This morning I received a Facebook invitation for an event that felt bizarre. On December 21, India Gate at New Delhi will witness a strange protest march. It is called “Veg Biryani Rights”. The event description states: “People of India, it is time we stood up for equal recognition of veg biryani and an independent and exclusive form of biryani. For years, feudal biryanis named after cities and full of dead innocent animals has consisted of the top one per cent. We have a dream, that one day our biryani's will not be judged by the colour of their rice but by the content of their elaichi.”
It’s almost chuckle-worthy. First of all, what rights does veg biryani even need? Wait. Does the obvious absence of mutton, chicken or beef even qualify as biryani? And that is when it struck me; perhaps, it is this attitude that needs to change.
It is easy being intolerant of veg biryani-lovers. I have done it on countless occasions. I have relished saying, “There’s nothing called veg biriyani. That’s just pulao,” almost as much as I relish good, old-fashioned, Bengali mutton biryani (Yes, the one with aaloo in it).
I have retched at the mere mention of veg biryani. I have even willed myself to fall sick after I had to consume it on a train journey once, because I trust UIDAI more than I trust the non-veg food served by IRCTC. Or even their veg food for that matter.
Photo: Kali Mirch Blog
But my hate for veg biryani is not just infantile. It’s problematic. Almost like how conservative heterosexual couples feel that allowing gay marriage somehow negates the sanctity of the institution, a lot of hardcore biryani lovers feel that veg biryani is an attack on their culinary choices. But they can coexist, can’t they? Do vegetables taste bad? No. Is meat the only thing that tastes good? Once again, no. Then why do we continue to fixate on the utterly ridiculous notion that veg biryani tastes yuck?
Coming to the other ways we mock veg biryani – calling it pulao – let’s stop doing that as well. By that logic, fried rice should not be a dish. Musician and owner of the now-shut biryani joint Biryani360, Shayan Italia says: “A pulao is a rice dish, perhaps served with meat that requires an additional dish like a daal or a curry to accompany it. A biryani (at least a good one), is a self sustaining rice dish that doesn't require any accompaniment apart from say a yoghurt to soften the spice or make the dish less dry based on personal preference.”
And finally, according to the sample registration system (SRS) baseline survey 2014 released by the registrar general of India, 71 per cent of Indians over the age of 15 are non-vegetarian. There will always be plenty of righteous non-veg biryani to go about.
Why should a few people who want to opt for a meat-less version of the dish make us lose our minds? In fact, we should be happy that they are doing the right thing by not making veg biryani a paneer-infested dish.
So, yes. I may not like the taste of veg biryani (maybe because the perfect veg biryani eludes me), but I sure as hell will stand up for its right to exist. After all, it’s not about what I prefer. There is enough hate in this world. We don’t need a holy war for biryani.