In a bid to step out of my comfort zone, I tried stand-up comedy on stage, talking to a broad audience, which turned out to be cheaper than therapy. I thread tweeted the gist of a 5min stand up piece I had performed, and it garnered many requests for the same in a blog format. So here is my (not so entirely factual) story about why I never ate meat.
My mum is a staunch Vaishnavi Hindu woman with strong principles, upstanding morals, and is very much attached to traditional values. For the sake of all that is holy, she will not eat in a restaurant that serves eggs, let alone meat. In her spare time, she is the official family travel agent for guilt trips.
My dad, on the other hand, is a laid back coasterian whose views are drastically liberal compared to mum. As they say, opposites attract, and he is precisely that of mum. He drinks alcohol and his outlook on food is simple; the only things with four legs he will not eat are table and chairs.
My dad was also in the catering business where we all had to ‘help-out’ exposing me to all kinds of food from a very young age. However, on my mum’s insistence, I was never, ever allowed to eat meat.
Kids are innately curious, and as a five-year-old, I am sure I must have been disgruntled as to why I wasn’t allowed to eat the same things as my dad. It further worsened when I would see my friends eating things different from me; like plump, juicy sausages with their chips, mutton samosas with a divine aroma and freshly squeezed lemons, crispy red chicken tikka every Friday from Dilawar’s Barbecue at Mombasa Sports Club, and so on. It became too much, and with my curiosity at an all-time high, I could no longer bear it, I confronted my mum.
Using my dad as ‘precedence,’ I asked her, “Ma, can I eat meat like how papa eats?”
You assumed- just like I did- that she would be accepting with my dad being a full-on carnivore and all. Well, to be honest, she was tolerant. She gleefully responded, “Of course beta (son), you can eat meat. You can eat as much meat as you want…”
“…BUT,” she interjected very firmly, took my hand and led me to her prayer room. As you may know, the Hindu pantheon comprises millions of gods, and this woman probably had a picture or a statue of every one of them including Kali, brandishing her bloody sword, the necklace of severed heads, tongue out, standing over her slain enemies.
She pulled out the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu religious book, and I can promise you just opened a random page and went to me, “Here, read this scripture, beta…”
I was five years old, I could barely make sense of English words, and she wanted me to read Sanskrit?
After the whole rigmarole of admitting the obvious that I can’t read what it says and all, she proceeded (or pretended, if I may state) to read four lines which sounded like gibberish to me. When I enquired what this had got to do with me eating meat, she looked me square in the eye, grabbed my hand and explained, “If you want to eat meat, you must have the courage to kill the animal yourself!”
WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?
I was five years old, and this is not even the tip of the trauma she had just induced. I started bawling and looked at her with disbelief, tears streaming down my ashen face, trembling.
“No, ma. What? How?” I whimpered softly.
With casual finesse, she made this theatrical throat-slitting action with sound effects and all, gesturing that l would have to cut the animals throat myself.
AGAIN, I WAS FIVE FUCKING YEARS OLD.
Of course, I went to my bedroom, vowing never to eat meat.
You would think that was enough for a 5yr old, and she would end it there, but it gets worse.
From that day, whenever she was around me and saw an animal, she would point it out and ask me if I wanted to eat it. Then proceed to do that horrible throat slitting dramatic action and that annoying sound – whether the animal was on TV or in real life, whether it was a cartoon or on the news. As long as there was an animal, she would make that throat slitting action and sound.
For thirty-two years that trauma remain suppressed while I carried on with my life a vegetarian. Finally being able to let it out it in counseling, my therapist helped put things into perspective, and at the age of 37, I finally took a fucking stand. I called up my dads restaurant manager and told him, “Obiero, I want a chicken.”
Ever helpful, Obiero asked how I wanted it cooked, what type of gravy with it, whether I wanted it, spicy or not, if it should be grilled or fried. I said, “No, Obiero. I want a live chicken…”
It took me some time to explain the situation to him but finally understood. I wanted to slaughter this chicken that Monday afternoon.
Afternoon found Obiero, a chicken, a huge cleaver, Muthama (dad’s favorite chef) and myself at dad’s restaurant. I already expected this to be a little out of my comfort zone, so I had done what most people would do when faced with something anxiety-inducing; I had smoked the mother of all joints before walking to the back of the kitchen.
I was swaying back and forth from fear, staring at this chicken. In my head the song ‘One Love’ by Bob Marley, with its call to love and compassion lyrics making my task at hand even more difficult. A few moments later, the clarity I was awaiting came like a white horse running at me on a black beach.
That moment was all I needed. I grabbed the chicken by the head from Muthama as it went “SQUAAAAAAK” in terror. I slammed it on the table, the rest of its rotund body following. I grabbed the cleaver and chopped its fucking head off like King Henry the VII’s prized executioner.
Here is the thing, though. No one had warned me the headless chicken thing was not an urban legend. This headless chicken was running around, blood everywhere and me running around screaming in horror like, well, a headless chicken. Poultry in motion, if you please. Muthama instinctively slammed an empty bucket on the amok chicken and all became well with the world.
ALL EXCEPT THE DEAD CHICKEN’S HEAD IN MY GODDAMN HAND.
Monday is always family dinner night where we all get together for a meal and catch up on each other lives. That Monday dinner was at my sister’s house, and it was a vast spread; Vegetarian food for my mum, my sister and me, and non-vegetarian food for my brother-in-law, my then wife and dad.
Dinner time came, and we all settled in our usual spots including one of my closest friends who had joined us. I waited with my empty plate until everyone had finished serving themselves, I reached out, and the only thing I put on my plate was chicken curry.
As you may have guessed, my mum stared at me with her questioning guilt-inducing, eyes. Without missing a heartbeat, she piped up, angry and admonishing, “Beta, what are you doing? THAT IS CHICKEN!!!”
But this is precisely the moment I had been waiting for all day. It was my turn to return
And from that day, the only thing with four legs I don’t eat are tables and chairs.