It’s amusing, at least from my foreign perspective, that in a country home to a quarter of the world’s cows, it’s hard to find a good steak. I’m sure that statement alone has you letter writers already thinking up pithy retorts. But here I am, a non-vegetarian gal in New Delhi, looking to increase my iron intake with something besides saag paneer.
A few months ago, the game plan would have been simple. I would have gone to the local butcher and ordered some mutton. But, over a recent dinner conversation, I hear about an underground meatwala, who, as my fellow diner explains, “deals in all kinds of cuts, if you know what I mean”.
The diner directs me to a friend who informs me that this “meat man” has no shop address. Instead, I am given a mobile number, a name, and told to reveal the meat man’s identity only to potential customers.
I laugh at the information and discreet manner. Is this friend-of- a-friend talking about a local butcher or the godfather? After reading on the BBC website that the Supreme Court upheld a ban on cow killing in 2005, I begin to understand I’ve entered one more scenario where a gap exists between written law and enforcement.
It is against the law to kill baby girls, make children beg and illegal to ask for dowry. But, it all happens. Often, with a blind eye turned and unreported.
Politicians haven’t gotten much farther upholding the cow-killing ban either.
It seems all they have managed to do is herd their sacred animals from the streets, where they eat trash, into unsanitary gaushalas and, in the process, provoke fights among fervent Muslims and Hindus.
Though Kerala, West Bengal and the seven North-East states do permit cow killing, there are an estimated 30,000 illegal slaughterhouses operating around the country where the cow is not treated like a holy animal, I read on an animal rights website.
But I’m on a mission—partly motivated by curiosity and partly by a red meat craving—so I try not to think about how the bovines live on slaughterhouse row. Instead, I ask the karma counters to turn their eyes as I break the law and phone in my order to the beefwala.
Let’s call the beefwala Aman. Aman tells me his son will deliver my order the next day between 1pm and 2pm. I hang up and wonder what kind of 3.5kg beef I am buying for Rs550.
My Spanish room-mate, who misses his native chuleta (steak made from part of an ox leg), salivates for the impending package. My vegetarian American room-mate is clearly not as excited. But he is intrigued nonetheless to learn how a beef transaction happens in this city.
Aman’s son arrives between the given time—a rare encounter with punctuality—and hands over the goods he’s carrying in a plastic bag with a smile.
“So, is this really cow or is it water buffalo?” I ask.
Aman’s son laughs and replies, “I will tell you it’s very nice meat.”
“Cubed or steak?” he asks, changing the subject.
He smiles and cuts the beef into steak strips and rebuffs the rest of my questions.
He won’t even indulge in a little banter about how business is doing. But Aman’s son looks too well dressed and groomed to be a struggling delivery boy, so my guess is the underground beef business is doing quite well.
My housekeeper tells me she met the actual beefwala when she worked for a French family several years ago. Aman told her once that the “very nice meat” comes in from Uttar Pradesh, by train in the middle of the night.
Again, I try not to think about the cow conditions from transport to slaughter and my housekeeper throws the cuts into the pan. Over lunch, my Spanish roomie tells me he’s had better. But, it’s nice to have some “real protein” for a change, he says.
I eat too, but feel a little dirty. The whole situation runs as foul, well, as an illegal slaughterhouse. Foul for the cow, the carnivore, the meatwala trying to run a legal business, and the cow-respecting vegetarian.
Maybe it’s not so hard to get a steak around here, but I think I’ll stick with the mutton.
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