This question has consumed so many and for so long.
In the Sikh world, at least in the last few decades, there has been a raging debate on meat. Do we eat it or not? At some point of your Sikh journey, I bet the question came up as well.
Does Gurmat condone eating of meat? In fact, if you take a step back, does Gurmat hold a position on the consumption of meat? Is meat even an issue in Sikhi?
I got acquainted with Guru Nanak and his teachings in my late teens. That’s when I also got introduced to the meat debate.
As I took up voluntary work with a Sikh youth group, I saw up close the issue discussed and debated vigorously. I could identify the meat-eating group and the ones who didn’t. Loosely, their thinking was also aligned with the mool mantar debate, though not necessarily across the board.
I started off as a meat eater. We had plenty of meat when growing up. Mother would cook chicken or fry fish. I loved them in curries. I loved them fried. Sometime dished out in sambal, a condiment made from chilly and spices, popular in this part of the world.
We also had crabs and prawns. Mother’s crab masala was simply out of the world! And the crab rasam. High in protein and low in fat and calories, they say it’s a solid way to beat off cold and flu. Nah. We lapped it up for its taste. My eyes would be all teary. “Oh, pedas (spicy hot),” I would go.
We even had jangli suri (wild boar) with our saag (spinach). On occasions, my late dad would hunt them in the jungles on the fringes of the Puchong tin mining where he worked. He would borrow a rifle from a colleague and hunt down the animal with his friends.
Then, at some point, I dropped meat. I aped my friends – many of them active in Sikhi activities. They were mostly vegetarians. At that point of time, I understood vegetarian as some kind of a higher calling, for lack of a better word, in Sikhi.
I remember ordering my first meal after turning vegetarian. I was a young journalist with a Kuala Lumpur-based Malay newspaper. At lunch, I went to one of the road-side stalls where I’ve grabbed countless bites before.
I stopped at a tiny stall run by a Malay lady and was about to place my order absent-mindedly. I halted briefly, mulling what to order now that I’m a vegetarian.
“Makcik, mee goreng satu, tak nak daging,” I said. Translation: Madam, one plate of fried noodles, no meat.
“Ayam boleh?” she shot back (Translate: Chicken, ok).
Daging is literally meat in Malay. It also refers to beef. Vegetarian food is generally foreign to Malays, though more are exposed to it today. So, I knew I had to be more precise.
“Makcik, daging tak nak, ayam tak nak, ikan pun tak nak.” (Madam, no beef, no chicken, and no fish either).
“Anak nak makan mee kosong, ya?” she asked, giving me a little look. (Translate: So, son, you want to eat plain noodles?)
I nodded, sheepishly. My first vegetarian order didn’t go down so smoothly. The food was plain and tasteless.
Then came another little drama as I wanted to pay.
“Mee kosong, berapa ya? (Plain noodles, how much, ah?)” She charged RM1, probably half or a third (I can’t recall now) the usual price of a plate of noddle.
I was never the strict vegetarian. You won’t catch some of my vegetarian friends eating at that stall. They would prefer joints where no meat at all is cooked. But early on, I decided my vegetarian journey will be the easy going type. As a journalist, I would be required to travel. So I wanted to give myself leeway in my choice of diet.
Recently, I reviewed that decision to turn vegetarian. I’m now back to eating meat, though it makes a small part of my diet. It’s not for the taste, though.
I may have settled my personal meat eating debate, but the debate rages on. It crops up at forums and camps.
In this discussion (see video below), at 36:36, the presenter is spot-on with his observation. He noted we don’t ask a parcharak (preacher) or a granthi or a giani if we are allowed to eat gulab jamnu or a burger. “No where in Gurbani is it written you can eat goll-gaphey, but we do it nevertheless. But when it comes to meat, we start looking for a parcharak to resolve the question. That’s the wrong person to ask. We should instead ask a dietician or a doctor, not the preacher,” he says.
SEE VIDEO: SinghNaad: Is consumption of meat a sin?
I found the goll-gaphey mention amusing. But that is not why I’m flagging the video. The discussion is on a more serious note. You may have asked why I ditched my vegetarian diet. If you’re interested, I’m inclined to the views expressed by the preacher in this video. In a nutshell, meat is a non-issue in Sikhi. The real ‘higher calling’, if there is one, is in managing our desires and wants, and, above all, our ego.
Do I expect you to follow suit? Absolutely not! Remember, I’m easy going. I’m fine whichever way you whip your food, as long as you can respect my decision.
Hb Singh is a Kuala Lumpur-based journalist with some experience in dealing with Sikh organisations, both from within and outside.
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
Aparna in Indian Matchmaking. What do I think about her? (Asia Samachar, 17 Oct 2019)