back, their bodies now on a hook or on someone’s plate. “They eat everything,” dad had said, when I asked about the intestines.

What about the men who killed for a living? How did it feel? Was it something they were forced to do, or did they choose the occupation? Was it a family business? Blood-covered hands and feet, lives passing through your hands every day, people bargaining for lifeless bodies, the aim of the game to break the toughest bone, to be desensitized to blood all day… How different is it from the man in the meat market, standing in his dirty slippers and chopping meat with his hands, reeking of a fresh kill all day every day to the man in the supermarket with his buttoned-up shirt daubed in cologne selling meat cubes in small packets? It’s the same meat, the same end, the same beginning. But it’s a different price. For everyone.

For a second, I could imagine why some people turned vegetarian and those who’ve always been so aren’t ready to try meat. In the helter skelter of world business, not much thought goes to those most affected, the lowest rung of society. It’s a squeeze-the-most-of-the-lemon business. And it forces you to turn a blind eye to everything else. But what binds the vegetarians and non-vegetarians in a blood-thirsty fight is the greedy hunger for money that surpasses all culinary or spiritual divides. It doesn’t matter that my local farmer dies a slow death because the middle man pays him two bucks for what I pay the supermarket 16 green ones. I couldn’t care that my world is falling into environmental extinction because I’m too lazy to get a pollution check done. How does it matter that I take my vehicle to the nearby store because I can’t be seen walking? My status is everything. I don’t give a damn that the leper outside my door is dying from starvation more than sickness because I’m too busy making millions. My diamonds, my cash, my jewellery, my cars, my clothes, my furs, my extravagant soirees, and posh vacations are more important than anything else. It doesn’t strike me that my delectable mutton korma garnished with fresh herbs spilled blood on a dirty knife held by an innocent man. The guilt hangs over my head, not his.

Four eyes from two hanging heads almost laughed back. Where the greedy go, there is no salvation. I had learnt my Christmas message from two heads of meat.

Dad paid the man for two kilos of mutton and some chops. We headed down to the fish market and whetted our carnivorous desires. As we headed out of the market, I glanced at the mutton stall again. There were now three heads hanging from the hooks, and the man who spilled the blood suddenly looked very clean to me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Christmas carol

I received two CDs in the mail the other day. One said - Christmas Classics, Various Artists.

It slid smoothly into the player and the familiar sounds of Christmas jingled through the room. I was alone, the walls were bare, the temperature soaring and the refridgerator empty. My walk in the evening the previous day was just as sombre - no lights, no stars, no cribs. It's nearly December 15, and time for that Christmas feeling. That tingly, goosebumpy feeling you get when you want to love everyone and wish them a 'Merry Christmas'. That heart-tightening emotion when you give to someone needy and see a different kind of joy on their faces. That happy new-curtains-and-cushion-covers, family time feeling that you wish you felt all year through.

I could see Frosty running by the traffic cop across the streets with the Jackson 5. I wanted to get up and paint Christmas trees on the walls, make baubles and hang mistletoe and holly from the door-posts and imagine the fridge full of Christmas goodies. There was a longing urge to wrap presents and scribble 'Love, Santa' on handmade cards.

I sat on the floor, closed my eyes and sang out loud to every song I knew. I've never seen fire in a hearth or smelled acorns popping. I've never seen snow or reindeer, or eaten turkey for Christmas dinner. But I imagined it all - the sound of crackling fire, the pop of acorns, the taste of turkey, a belled reindeer and the cuddly warmth of a Christmas hug right after freezing your fingers off while building the snowman.

On my errand that evening, I was fuelled back into a world without stars and trees and cribs. It was a cold world, so 'unChristmasy', and unfestive, an every day world of pollution and chaos. I turned down a back road to avoid getting run over by office-goers. And there through Metallica from my earphones I heard 'Feliz Navidad'. A group of carollers were carolling in a house garden. Passers-by stared as I peeped through the fencing like a street urchin at the store window. The words flew from my mouth and soon I was singing with gusto.

They didn't hear me, they didn't ask me to join in and then come in for a cup of tea. But as I left, hearing the strains fade away with wind, my step was lighter and my mind happier. I couldn't wish for a better time, a time of advent, the Christ-child was coming and we would be together as a family for the best time of the year.

So I'm singing, "I'll be home for Christmas"...