My mother is a lifelong vegetarian. My father is a devout meat eater. He feels sinful if he goes without eating fish for two days. My sister, who is older to me by three years, avoided the confusion altogether and settled on being a 'vegetarian who also eats eggs'. I, like her, grew up being an 'eggetarian' and started eating chicken as a teen.
My sister and I learnt to respect everyone's food choices early on.
My family is obsessed with food, like every Indian household. At lunch, when my parents are down to their last few morsels, they start planning dinner... for the following day. If we are all in a room for more than a few minutes, we gravitate naturally towards meal planning.
Food forms a centrepiece in the emotional well-being of my family.
Mom and dad cooked together often. They still do. The only thing my mom cooks that she doesn't eat, are eggs. She doesn't cook meat. Dad is a passionate foodie who goes to great lengths to cook a good meal, especially his beloved fish curries.
I grew up learning the kitchen operations and set guidelines. Certain pans that were used for meat could not be used for vegetarian cooking and vice versa. Towels could not be mixed up. Some rules were strict. Others not so much. We struggled hard to keep separate dish scrubbers for meat and veg. Every new maid had to be instructed on what was what. But every once in a while the scrubbers would mix up and we would all jump in to argue whose fault it was. Another food related discussion, this time with the maid chipping in.
We weren't a perfect family. We had a special fondness for sniggering at others' dirty kitchens; or their vegetables being uncooked in the curry from a Sunday lunch or their odd combination of spices. We enjoyed the cheap thrills.
We'd have a laugh only about how they cooked something, never about what they cooked. Somehow that felt more inappropriate.
One could argue that laughing at one was not better than the other. And I'd probably agree.
By my teens I had discovered that vegetarian food and 'nonveg' were treated differently. "Why don't they also call it pure non-veg? Haha!" Dad would ask pointing to 'pure-veg' restaurants, laughing at his own joke.
Mom would sometimes pause by the kitchen door and watch dad clean prawns. Whenever there were vegetarian visitors from mom's family, dad would ensure there was no meat – cooked or eaten – in the house for the entire duration of their stay.
He would also go overboard with that.
When my parents got their dream home in the early 2000s – a 800 sq. ft. two bedroom flat, that had an extra kitchen – dad decided to retain the second kitchen... for meat.
Our flat had two kitchens for years. It looked ridiculous. Guests were often left puzzled. My parents would look on with a self-congratulatory smile.
We ate every meal together, like a good Indian family.
Dad placed his curries – mutton, fish, chicken – ever so slightly away from the 'kosher' veg. We would all find our way around our dishes and help ourselves.
It was a graceful performance by all of us that was rooted in dignity and individual freedom.
But we didn't know all that.
We just loved the idea of everyone enjoying their food.