'All the bride's beleaguered parents wanted, they said, was a simple wedding without any unnecessary problems.'
Geetanjali Krishna on how the scarcity of mutton forced a Muslim wedding to go vegetarian.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
Ever since Jeet Singh returned after attending his neighbour's daughter's wedding in his village near Muzaffarnagar, he's been unusually thoughtful.
Readers might be excused for thinking that Singh experienced something earthshaking when he was in his village -- but all Singh has done is attend a meatless wedding feast.
The other day, when he narrated his story to me, I wondered how something so trivial could evoke such existential angst in him.
My amazement was compounded when I learned that Singh was a strict vegetarian.
Why then, did the vegetarian wedding bother him so?
His neighbours, he said, were Muslim, and had lived amicably alongside Singh's family for generations.
"Our dietary differences have never bothered us," said he.
Last year, when Singh's daughter got married, his neighbours worked tirelessly to make it a success.
So when they called to invite him for their daughter's wedding, Singh promptly applied for a week's leave and rushed back to his village to take part in the upcoming festivities.
"The prevalent belief in our village is that when your daughter is getting married, you must give your guest a feast to remember," he explained.
But when he got there, he found his neighbours really stressed out.
With less than a week left to go for the wedding and relatives arriving from out of town, they were finding it near impossible to arrange for mutton.
"Earlier there was one butcher shop in our village," Singh said.
With the recent clampdown on illegal butcher shops and increase in cases of violence by cow vigilantes, the village shop downed its shutters.
Was it selling meat from unauthorised sources, I asked? Singh had no idea, saying only that the shop had been there for a long time.
"My neighbours tried to contact butcher shops in nearby areas, but there was a mutton shortage," he said.
The few shops that had mutton were charging exorbitant prices for it.
"Relatives advised my neighbour to go to the city to try his luck," he said.
The neighbour was desperate, so he went 30 km away to Muzaffarnagar to a butcher shop there. Since they didn't have regular electricity in the village, the meat had to be cooked and consumed right away, given that the day time temperature there was over 40 degrees Celsius.
However, this still left the main walima (wedding feast) to cater for.
By then, however, the Navratras had begun and mutton became even scarcer.
As news of the Shiv Sena shutting down non-vegetarian food restaurants in Gurugram filtered in, the beleaguered parents of the bride decided to make the walima menu vegetarian.
All they wanted, they said, was a simple wedding without any unnecessary problems.
"With chaat and puri-kachori, their wedding feast was just like ours," said Singh.
"But we felt bad for them, knowing that they were not serving this food out of choice."
The wedding went off without a hitch otherwise, and Singh returned to Delhi.
"I can't put my finger on it," he said in parting, "but I just feel bad that my neighbour couldn't have the wedding feast he'd wanted for his daughter."
Later, when I thought about it, I was struck by how strikingly evident the state's political agenda is in its targeting of cow and buffalo slaughter.
Although the crackdown on illegal abattoirs has been long overdue, the unhygienic practices of butchering chicken and fish continue unabated while there's a growing shortage of red meat.
Meanwhile, Singh's neighbour can console himself that none of his guests are going to forget his daughter's wedding feast in a hurry.
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