When Mum came to visit, the first thing she cooked as she hopped off her flight was Mutton Chops. I took a picture of it and posted it on Instagram. Even in its raw state you can’t deny that it looks absolutely delicious.
My husband ate well that afternoon. And that night. He also devoured a few chops over breakfast the next day.
I, tragically, couldn’t bring myself to taste it. It didn’t matter that it was garnished with semi-cooked onions that went ‘crunch-crunch’ with every bite. It smelled delicious. But I just don’t eat mutton.
Most people are baffled when they hear this. Even if it is the 100th time it has come up in conversation.
‘You don’t eat mutton? How can you not eat mutton?’
‘Isn’t that against, like, your religion or something?’
‘How can you resist mutton chops, biryani, paaya and bheja fry? Especially the way your Mum cooks them all.’
‘Worst Muslim. Ever!’
My Mum’s a bit famous among our friends and family for her culinary prowess. But no matter what she does, says, or how delicious and tempting her version of daal-gosht smells, I can’t look at mutton the way other people do.
I have, what I think, are pretty solid, albeit sentimental reasons for this.
I wrote about it a while ago and was overwhelmed by the response it received from my family, friends and (strangely enough) Mum’s friends.
For those of you who haven’t had a chance to read it. I also drew a picture for effect.
Silence of the Goats
You have to hand it to my Mum. She had this knack for turning simple things into science lessons. Especially if it meant keeping me out of her hair or away from tall trees for an hour. How else was a child to learn something from earthworms in the dormant months of monsoon if not helping them “multiply”? There was also that bit about static electricity and a plastic ruler that had the uncanny ability to turn my sister and I into cats at war.
But I think the most interesting lesson I learned was at the age of nine when Bakri Eid was around the corner and our garage was converted into a goat shed.
It was an exciting time for me as we didn’t have pets and all I wanted was a dog to take out for a walk. A goat isn’t a dog, I know. But mum said I could get my kicks by taking it for a spin around the compound.
“A little exercise and fresh leaves will do it some good before the big day,” she said.
So I did. For almost a week, I took Rolley (forgive my lack of imagination) and Polley (again, not my proudest moment in naming) for walks. There was a caretaker who would hand me the ropes to which they were tied and I would parade them around the compound. It made me quite popular with my friends who visited to ask questions and feed them. It also amused the neighbours to no extent because “Look what that funny little Khan girl is up to now!”
Everyone was happy for a while. That is until I woke up on Eid. It was a day of celebration, Eidie (money and presents) and countless friends and family who would gather to party. But I wasn’t stupid and my parents didn’t try to treat me as such either. I had known since Rolley and Polley arrived that their days were numbered. If anything, my Mum had been ensuring that I knew every day by telling me how much I would learn from the ‘process’.
“Every organ and limb is edible, did you know that? Right from the tail to the brain,” she told me after I returned from my walks. “And the skin… that goes straight to the leather craftsmen who turn it into jackets and bags.”
I listened to these facts and shared them with my friends, father and anyone else who would listen. I even shared them with the butcher that morning who nodded along as he sharpened his knife with a stone and readied a massive chopping block.
But then something happened. The butcher brought his knife down on the block with such force that it stuck. Something about it reminded me of King Arthur’s Excalibur in reverse. Something about it reminded Rolley and Polley of the fate that awaited them. They started bleating. I went quiet.
“There are no purses or paaya without a slaughter first, is there?” I suddenly realised. My feet went numb and a bucket of ice landed in my stomach. I did what any self respecting 9-year-old would do. I ran up to Mummy.
“You knew this was going to happen,” she explained as the butcher did what he was hired to do in the garage downstairs. “It’s just the way it is.”
But then she said something else. Something that would change the way I looked at meat. Not all meat. Just mutton.
“You know, an animal’s heart beats for around 45 minutes after it has died,” as she struggled ready a massive pot masalas for the biryani we’d serve at the party later. “Go see if their hearts are still beating. It’s something you will have to learn for Science.”
I walked down to the garage and asked the butcher if I could see a heart. He placed two on the block in front of me. They were both still beating. Just as Mum said they would.
I put my hands on one and then the other. I didn’t even know which one belonged to whom. I didn’t ask. I just went back up and sat alone in my room.
Hours later, my dark mood lifted and I would be laughing and playing with friends and family. But that was the first Eid I found myself fasting. To this day I can’t look at a goat without thinking of Rolley and Polley. Nor can I touch a piece of mutton without feeling the pulse of a beating heart.
Let them eat mutton biryani on feast days, I say. I’m going to stick with rice and sambar.
Also published in The Bangalore Mirror on July 23, 2014