Show your plate and they will tell you who you are

Prime Minister Narendra Modi did a Sherlock Holmes on December 15, saying what kind of CAA protesters are indulging in arson can be told by their clothes (“… yeh aag lagaane vaale kaun hain, woh unke kapdon se hi pata chal jaata hai”). Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never allowed Dr Watson to solve any mystery before Holmes did (though the understudy does a lot of work in ‘The Hound of Baskervilles’), but a Dr Watson in the BJP tried to outdo his master. Last week, BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya made a breakthrough in identifying illegal migrants: He said he knew some of the workers at his place were from Bangladesh as they were seen eating poha!

But Modi’s and Vijayvargiya’s statements are more problematic not for being politically incorrect (I am not a fan of political correctness), but because they are wrong and expose inherent bigotry. In both, these comments were a glaring anti-Muslim connotation. Professors of Hindutva nursing such a sentiment surprises none, but one expected at least Modi to be adept at masking it. If the clothes statement was crass, the food remark was ridiculous.

There’s no denying that regions and religions have their typical food habits, but to make a judgment based on what one eats can go horribly wrong. Here’s what Juhea Kim wrote in ‘Peaceful Dumpling’ (which promotes veganism):

Ø Any kind of superficial judgment of others is based on our need to feel superior.
Ø An ethical eater doesn’t equal to an ethical person
Ø No one likes to be judged—and some days it will be you.

The second point is particularly interesting. Hitler was a vegetarian in his final years — and he wasn’t the only vegetarian who presided over massacres. Today, someone rolling a Malabar parotta around beef roast in Kerala could well be from the Hindi heartland (many of them who constitute a major workforce there have made the southern state their second home, the local food their daily diet). Kim says one of her mentors, who she calls “the most conscientious person I know”, is not an ‘ethical eater’. “But although he eats a traditional American diet, he is still the first person I think of when I need a moral role model,” she writes.

Many great men have been at the receiving end of sartorial judgments. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was denied entry into the Library of Asiatic Society in Calcutta in 1874 because he was wearing a dhoti.

V R Krishna Iyer, one of the most respected jurists India has seen, had a similar experience at the Presidency Club in Chennai sometime in the 1980s. If those ignominious incidents were a result of Indians upholding remnants of the British philistine that bred class distinction, the present-day Holmeses, and Watsons embody community-and-caste-based malice that gnaws at the roots of India’s diversity.

If people start judging each other by what they wear, everyone in white shirt-dhoti (or kurta-pajama in the north) today would be considered a corrupt politician. Thankfully, it is not so.

The poha-hating BJP general secretary can, however, take heart that an American neurologist-psychiatrist called Alan Hirsch has done some research linking food habits with personalities (he had to wind up his ‘Sensa crystals’ which he claimed would make people slimmer even if they eat junk food sprinkled with the crystals). One of his studies on ice-cream flavours, sponsored by — who else — Baskin Robbins, claimed to have found vanilla eaters to be impulsive idealists, those who preferred mint choc chips frugal, cautious and argumentative, and chocolate flavour lovers dramatic, lively and charming.

What’s your scoop, Dr Watson?

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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