The Spaghetti Standoff

The first big fight between my partner and I took place in a Tesco store in London.

I had picked up a tin of spaghetti bolognese from the aisle shelf, and was considering whether to put it in our shopping basket when he exclaimed, “We’re not eating that.” It took me a minute to comprehend that he was referring to the Hindu proscription on eating beef. I instantly replied, “Well, I am bloody well going to.”

Just like that, we had our first standoff in the first year of our relationship.

I had not expected this. Here was a man who had uncomplainingly moved continents, from Australia to Europe, so that I could pursue higher studies, putting his own career progression and education on hold. The ease with which he did it would make any 21st century, modern man proud. Yet, here we were fighting over whether spaghetti bolognese would enter our Hindu household or not?

In deference to peace at home, I am not going to say who won. But here’s the funniest thing; I grew up in India in a traditional Hindu family. He grew up in Australia in a non-traditional Hindu family. How is it that I was fighting for my right to eat beef, and he the opposite?

I guess it is because we live in a topsy-turvy world and funny things happen in our quest for identity.

I started eating beef purely to defy convention. Traditionally, ‘good’ Hindus don’t eat beef. In fact, it is hard to find restaurants in India that would offer beef or butchers who would sell it. (Recently, an official ban was placed on the trade of beef.) It was accepted wisdom in my house that beef would not enter our homes or our bodies. Then, one day I found myself sitting in a restaurant in Mumbai with my parents and some family friends, and asked out loud what exactly a ‘steak’ was, which was listed in the menu. Silence ensued. My father said it was beef. The devil got into my 15-year-old self and I told the waiter I would have that.

At home, all hell broke loose, but I won the argument through judicious use of abstract logic. How could a cow be more sacred in God’s eyes than a chicken? Surely, either all life was sacred to him or none was. However, I didn’t continue eating beef to even the count between dead cows and chickens in India. I did so because it felt bloody good to defy society’s expectations. I found my identity in defiance of the majority culture.

Sid, on the other hand, was never asked not to eat beef. Growing up in Melbourne, his family allowed him the freedom to eat as all Australians did. It was in his search for himself and his identity—where he came from, what his culture meant and what made him unique in the Australian social fabric—that lead him to question his beef-eating habits. Ironically, he and a number of his friends of Indian descent stopped eating beef to explore and emphasise their Hindu identity in defiance of the majority culture. Sid and I were essentially operating from two sides of the same coin.

So there you have it.

As a third culture kid, he looked for a partner from an Indian background to avoid having to explain his cultural specificities on an everyday basis. And look where it landed him—with a steak-loving atheist Hindu girl. Despite our best efforts to rein them in, race, culture and religion invariably run away into different directions all on their own. As I said before, we live in a topsy-turvy world and funny things happen in our quest for identity.

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