(This is something I have talked and written about way, way too much, but here I am again, for what I hope is the last time. I do love the cartoon.)
It's been over a few years since I turned vegetarian and I seem unable to explain to people why I did it in the first place. I was an animal-lover vegetarian as a kid for some fifteen years, till one day I thought okay, let's try not to be and then I wasn't. My decision to eat non-vegetarian food is completely incomprehensible to me. I ate it on a new year's eve, at a party and I guess it was okay, in the mood. And continuing with it could have been some kind of flocking-together attempt with my then-friends and cousins. We were just out of school and went places, and you know how people are annoyed by vegetarians for having to order a whole separate dish. I don't know.
A year ago, I was reading a book and in it a man snapped the neck of a chicken and it made me sick, and no rational argument in the world that I have offered myself, and my mother, and others kept me from feeling that way. So I stopped. And I haven't once wanted to eat it again. We went to Kerala after, where I didn't eat any seafood, despite all my sister's attempts to make me eat it, and I've even started loving vegetarian pizza, which for me, is a colossal achievement.
Now, here's my dilemma. A few weeks ago, I was eating egg biryani that someone had brought over, and suddenly I had this mental image of a hundred chickens cooped up in a cage, miserable, ready to be thrown out or killed once out of use. Ugh, it gave me the creeps. I quit eggs. I just couldn't eat them any more without feeling utterly freaked out.
As a once pretty active animal rights advocate (I went for rallies and stuff) I know the suffering of a cow that's milked. I also love milk, butter, chocolate and everything in between. Where do I draw my limit? Because the way things are going, I might soon be a vegan. Or maybe turn into that absurd old neighbour of ours who had an assortment of pets, whose house was infested with cockroaches and pests and who rubbed jaggery on the walls to attract insects. Why not be him? If there is such a thing as too extreme, then the whole facade should collapse.
My father used to say we shouldn't limit our lives, give up new experiences for the title of "humane," because in the end, it is all subjective. The case in point is my mother, who is from a family of pure non-vegetarians. My grandmother used to make the tastiest fish curries and my mother never ate them, because she couldn't bear the thought of eating animals. But she's often told me over the years to not get overly attached to the cats in our neighbourhood, to not pet them, because then I'd be required to give them constant attention, I wouldn't even be able to travel without worrying about them (and that does happen.)
So, in her world, it's okay to let a hungry stray cat stay hungry instead of adding to our burdens. That it may eventually die of starvation or disease or a fight with another feral is immaterial, because it won't happen before our eyes. She didn't mind circuses, either. They'd taken my sister to one. Even as a kid, I was very disapproving of the fact and refused to go. Eating animals, though, is still out of question for her. This is the limit my mother has drawn for herself.
So which is mine? Whose suffering can I swallow? The death of a mosquito who may hurt me unless I hurt him, or the calf who is separated from its mother or the cow who wallows in filth and hormone treatments till she is prematurely "culled" (because though we regularly do it, we prefer not to say disposed of or killed.) No argument for or against vegetarianism holds until it makes personal sense to you. And here I am hoping I never feel I have to give up milk, not sure if it'll ever seem too cruel to me, as if I have no control over my feelings. It's idiotic, don't I know it.