Thursday, May 24, 2012

Amish Libertarianism

"So, I guess I will see you at my place for dinner tonight?"

I was about to sign off with a friend in the land of the free, who had never tasted Indian food, and I had volunteered to cook him a proper Desi dinner.

"Oh, and one last thing -- do you have any dietary restrictions? I am guessing that you are a non-vegetarian, right?"

Now, it was my friend's turn to be confused.

"Non-vegetarian? I am guessing that you just asked me if I am a meat-eater. If that was your question, then yes, I do eat meat. See ya tonight!"

 It took me a few months after I landed in the land of the free to realize that "non-vegetarian" was not an American word. In fact, I doubt if many people outside of India use that word at all, to refer to meat eaters. And, there is a good reason for that. I think that we Indians made up that word because we are predominantly a culture of vegetarians. So, a meat-eater is simply "not us" -- or, a non-vegetarian!

In my opinion, Hindi, as a language, is much less discriminatory. Vegetarians are called shak-ahari (diet of greens), and non-vegetarians are called mans-ahari (diet of meat). A few days ago, I went to a Bengali restaurant with Dhanno ki Amma, and found two Bengali words on the menu, which are surely discriminatory, but in an exactly opposite way to the convention that the rest of India seems to follow. Bengalis, being voracious carnivores, call themselves Amish (meat-eater in Bengali), and those who disgrace their culture by eating the distasteful green stuff, are called Nir-Amish (not meat-eater). Well, there you go.

And then, I was having a serious conversation over lunch with a friend of mine, who is a committed vegetarian, and has been trying to make me one for a while. This gentleman, is also an avid follower of cultures around the world, specially, the peaceful and vegetarian ones.

"So, do you know what the word Amish means?" I asked him.

"Oh yeah, very nice people. From Pennsylvania. I guess they live simple and peaceful lives, and I have a feeling that they are vegetarians like me. But, why do you ask?"

Darn, I had completely forgotten about the Pennsylvania Amish! How could I, specially, when I had to fork out a substantial sum once, to pay for a piece of Amish furniture. The Amish, are great carpenters, and the expensive stuff they make, sells very well, all across the world.  I did not want to disappoint my friend, but I knew for sure that the Amish are not vegetarians, although, they grow their own food.

Of course, I told him what the word means in Bengali -- and he seemed quite elated to make another new discovery about the known universe of cultures out there.

But I remembered something else that I thought I should let him know. Specially, because my vegetarian friend is a big-time libertarian-baiter, and makes no secret of that fact, when he is around me. He knows that I have a little bit of a soft-corner for Libertarianism, among all the other political philosophies out there.

"Do you know that the Amish people are probably  more Libertarian than anyone else out there? They grow their own food, make their own clothes, build their own houses, and since there is very little commerce with the outside world, and everything inside is based on barter, I doubt if they pay any taxes!"  

I am pretty sure that my erudite friend must have seen the dreamy look in my eyes, and sensed the immediate desire in my heart to move to a libertarian paradise, and grow my very own beard -- somewhere in Pennsylvania. But, he had to ruin it for me, like he always does.

"Amish Libertarians?  Libertarian Amish?  No, No, No! Given what you just told me about the meaning of the word Amish, and that most Bengalis, including your wife, are Amish, I can safely tell you that most Amish are left leaning liberals. Or closet commies."

"Perhaps you are not aware that the Bengalis threw out the communists from their government more than a year ago -- they are not the lefties you think they are!" I said sounding a little indignant.

With a twinkle in his eye, my friend chortled, "Then my friend, the Bengalis are not Amish any more. May be, they have become Nir-Amish.


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