I Don’T LoOK lIke a VegetARIAN

Recently- well,actually for quite a while now- I’ve been thinking of eating meat again. Vegetarianism has been a rather strange companion for ten years now. Sometimes I just want to bite into a juicy, succulent chicken leg. Sometimes, the persistent smell of fishy fry- that usually makes me want to stay in my room -overwhelms me to the extent that I feel like I’ve already had that brown,crispy,thin piece of fish. And that’s a satisfying feeling. I profess to have no religious reasons for having turned or remaining vegetarian, so I try staying at a distance from the Brahmin-vegetarian debate. All that talk of beef, makes me hungry too and I want a sweet porota wrapped around spicy,peppery beef. I also stay at a distance from the animal-rights debate, I look at a dog with such immense distrust, I can easily reconcile with one less hen clucking around. Then there’s that thing of man being naturally carnivorous- meh, my canines went missing for a year so I don’t know about that. None of this, of course bothered me before I turned vegetarian and now there’s a constant onslaught of these  ideas of being vegetarian.

 People are often surprised that I am a vegetarian, not many Malayali vegetarians out there. And even more so, when they hear the rest of my family eat meat. I give different reasons every time I’m asked. It really started from a rubbish conversation with my father this one time, and I was simply trying to prove I had the will to stay away from meat. That little ego clash got sown into my skin. Speaking about skin, the other reason people are surprised I’m vegetarian is because I ‘don’t look like one’. What does this mean? I remember this notion of vegetarian when I was a kid to be tied to the idea of someone who’s fair-skinned. No, really. Vegetarians were those Brahmins- fair,glasses perhaps,smartest kid in class. I was none of that. There’s a certain cliche, about this feminist- vegetarian-hippie, nature-loving junkie image that I absolutely detest. The more people know me, the more they connect it to this rhetoric of the fancy, politically correct lot. I see why it goes together, but I simply don’t want that weave to be my story. To top it all off, I hate egg and have low tolerance to milk- so close to being vegan.

Then why am I a vegetarian?

I sometimes think, I’m afraid of a new onslaught of identity marks that will be cast if I now decide to eat meat. And I already know what some of them will be,something-something-obsessed with caste…

e46c8a4c210316c24bc7aaabc3b653e4Dear_,

Sometimes I think this room is my coffin, the world outside I have no access to. So, I construct a paracosm within, and write stories of my belonging in the world. I can imagine the beauty outside, because I can hear it and I pepper my stories with sounds that resemble images.

Meanwhile, the veshakaran’s ghost continues to haunt me.

My fascination with Kathakali that began as a child, had a short life after learning that the Kalamandalam did not admit female students.At the time and even now, despite the many private institutions that taught the art, Kalamandalam was the only place where a performer could come into being. It took me a long time to realise that my Poothana, was only a man in costume. The goddesses and demonesses, a mere phantasm of an old upper-caste man writing the codes of Hinduism into a story, an old veshakaran’s projections of the feminine.  So, at 21 when I first walked into the Kalamandalam after paying a small entry fee, it felt both like trespassing and righteous belonging.

Walking past the Kathakali classes, in the middle of the half naked boys I saw a woman. She was evidently a foreigner. Her pale skin stood in sharp contrast to the brown of the men, but her limbs moved with as much precision as their well-oiled ones. The Kathakali artistes I speak to offer several reasons why women don’t perform. It was considered improper at the time, women cannot be subject to the long painful procedure of massage, the costumes were too heavy, the choreography required a superhuman degree of strength, women were a distraction. Yet, here was a woman dancing in these hallowed halls, an open rejection of these norms.

Do I rejoice in the possibilities of subversion when I see the female form dancing with the male? Or am I outraged at a privilege that cannot be bestowed upon me? I think of Simhika, again. Simhika standing in front of an imaginary mirror and transforming into a minukku vesham. This is perhaps the only traditional Kathakali text where you see the performance of transformation. It’s interesting that instead of simply calling the character minukku, it is called lalita. A deliberate attempt to betray the true nature of the character. Unlike the male characters, pacha and kathi which are not considered the antithesis of each other, the female characters are polar opposites. Ravana can be both revered and detested, but a Poothana or a Simhika can never have the virtues of a Draupadi or Sita. The codes for the female are strict and binding. Simhika doesn’t really transform into a minukku then, she is only the lalita, an in-between.The lalita is the seductress, the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Lalita is a transgression in the rules of femininity, she appears as one while being another.

Dear_,

The search for the veshakaran has been a strange endeavour. He appears as a mirage. I see him in the distance and he still slips away. Sometimes I think it’s because of the lack of form, he shape-shifts and I simply don’t recognise him the closer I get. Sometimes I think it’s because the form appears so overtly male, when it’s Poothana I’m searching for.