Nobody writes, so far at least, that ‘red meat is injurious to health’ like they do on some other products. But for the last few years the doctors have been doing so in their way: telling patients or general people to avoid too much of red meat which or give it up altogether which they say, is not good for health, particularly for heart health. A whole lot of people, including us ordinary mortals, do follow the advice, some very religiously totally cutting out on that. We did not give it up totally, but our red meat-eating became sparse and very occasion-specific.
For most of us in India red meat means ‘mutton’ or goat or sheep or lamp meat while some others had switched over to pork; although the latter variety had not obtained any certificate of ‘eat’ from the doctors to the best of my knowledge, but of course, the latter variety is much cheaper than mutton. I’d rather not talk about beef for the danger of getting politically incorrect.
In our childhood days, however, things were not so health-oriented, and the doctors of that time did not do so much preaching about what to eat or not to eat. So, we normally used to have mutton for lunch on Sundays, and that was the day for us children to look forward to. Of course, at times rainy cold or winter nights were mouth-watering exceptions. Some people ate it more often as far as they could afford, because the price of mutton was higher than all others of its kind that time too. And it was a general belief, even now most people believe, that no other meat or chicken curry could match that deliciously cooked mutton curry.
As we mentioned that with the emergence of the new generation of doctors our mutton-eating had become rare, and we mostly consumed chicken and river fish as usual. This does not mean that we ever forgot the universally acknowledged fact that the mutton curry was the tastiest of all, and the older generation of housewives including our grandmothers and mothers used to cook it exceptionally well of which memory we could never erase our minds from.
That particular Sunday morning we decided to have mutton, as I reasoned with my wife that we had nearly forgotten the last time we savoured that, and she agreed. Therefore, out I went to the local market with a jovial heart. The meat and fish market was housed in a dilapidated concrete building; I climbed up the broken steps to it, and approached the shop I mostly bought from. He welcomed me with a broad grin not forgetting to remind me that it was long time no-see. I agreed smiling and busied myself selecting the chunks he cut out of the hanging meaty bodies. You have to be very careful in this job, because the butchers are very expert in mixing up old cut pieces in the twinkle of an eye.
He followed my instructions and packed the neatly cut pieces of meat in a black polythene bag. I paid and was surprised to know that the price got higher again. I don’t know even now how the highest of prices can be maintained with not enough demand in the market. Or perhaps a lot of people continue eating mutton and the butchers slaughter a limited number of animals to cater to the demand of that chunk only and so can maintain higher prices, because casual eaters like me also turn up regularly.
As I climbed down the steps of the building and hit the narrow concrete passage leading out to the road, something odd happened.
I felt a kind of pull in my right hand that carried the polythene bag, and the bag suddenly getting much lighter. I looked down at my bag and was startled, almost at my wits’ end. I saw a dog behind me snarling and fully baring its teeth, pulling and tearing away the pricey bag. Next few seconds I saw all the neatly cut pieces of the meat lying scattered on the concrete ground, and the dog getting busy with two or three pieces thereof. So fierce was the bite that not a single piece remained in the bag.
Before I could realize the immensity of the tragedy and know how to react or act or shout I stared helplessly at a street beggar greedily picking up the other pieces and putting those in his rugged cloth bag. As I regained my senses I first thought of going back to the butcher and complain about it. But I saw the futility of that, because he would definitely ask me as to why I did nothing to try recover the pieces peacefully or by force. I sadly deposited the empty polythene in a dustbin and started walking back home, depressed, and fear-stricken too, because I was certain that my wife would definitely put the blame on me for my carelessness.
I reached home pressing the doorbell. My wife noticed my empty hands and looked up inquiringly at me. I walked in and sat down heavily on the sofa. In an air of suffocating suspense I narrated what happened to me or rather to the meat. She was so shocked at the peculiarity of the incident that she forgot to scold me or do anything of that sort. After a few fearful, for me, moments she started laughing. Immensely relieved, I joined her too in this merriment of tragic proportions. However, deep inside my mind I decided not to visit that cursed shop for a long time, and asked my wife if I’d rather go for chicken now. She said no still laughing, and added that an egg curry would do for lunch.
The story got circulated very fast among our friends and relatives, and everyone was shocked beyond measure, and yet loved to hear it again and again. The story is not forgotten even now, after the long years that had passed in the meantime.