Iftar parties and religious pluralism : Why Ahmedabad amazes me sometimes

Being vegetarians (or the more than ocassional egg eaters), it is pretty funny, that my husband and  I really long to taste Iftar food. Iftar is the meal taken by Muslims, during the fasting month of Ramzan, when they break the fast at sunset. Iftar specialities are most certainly non-vegetarian, and I am sure many squeamish vegetarians will totally avoid certain localities during Ramzan because of the sight, smell or even the knowledge of the meats around.

But we are not squeamish, and so we set out to explore the special street food places in Ahmedabad, to get a sense of the festival. We passed the famous Sayed Siddhi Mosque, went through Teen Darwaza and Lal Darwaza and all the landmarks of the old city of Ahmedabad. And we could sense, could smell the lovely biriyanis and the cooking meats. Surprisingly, for vegetarians, we find the smell very pleasant. Like my husband says, we enjoy being ‘passive non-vegetarians.’

When we asked a passerby to direct us to ‘Batiyar Gali’, he almost looked surprised. Maybe we just didnt look like the kind of people who would go to the most happening street food place of Iftar.

After seeing and smelling to our hearts content, we finally went in for dinner. While we still wanted vegetarian food, we did not want to eat in any of the exclusively vegetarian gujarati dining places which abound. We wanted to eat veg food in a non veg place. We find such food has a faintly exotic flavor to it.

And so we went into a restaurant advertising Iftar special, but also having a small sign saying Veg Food attached below. And then we come across a surprise in the menu. Under vegetarian section, there were some kebaba : hara bhara kebab, Veg kebab etc, and then there was a Jain Kebab.

Jains are an ultra strict vegetarian community in India. In fact, not only are they not supposed to eat meat or eggs, they are not even supposed to eat onions, garlic, potatoes and a whole host of other things. It is because of the influence of Jains (and some other strictly Hindu vegetarians) that Ahmedabad has a reputation of being a ‘non-veg’ averse place. This is the city where KFC opened a veg only outlet, where lots of the popular food franchises have veg only outlets. In fact it is a bit difficult to even buy eggs here, because one needs to go to ‘egg only’ shops.

But within Ahmedabad, it is understood that while the newer city is largely vegetarian, the Old city, which has historically been heavily influenced by Islam is definitely a non-veggie’s dream destination. My explorations on the Iftar walk had  definitely convinced me of this.

But still, here was a restaurant, almost exclusively catering to the non-vegetarian, who had taken the pains to add a Jain item to their menu. It was just one dish. It was probably sound business strategy to ensure that mixed crowds came in to the hotel. And most strict Jains may not even step into a restaurant which serves so much meat. I know a lot of my conservative Hindu relatives would not have stepped in there.  But to me it seemed like a delightfully inclusive gesture. It truly showed me how different communities continue to live together.

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