In Northern India in seventies there was a craze among women to observe fast on Fridays to appease the goddess Santoshi Maa. They would eat only once a day and that too just fruit and vegetables. Even non-vegetarians observed this rule. My family is a purely vegetarian one and my wife and teenager daughter both observed this fast. Unfortunately for me, we boarded the Ariana Afghan Airlines plane owned by the Afghan Government, as Indian planes were not allowed to fly over Pakistan, on a Friday, the day of their fast. It takes just a little over an hour and a half for a plane to fly from New Delhi to Kabul.
We were airborne a little after 2 p.m., after the usual delay, so common on all journeys whether by bus, train or a plane. The plane had just settled to cruising speed when a tired and bored looking bulky airhostess with mongoloid features came to serve us lunch. There was rice pudding with leathery slices of chicken on top of it. I told the airhostess that we were vegetarians and would like to have a vegetarian meal. She frowned wrinkling her forehead and curtly told me to remove the chicken pieces and eat the rice. I realized that even trying to convey to her the idea that we couldn’t even touch anything containing meat, almost like vegans, not to speak of eating it, would be a futility. I looked helplessly atmy wife , who looked very cross and was spitting fire. I cringed and looked the other way. Only my 12-year-old son and I tried in vain to eat the pudding spitting out the fibrous chicken onto the plate with other passengers looking with disdain at us.My wife and daughter remained hungry.
We were lodged in Afghan hotel. The inability to speak or understand Persian was our biggest disadvantage in Afghanistan in early days. Later, however, I learnt the language and I was able to communicate tolerably well in Persian. We were hungry but didn’t know what and how to order something to eat. I decided to try to order tea or chai or whatever they called it there. Qasim, the bearer understood my predicament, smiled at my helplessness and retreated to bring tea. Soon enough he returned with four kettles full of boiled tea, no milk, no sugar. I again tried to explain to him that we needed only four cups not kettles, but all in vein. After a lot of gesticulations and mouth twisting, omelets were also ordered for my son and me. I tried to convince myself that the next best thing after a purely vegetarian meal was eating an omelet. I had persuadedmy wife to have a little patience till I finished my omelet so that after meal I could go to bazaar and bring some fruit for her. We didn’t have an inkling of the type of fat used in preparing it. It was brought but left a greasy insipid taste in my mouth. I was to learn later that it was prepared in some animal fat. I was mystified when subsequently I saw buffalo skin containers full of animal fat stored along the walls of shops in the old city of Kabul.