A non-vegetarian life in the pre-1947 Punjab

Joginder Anand



Dr. Anand - an unholy person born in 1932 in the holy town of Nankana Sahib, central Punjab. A lawyer father, a doctor mother. Peripatetic childhood - almost gypsy style. Many schools. Many friends, ranging from a cobbler's son (poorly shod as the proverb goes) to a judge's son. MB from Glancy (now Government) Medical College Amritsar, 1958. Comet 4 to Heathrow, 1960.
Widower. Two children and their families keep an eye on him. He lives alone in a small house with a small garden. Very fat pigeons, occasional sparrows, finches green and gold drop in to the garden, pick a seed or two and fly away.

In the time before the Punjab was partitioned, I lived in various towns and cities, and holidayed in a few.

When I was a toddler and up to my school-age, eating at home was mostly vegetarian plus two or three times a week, goat meat. On special occasions, we would eat chicken (kukkar in Punjabi, murga in Urdu/Hindustani)

Sometimes, I would be taken by a lady to her house in the afternoons, where I would play with her son who was a couple of years older. The family was Muslim. You might think, meat-eaters. It is not generally known that in those  pre-WW2 days manual workers seldom had enough money to buy meat, except on special occasions. Daal Roti lunch and evening. Hence it was that Daal was known as the poor man's meat.

Goat meat for our kitchen came from a Jhatkai, i.e., a butcher who severed the animal's neck with one stroke. This was in contradistinction to a Halaal butcher who would have slaughtered the goat in the fashion prescribed by Islam. To my knowledge, the Muslim never Jhatka meat. Some Hindus did eat Halaal. The Sikhs never did. There were of course many Hindus who were vegetarian. One of my two grandmothers would consider her food to have been polluted if the container had even been touched by a kitchen implement used for a meat dish. Then, the "polluted" food had to be given away to a member of staff who did not hold such views.

There were no Jews (Yahudees) around wherever I lived. So, no kosher meat.

When I was three or four, I suffered from Pertussis (Whooping cough). It did not leave any lasting damage but the " whoops" were distressing and lasted a few weeks. There was no treatment. Someone suggested a folk remedy. Feed me on tilyar. The Tilyar is a bird half the size of a house sparrow. In those days - and I remember it well - the Tilyar swarms would settle in the evenings, on telegraph poles which ran along the Lahore-Sheikhupura railway line.

They would not have been courteous enough to drop in to a basket for me. Fortunately a Sikh farmer friend of the family had a shotgun and he very kindly provided Tilyars every day for several days. I stopped whooping. Whether naturally, or courtesy of the Tilyars, I know not. Our servant severed the neck. Jhatka.

When we children visited our maternal grandparents, they used to have a fair number of hens to provide us with eggs, and cockerels for us to eat. Jhatka.

When the wheat was ripe, quails used to descend en masse. There were professional quail catchers. At dusk they would, by permission, cast a net over whole of a field. Early in the ,

morning, they would hang a cage with a male quail in one corner of the field. The male quail, known as Bulllara in Punjabi, would "call". The call would attract the quails in to that corner. We would receive a share of the catch - for Jhatka.

Looking back, it seems a mean trick. The curried quails were delicious, but we could have survived without eating them.

Some years later, in north western Punjab, we also ate Titar (partridge). It was difficult to get hold of ready plucked partridge there. We had to buy live partridge and get it slaughtered by one of the two Jhatkais there .

Once we lived in a small town in Jehlum district, where there were scarcely any Sikhs. Hence, no Jhatka available. And we did not eat Halaal. A kindly lorry driver solved the problem. He would, when he happened to go to a town with a Jhatkai, ask the Jhatkai to wrap up the goat meat for us in a piece of cloth. On return, he would ask us to remove the parcel - he would not touch it, as it was not Halaal.

Is fish " vegetable"? We did not think so. But some Bengali acquaintances were fond of fish. They also claimed to be vegetarians . When we taxed them about it, they answered - but fish is Jal Toree. Correct, I suppose.

They were also fond of Jheenga and claimed, correctly, that Jheenga, being prawn, is not really fish.


© Joginder Anand 2016

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quail, Titar ,(partridge, Tilyar are no better than Gobi.Shalgum, tinda and arbi etc.Dal,roti is the best. In our house,in the days you talk about-30/40 , we did not allow even the Onions(they were called "Vassal".garlic-the essential ingredient for your quails and Titers was banned. It used to be alu gobi, with lot of home made butter and NBimbu da Achhar(home made in big Murtbans).Even now your mentioning all these exotic birds dont seem very mouth watering. Whooping cough must be an excuse to have Tilyar. Clever enen in child hood. Great. Go green man--still time to change

Thank you Jatinder Ji I yield to no one in my devotion to good alu gobhi as cooked by my aunt ( my father's sister) with home-made butter. Nor can I ever forget the Murtban of SWEET pickle of lemons which took six months to mature ( my maternal grandmother's master-piece. Of course you never tasted quail. Not partridge. Should I go vegetarian? Yes, I am already half-way there. Useless teeth. I can only enjoy ( at the moment), mattar da pilla.

Joginderji, Enjoyed the story. I grew up in Amritsar and a Hindu family who let men eat all kinds of meat except beef! Women abstained. Quail was a delicacy we would eat once or twice in winter. Titar was very rarely brought by a shikari friend of my father. River fish was plentiful but of very varieties. I have not figured out why sikhs abhor halal? It is even true of my sikh friends in USA. Is it to distinguish Sikh religion from Islam?

Thank you Vinod Ji. My ancestry bequeathed a mixture of dietary dos and don'ts. It was also a mixture of Hindus and Sikhs. One grandmother did not allow meat anywhere near her eating utensils. The other grandmother was quite happy cooking ( and eating) meat as long as it was Jhatka. Of course, beef could not be Jhatka. Hindus of my acquaintance considered the COW to be holy and not to be eaten. Sikhs of my acquaintance had the same aversion to Halal and to beef.

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