It was serendipitous that I turned vegetarian earlier this year. I did not know then that in months to follow the Devendra Fadnavis government would thrust a vegetarian diet on me anyway.
This was a good decision in hindsight because I prefer renouncing things willingly of my own volition rather than have them taken away from me. My "born again" vegetarian self watched the right to eat or sell beef within the state revoked with a feeling that at best be described as a yeasty combination of irritation and mild contempt.
Recently when the sceptre of meat ban, out of consideration for the Jain community during Paryushan threatened to cast its shadow on my non-vegetarian brethren in the state, I realised that the road from here was only downhill. People of this great state of Maharashtra were evidently being asked to give up their freedom quite systematically, one animal at a time.
Democracy be damned, it was time to accept if not embrace banocracy!
As it is a lot had changed in the Bombay I once knew and loved. The name Bombay itself evokes a certain nostalgia not only because the name of India's greatest city changed to Mumbai, a move clearly made to strengthen its Marathi identity, but also because subsequent governments did their best to alter its essence too.
My long-term memory is too poor to recall instances citing violation of our constitutional rights but I do recall this time when two girls from Mumbai were arrested after one of them posted a message on Facebook protesting the Mumbai shutdown following Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's death. The other girl had liked the post. Ever since, I am scared to "like" any post criticising the present government and in fact go a step further and unfriend the person posting it. The only posts I feel safe commenting on are about Rahul Gandhi and we must give credit to the Congress where it is due, they did not tell us what to eat and they allowed us our opinions.
The Bombay I once knew was a joyous and vibrant city and boasted of an unrivalled nightlife. From mujra joints and dance bars to swishy nightclubs, the metropolis heaved after dark like no other city in India could. This city on the other hand banned dance bars and mujra joints and offered you a nightlife that was best suited for geriatrics.
This early-to-bed deadline freed up a lot of my time and helped me turn author in the absence of anything better to do on Saturday nights but I wonder what happened to those hapless bar and mujra dancers. Did they leave Mumbai in search of livelihood elsewhere or did they turn to other more respectable professions such as prostitution?
Our neighbourhood butcher for example, is considering leaving the city in search of the meatier pastures. Since we haven't been on very good terms since I turned vegetarian and subsequently reduced the household purchase of chicken I was naturally surprised when he turned at my doorstep the other day.
"Aapko goodbye bolne aayen hain," he stated lugubriously.
"Why Aziz bhai, where are you going?"
"Arrey kya bataayen, jeena mushkil ho gaya hai Bambai mein to. Yeh ban, woh ban. Idhar rozi-roti kahan banegi ab."
I reassured Aziz bhai that all was not lost and that after Paryushan life will be back to normal.
"Nahin nahin, tab yeh kahengey ab Navratri hai, ab phir ban karo mutton-chicken. Aaise kuch na kuch yeh kahtein rahengey."
He was probably right. We celebrated so many festivals in our Maharashtra that the government would be busy ingratiating itself to different communities, one at a time.
"Why don't you change your profession, try selling something else… Like fish because fish die when they are taken out of water. No karmic burden on your conscience and CM does not mind it either. It is a win-win situation," I suggested sagaciously.
"Arrey try kiye they. Ek bhi machhi pakad mein nahin aayi, humein aata nahin hai bhai. Ab to bas Bambai bhoolna hi padega."
"Have you tried drowning hens and goats? Try that. Maybe the government will not mind natural deaths. Or sell paneer. They will NEVER ban paneer." Thing is, I hate paneer and that is one ban I will be only too happy to see being enforced.
"Punjab Sind paneer wale mar thodi na gayein hain ki humein mauka milega," he sighed sadly.
I asked him where he and his family intended to move to, now that they were leaving Bombay, er Mumbai.
"Karnataka mein ummeed hai," he said wistfully. "Bangalore jayengey."
Now with what heart could I tell him there were murmurs of a ban in Karnataka too on account of Ganesh Chaturthi?