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Rahul and Lalu Cooking Mutton Reinforces the Ideas That Make Us a Nation

It was a delightful little moment in the annals of political history when two men cooked while a woman watched.

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Lalu Prasad Yadav is a politician whose name brings a smile to one’s face.

The RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) veteran is a wonderful mimic and his witty speeches in Parliament have filled the House with laughter. His commitment to secular values has won the hearts and minds of people across the country.

But the aforementioned smile is often condescending and indulgent – the type of smile that upper-caste, upper-class people reserve for people they think are not quite their type. They have often looked down upon Lalu as a country bumkin.

But Lalu has shown time and again that not only is he competent, with the railways doing phenomenally well when he was railway minister, but also courageous when he arrested L K Advani in October 1990 and stopped the Rath Yatra.

Above all, he is a seasoned politician. He was arrested during the Emergency and called his daughter Misa (the Emergency-era  Maintenance of Internal Security Act [MISA]) in honour of the Act using which Lalu was jailed. She is the eldest of her parents' nine children (7 daughters and 2 sons) and a Rajya Sabha member.

It was in Misa’s home in Delhi where Lalu Prasad welcomed Rahul Gandhi with a massive bouquet of flowers in the first week of September.

In keeping with the best traditions of the Hindu culture of hospitality, in which a guest is to be treated as God (Atithi Devo Bhava), Lalu got the best goat meat all the way from Patna for his honoured guest; and he said he would cook Champaran mutton for Rahul.

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Truly in Line With Hindu Culture

Of course that is a bit of a break with tradition because it is the women who usually cook; but at least in the Kashmiri Pandit tradition to which Rahul belongs, men cook on public occasions.

Rahul Gandhi immediately said he would learn to cook mutton from the older politician.

This too was in line with Hindu culture which puts great stress on their duty to elders and respect for them. Before the battle of Mahabharata, Yudhishthira goes unarmed to seek the blessings of elders, even if they are on the other side.

Misa was present, but it was Lalu Prasad who gave instructions to Rahul. And Rahul dutifully followed, asking the quantities of masala to be put.

The video of this mutton cooking session has gone viral.

It was a delightful little moment in the annals of Indian political history when two men cooked while a woman (a daughter) watched. The best part is that none of the two men were conscious of the gender-defying act and it ended with a heartwarming exchange when Rahul asks for some of the delicious meat to take home for his sister, Priyanka.

The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), of course, had to comment on the event.

BJP national spokesperson Shehzad Poonawalla condemned Rahul for eating meat during the month of Sawan, saying that no true Sanatani can think of eating non-vegetarian food during the holy month.

Sambit Patra too commented that he could not understand how Rahul Gandhi, a Janeudhari Brahmin" ate mutton during the holy month of Sawan.

A Lesson From the Valley on Shivratri

Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley and those of us who are based elsewhere do not traditionally eat pork, beef, or chicken, but we do eat mutton.

We have traditionally eaten goat liver or khatti kaleji on Shivratri.

I remember the delicious dish cooked to perfection and served for breakfast. Every Shivratri, I long for the smell and taste of khatti kaleji, but alas, the tradition has faded as more and more or my relatives think vegetarianism is real Hinduism and we meat-eating Brahmins are an aberration.

One of the most vivid descriptions of Shivratri by the Kashmiri Pandits of the Valley is given by Sudha Koul, the first woman IAS officer from Kashmir. She says, “Being carnivorous was a survivor tactic …and is deeply ingrained in our psyche as a metaphor for life, love, and happiness.”

This is how she describes one Shivratri her family celebrated in Delhi:

“After wintering with my itinerant army parents, my grandparents fled the plains for the Valley every spring, frightened by the alien whirl of the ceiling fans, and also impelled by the desire to celebrate Shivaratri or Herat at home. One year, my father, posted as Brigadier in Delhi Cantonment, persuaded his parents to stay with the lure that his regimental priest, a Sanskrit scholar, had promised to officiate. Thus it came to pass that we had the longest puja pravachan, or sermon, ever, and finally, to everyone’s immense starving relief, the prasad was called for. My grandmother emerged proudly with her standard Shivratri platter held aloft and presented it to the Guruji. He, obviously a furious vegetarian stared at the raw fish, shell shocked, then instantaneously leaped to his feet and did the hastiest retreat ever evidenced in those military precincts, shouting traahi, traahi ,traahi (help, help, help). My grandmother could not quite understand what she had done wrong. After all, she, and the generation of Kashmiri Hindus, had taken whole raw lamb innards up to the Goddess’ shrines as sacred offerings. One piece lamb trachea, lungs, kidneys, and liver, were ordered and sent uncut and un-detached by our Muslim butcher as per the centuries-old tradition, which he knew and respected well. Carried in covered wicker krenjuls, dripping with blood, these oblations were taken to Hari Parbat or Zeethyaar with pride and joy.”
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Hinduism is not a Monolith

Of course, if Sambit Patra wanted to make fun of Rahul Gandhi, he could have said a Kashmiri Pandit should not be eating onions and garlic – that is forbidden to us.

But he could not possibly hurt the sentiments of his host. That would be going against the Hindu code of hospitality.

The problem with the BJP is that they want to turn Hinduism into something that is not – a monolith, a homogenous religion, without the delightful cultural diversity and rich customs, traditions, and rituals that make us what we are – India.

When Rahul Gandhi asked Lalu Prasad what was the secret masala in politics, the latter replied that the political masala is sangharsh, and if there is any injustice, the true politician will fight for justice. He also told Rahul that his parents and grandparents had shown the nation a new way.

Again, a new way is needed, indeed.

Now the challenge is what new masala can be added to make the old political recipes into dishes worthy of a new India.

(Nandita Haksar is a human rights lawyer and award-winning author. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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