Apr 6, 2016


Prisoners move in a queue one by one at the serving counter in the prison mess, getting their lunch served on steel plates. Two convicts having distinctly different facial features, quite evidently raised in two different cultures, in two different regions speaking two different languages come to a table and sit down opposite to each other with their respective plates, bowls and dishes, surprisingly quite an elaborate meal for a prison meal.

One of them is called Shaikh, a Muslim Bangladeshi who has an elaborate Bangal meal in front of him which includes aampora sherbet (roasted green mango drink), maacher kabiraji (fish cutlet in lacy eggnet), koraishutir kochuri (hot and sweet peas kachori) with aloor dum (brown potatos) and kosha pathar mangsho (mutton gravy), ghee pulao (savory rice dish), aloo posto (boiled potato with poppy seeds), macher mathar moog dal (pulses with fish head), chingri macher malai curry (creamy red prawn curry), bhetki paturi (bhetki fish fillet seasoned with mustard, steam wrapped in banana leaf), bhapa illish (hilsa fish in creamy mustard sauce), tomato tetul khejurer chutney (tomato-tamarind-dates sauce), papad, rasgulla (sweet dessert), payesh (condensed milk dessert), bhapa sandesh, rabdi and malpua (authentic Bengali sweets).

The other prisoner is called Iyer, a very disciplined South Indian Brahmin very sophisticated in his own culture. He has an elaborate South Indian meal in front of him which includes Ponni boiled white rice, Sambar (lentils), Rasam (tamarind juice with tomato, chilli pepper, cumin and other spices), pumpkin kootu (veg curry cooked with lentils), potato fry, carrot kosumari (salad with grated carrot, coconut lime juice and a tadka), medu vada (deep fried lentil dumpling), appalam, curd, spicy mango pickle, akkaravadisal (sweet made with cooked rice and lentils) and a serving of fruits like banana, papaya and watermelon.

Before starting their meals, South Indian Brahmins often follow a ritual of offering prayers to God. So to speak this Brahmin in question was also doing the same thing as the Bangal keep on looking at him with puzzled amusement and a sense of awe, one of his hand already holding the glass of aampora sherbet, waiting for Iyer to finish his ritual. Little did he know that it would test his patience like a thirsty crow waiting for the rains in a hot and dry scorching desert. Overcome by his impatience, Shaikh decides to break the Brahmin's prayer by sipping on his sherbet making a loud slurp sound, and keeps it on the table with a satisfied smile of a food connoisseur.

Iyer gets slightly angry and irritated with the nuisance of the slurp sound distracting his prayer ritual in an unprecedented unsophisticated fashion. In reply, he also takes his butter milk glass from the table and makes a similar sound slurping it in as if indicating that he is ready to start a battle or rather a game of foods with his Bangal opponent.

Shaikh starts by looking at his sherbet glass and then towards Iyer, "Aah! This mango sherbet is the best way to start your day in this terrible summer heat! What say Iyer?"

Looking at the fish kabiraji (cutlet) with gullible greed, he takes it up in his hand and describes, “Have you seen the color of this kabiraji? Ufff... like the golden rays of the sun!". Taking a big bite he utters with mouth filled with hot cutlet, “Aah hahaha... I could bet that this fish is surely going to heaven!”.

Iyer keeps sitting with his hands folded on his lap looking at Shaikh with disbelief and a bit of pitiful disgust. He gives a big sigh slowly turning his eyes down nodding his head in resentment and starts to dig in the Ponni white rice without saying a word.

Then Shaikh bends over a little closer towards Iyer, and says nodding his head in mockery, “You people will never understand the essence of good food. Wherever you go, you eat the same sambar and rasam and curd rice... How do you eat all that sour shit all the time?", speaking with such excitement that a shower of spit from his mouth almost wet the whole table in front of him.

Disbelief and slight irritation shows on Iyer's face. Still he keeps quiet, giving the Bangal a cold stare with his right hand digged in the sambar rice. He keeps with the same cold stare for a while, and slowly starts eating his Ponni rice uttering, "How you have become an animal by eating animals! How you disrespect a Brahmin sitting in front of you?"

Shaikh mian with an unapologetic smile continues eating and says, “Relax Iyer babu... You know our Brahmins eat everything.... fish, chicken, mutton... As long as it is tasty, we will eat it!"

Immediately Iyer stops eating, looks up at Shaikh and retaliates in an unpleasant surprise, "Vittala Vittala Vittala!!! Taste is not everything you stupid filthy creature. Don't you have any morality left in you people? How do you find pleasure in killing innocent animals?"

Shaikh replies, “You see we are merely mortals - alive today, dead tomorrow. And in this small life, all we trust in are the five precious senses. And probably... our tongue is the most important one of them!", he starts giggling mockingly.

The Brahmin utters in exasperation continuing with his meal, "It seems that after so many years of human civilization, you have had no evolution. You are still living as ape men, controlled more by your greed and gluttony than your intellect. You call this pleasure? In the name of killing? Ignorant barbarians... I think it is high time you should realize the benefits of eating these green vegetables. This I promise will ensure a long and healthy life."

The Bangal snaps back at him, "Which health are you talking about? Look at Europeans, look at the Pathans. Are they not strong and healthy? They live on meat and only meat. See the difference between their physique and your physique on the field. Without meat, where will you get all the muscles to fight?"

The Brahmin continues smiling laboriously, "With all this obsession about growing muscles, your mind has become lethargic, and your intentions more cruel. You have become an animal Shaikh mian!"

Shaikh now starts getting a bit enraged, "How dare you call me an animal?". Still trying to keep his calm he continues, "Listen mister, I don’t understand what you will lose eating it. Don't think so deep about everything in life! Just trust me and try this fish at least!"

Iyer looks at him with disgust and distances himself a little bit giving the Bangal a sharp critical look with his hand gesturing to stay away from him. Shaikh almost gets offended and screams, "All big big dialogues... How do you get your appetite of so much gyan (wisdom) living on this green fodder?"

Iyer replies with an air of superiority, "Gyana? This is not gyana mian jaan... this is the truth. Your system is overworking itself to digest all that toxin. And in this process your life is getting shorter. Look, look at your paunch Shaikh!"

Shaikh utters with a tone of dismissal, “Leave aside my paunch, and all your meaningless dharmic notions! Try something new today, at least for the sake of an experiment." He takes a bowl of chicken gravy and offers it towards Iyer, "You should try this chicken and for once in your life stop being so stubborn! After tasting it, you tell me if you don’t like it. You can sermon me about my sins only after you taste this!", saying this he actually puts a chicken leg on the Brahmin's plate, despite his warning.

Immediately Iyer gets infuriated, bangs on the table and stands up shouting in anger, "You fucking piece of shit! You have ruined me now! You have severed my faith in God! Vittala Vittala Vittala!!!"

As they stare at each other in awful shock, a loud prison siren goes off and footsteps of the jailer is heard coming from one side. The siren sound shakes them off from their dream state as they suddenly remember that both of them are just two convicts wearing the same prisoner's uniform, and not exactly what they were imagining themselves to be. Even the plates in front of them were just ordinary steel plates with some half eaten dal roti, and not exactly what they were imagining it to be.

They turn towards the officer in disbelief and gets shouted at being ordered to clear the table now.

Just like an enlightened mind would have said. Whatever we humans fight about in our lives based on our culture, caste, creed, race, ethnicity or religion are all futile and these differences are only but a figment of our imagination. In reality we are all the same, living and getting nourished from the same mother earth where we all have come from.