Beef in Brahmin’s refrigerator
Beef in Brahmin’s Refrigerator
(Officially we were a Brahmin family – so there! )
We were a modern family and even had some gizmos to prove it. We had a white fridge that occupied pride of place in the living room (for some reason we called it the ‘drawing’ room). The fridge was made in India and was an Allwyn .
We used to call it the “ice petti” (ice box). Thick ice would form inside and block access, so we used to shut it off weekly and “defrost” it. The ads claimed it could defrost itself, but that never happened. When there were power outages (plenty of those!) there would be big puddles all over the floor. Our theory was that Allwyn Ice Box had to pee from time to time.
Our father hated dogs
My father was the rational one in our family. However he had a fear of dogs. This was since his favourite nephew back in the village had died of rabies caused by a stray dog licking him. He got an urgent message to return to the village. By then, the boy was fully rabid and his family had chained him up in a small room to prevent him from biting anyone who approached him. He died a terrible death and since then, our family has feared dogs. My sister and I must claim the credit for overcoming his caninophobia.
Apart from his somewhat legitimate fears, we had to wage war with my mother. She was firm that good brahmin families did not keep dogs. A cow was allowed, so were cats, as long as they remained outdoors (not difficult for a cat). Finally we won and they agreed to let us get a dog.
The most common dogs in Kerala those days were the Alsatian and the Pomeranian. The Alsatian was huge and a Pom small. As this was a house dog, we went with the smaller one. The next task was to get the dog. There were no pet shops or dog shelters. A colleague of my father who was a police officer had a whole lot of dogs. His favourite breed was the Pomeranian. We visited him in a town some distance away and saw his dogs – about a dozen, mostly Poms. He pointed to one of his dogs and said , “she will have puppies next week, if you are serious, come back in a few weeks.
One day we got news that three pups were born. I think we were more excited than at any child birth in the family. Our mother was decidedly less enthusiastic. We kept pushing father to drive to the other town and pick up one of the three pups. We could go only after a month. We were told, one pup had been given away – the male pup had gone (male privilege extending to dogs). So were left with the two females. He said you can have either – just a few conditions; Never put a leash on her. And dogs eat meat, so don’t try to restrict her food. We would have agreed to anything by then. We returned with an addition to the family.
We named her Tooty. She had a small bowl of water to herself. Our pet donor gave us a week’s supply of the meat mash he fed his own dogs. We stored the newspaper wrapped packages in the freezer, careful not to touch anything else. Tooty had a small appetite as she was a small breed and a pup at that. Yet the packets were reducing in number and soon we were down to just a single day’s supply. There was no option but to buy meat for the dog. There were no meat markets nearby, so we had to ask our maid servant to go the butcher. He agreed to set aside a small quantity of meat after his customers were taken care of. In our home, we were allowed to eat eggs, ‘ for health”, so a nutritional Rubicon had been crossed already. We had not descended to the utter sinfulness of killing animals. Our mother claimed that a friend of hers had a dog that would eat only milk and rice. We asked to visit this magic dog, but she never did.
So we had to buy the meat. The maid advised, only humans eat chicken and mutton (Indian goat meat), dogs should be fed beef – cheaper and less bony. Since we did not know, we accepted all her suggestions. She was our family’s meat Moses. The maid would pick up the beef and cook it in the back yard. She told my mother she was being ripped off, each day she was buying just a few hundred grams of beef at, say INR 10 a day. She informed my mother that a week’s supply would cost, say INR 25. Obviously the butcher was making too much profit. If we could buy a week’s supply we could save 75%. Six days’ meat would need to be stored in the ice petti. My mother’s inherent frugality (a.k.a cheapness ) battled her religious scruples. Finally cheapness won and a compromise was struck. We agreed on some rules:
1. The meat would be double packed, and in 6-7 portions – so no cutting of bloody meat chunks in the house.
2. The actual buying would be done by me, my sister would be kept away. Delicate female sensitivities would be spared.
3. The cooking and feeding would continue in the back yard.
4. As we were killing a cow we would be reborn as cows in our next rebirth and die a slow death at the hands of an unknown future butcher. (this last one was not a rule but a dire prediction)
Blood on the floors
In the first month disaster struck. The power failed and all the contents of the fridge melted in a bloody puddle on the floor. Madam Tooty was of course too high and mighty to lick up the evidence. We thought dogs would eagerly lick up such stuff, but not this one. She watched unconcerned while I mopped up the yuck. It soon became clear that Tooty was not about to demean herself by licking up stray eggs and such things. She turned up her nose at most things. Hot freshly cooked meat once a day, she had very nominal demands. She probably never realised how many taboos she made us confront and discard.
I suppose you do things for those you love – even a cantankerous bitch like Tooty