LAL BHAAJI

2019, developed in Pune, India

Manusmriti paper pulp, ceramics

‘Lal Bhaaji’ literally translates to ‘red vegetable’. Though this is also a commonly eaten leafy red and green plant, ‘lal bhaaji’ is often used as code for beef amongst some Dalit communities in Maharashtra, so as not to let members of other castes know that they are eating beef. This code, and therefore, the shame of eating and enjoying beef, has existed long before the enforcement of the beef ban in this state.

Today, both the code and the beef eating have, in many parts, become memories and stories to share, nothing more. Indeed, my family, wishing to cut off all ties to their Dalit past, have now turned vegetarian, and the very mention of beef makes them scowl. Since I am left with only the story of ‘lal bhaaji’, my imagination will have to suffice to recreate what this specific dish may look like.   

Ceramic pieces of meat, pooris, and bones, stuffed with pages from the Hindu law book, the Manusmriti, lie strewn about, discarded. Some merge into a muddy pink sheet of rough Manusmriti paper pulp, and some lie on the cement floor.   

Using the Manusmriti as an active ‘ingredient’ of this ‘lal bhaaji’ is an attempt to conjure new memories associated with the act of eating beef; those not of shame, but of bravery, not of helplessness, but of resistance in the face of Manu’s laws and the wretched caste system.