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Notes from a talk by Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik, about food and the philosophy it contained in ancient Hindu India at Tata Lit Live:

Food is divine.

What is ancient India? When does it begin? One thing could be, before we ate potatoes because potatoes came with the Portuguese. … Tomato, chilli, so imagine India without samosa. The samosa came with the Turkish people. Samosa was actually packed with meat. But the Indians said we want something Indian inside it. Called a potato.

Everything that comes into India, it’s invented in India. … It reveals a very fragile self esteem.

Food is divine and in India, the divinity goes to sleep.

We are obsessed with food in our scriptures. Food is called anna and flesh is called anna-kosha. Food is flesh and flesh is food. You are food for someone. Before they eat you, we burn you. Effectively, food for the elements.

Hunger is the sign of life. If you’re alive, you’re hungry.

Human can eat the plant, humans can eat minerals also. We can eat animals. But who eats us? Mera mulya kya hai? What’s my value? Nobody wants to eat us. And we are saying, I want value without being eaten. I want to give value without eating. How do I do that? Therefore meaning comes into the picture. … So we are hungry for meaning. … See how the metaphor shifts.

Brahmana — expansion of your mind. Mana means mind, braha means expansion.

Can I feed you meaning? Suddenly, the act of eating is the act of finding meaning. Therefore, food is identity.

Only in our country we can eat while fasting.

Thali is about inclusion and each one of us can mix the food. So you will eat dal with rice, he will eat achaar [pickle] with it … It is allowed. So long as you use your right hand. … What you eat is highly customised. The cook doesn’t know what you’ve eaten. You have decided the portions. That is the thali. It’s a standardised plate…but you can eat whatever you want. You can customise it.

One is you thank god for the food [saying grace]. One is you thank food because food is god [Hindu pre-meal ritual]. See the difference?

The act of eating is violence. Not what you eat.

The word bhagawaan was a title initially for the ones who conquered hunger.

If you’re not hungry, you’re not even interested in other people’s hunger.

Food is violence. If anyone thinks food is not violence, they don’t understand philosophy.

We have been conditioned to believe violence is bad. Then stop eating.

This idea of denying people water, denying what they want to eat, is hinsa. One of the philosophies is this idea. … If you think you can escape violence, you’re deluding yourself. Phir Shivji ki tarha pahaar pey baitho. [Then live up on a mountain like Shiva.] But he in not eating becomes the destroyer.

Until the 10th century AD, sugar was only available in India. … We don’t realise sugar became popular only in the last 1,000 years.

Were ancient Indians vegetarian or non-vegetarian? Remember vegetarian or non-vegetarian, as far as philosophy is concerned, you’re both violent. Jeevan hinsa hai. [Life is violence.] That is a fundamental. Kitna hinsa thik hai [How much violence is right] depends on argument. And guns.

A bullock is a castrated bull, you should say eunuch. When it’s castrated, it is used to plough fields so that rice and cereals and vegetables can grow. And the crop is going to be carried in bullock carts. … Every time you eat food, remember, millions of bulls, over five thousand years, were deprived of their testicles so that you will eat your vegetarian/ non-vegetarian food. Hinsa, ahimsa? Animal rights activists? Is it acceptable violence or unacceptable violence?

That’s how India has always been designed. It will never give you a clear answer.

Ramayana mein kya likha hai? Valmiki Ramayana padho. [What is written in the Ramayana? Read Valmiki’s Ramayana.] … When Ravan comes to her house, she’s saying that, ‘Don’t worry, my husband is just coming. What do you want? Deer? Mongoose? Pakad ke lata hai. Sab khana pakake doongi. Ramanand Sagar is not going to show you that. That’s not going to be shown on television. Of course you can argue, Sanskrit is a metaphorical language and what you actually think is venison is guava. Amrut? All left liberal translations turn everything into meat.

What was Buddha’s last meal? Ask the liberal, he’ll say pork fat. Ask the conservative — mushrooms. Poisonous mushrooms.

When I say black flesh [in Sanskrit], does it mean jamun [Indian blackberry]? Or does it mean nilgai? Go figure. The decision depends on who you are. Not on the data. … It is the interpreter who decides the truth.

In Kamba Ramayana, first comment of Rama to Sita, ‘You must have eaten non-vegetarian food.’ Kamba Ramayana written one thousand years earlier, Valmiki Ramayana written two thousand years earlier. See the difference. Which is the correct Ramayana? Who decides? The interpreter.

We can feed everyone. We can also eat everyone.

Decide how much violence is acceptable to you and do not be under the delusion that you will be non-violent. Ever.

Ancient India is not just brahmin. It’s not just male. It’s everybody.

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