On the day of the wedding Manjula was woken by loud cries from the street. She sat up in fright and started praying: “O Deva! Jesus Lord, save us!”
A cousin of hers sitting nearby put her saree end to her mouth to hide her smile. “What, Papa, no need to be scared. They’re chasing the pig.”
When Prasanna Rao announced to the village that his son was getting married, the first thing everyone thought of was the pig. A wedding in an untouchable colony is a festival for the whole colony. At the center of the festival is the feast, and at the center of the feast is the pig. As soon as a match is fixed, both the bride’s house and the groom’s house get hold of a piglet, either buying one in an untouchable market or catching a stray one. For months the families raise their pigs with great care. No one is allowed to talk harshly to it, even if it should get in their way: “Hey, watch your mouth! That’s the wedding pig!” The families feed it as well as they can, giving it starch water left after rice is cooked if they can afford or sometimes even cattle fodder. Most untouchable families don’t have that kind of food to spare, but the best thing about a pig is it can very well feed itself. The staple for pigs in India is what’s delicately called malinam—filth. They eat human shit. So if the wedding family is too poor to feed their pig it’s not a big deal. The pig goes around the village eating shit and gets just as fat. And despite its feeding habits, a pig brings untouchables immense delight. They often marvel: “Shit it may eat, but a pig’s meat is the sweetest meat of all!”
But the announcement of Satyam’s wedding meant more than just the prospect of a pig. Prasanna Rao had risen above the condition of all those he’d left behind in Sankarapadu. He was a teacher, not a farmhand. He had lived in cities and towns. He interacted with caste people, with other educated, employed people. In the eyes of the villagers he was wealthy—he had a job and he owned four and a half acres of land. His son was the first ever college-going man from that village. So you can imagine the joy and expectation surrounding news of his eldest and favorite son getting married. There would be a lot of pork at his feast. Prasanna Rao might even get a pig from that exotic new breed.
Only a year or two earlier, a new breed of pig had arrived in India. They’re called the seema pandulu—“European pigs.” Some call them “red pigs.” They came from Russia and their skin is pink and hairless and smooth. They’re raised on farms, in pens, not let loose in the streets, and get fed a calibrated diet with all kinds of nutrients added. They grow many times fatter and larger than the Indian pigs. In fact, they seem to have nothing in common with the black, hairy, filthy native pigs. Not everyone can afford to eat European pigs, and few are equipped to raise them. In Krishna district they’re raised in a special farm in a place called Gannavaram. Whenever anyone tries to raise these foreign pigs on his own, in his own house, pretty soon it loses its caste and is transformed into an ordinary Indian pig, its pink turning to black, its fat shrinking away, as it runs around in the streets, wallowing in sewers and swallowing their contents.
Everyone in the village looked forward to tasting a European pig at Prasanna Rao’s son’s wedding. But Prasanna Rao’s son had other ideas.
Even though Satyam stayed in the untouchable colony in Gudivada and spent almost all his summer and winter holidays in Sankarapadu, he had spent his childhood in the city where caste oppression is not as naked. Unlike most untouchables he had gone to school and was now going to college. All through school and college he made friends with caste people. In his political circles also he had many caste friends. In high school his best friends were the Pinnamaneni brothers. They were the sons of the wealthy kamma landowning family of Rudrapaka. Their father had set up an opulent house in Gudivada for his sons’ education. Satyam often used to go there with his other friends. While everyone else entered through the front door, Satyam always had to go in through the back door and was warned to slink out of sight were Papa Pinnamaneni to make an unexpected appearance. To Satyam that didn’t feel like a big deal. One has to respect other people’s customs and traditions. In the Communist Party also he had many caste friends. He thought of himself as someone in the same league as his kamma friends, someone who is struggling to uplift untouchables.
So when the matter of the pig came up it was painful for him to realize that his relatives were so different from his caste friends. He had attended so many of his friends’ weddings in Gudivada and none of them served meat, except of course Nancharayya who was also an untouchable. Satyam thought it was uncultured and even barbaric to eat meat. Especially at occasions like births, funerals, and weddings where it’s inauspicious. And that too pork. A pig, to caste Hindus, is a symbol of filth. Untouchables are commonly associated with two creatures: the crow because of its blackness and the pig because of its filthiness.
When people assembled under the banyan tree to plan the feast (the expenses are the responsibility of the families of the bride and groom, but everyone in the village has a role in preparing it) Satyam told them there was going to be no pig.
The elders took the cigars out of their mouths.“What, what! A wedding feast with no pig?”
Satyam said, “Yes, not just no pig. There’s not going to be any meat.”
They couldn’t believe their ears. The most fabulous wedding they would ever attend was turning into the worst wedding they had ever heard of. They wanted nothing to do with it. Men, women, and children turned and went home disappointed. Their disappointment wasn’t this much or that much. It was too much. Satyam saw their drooping shoulders and heard their murmurs of discontent, but he wasn’t moved.
Discussion in the village went on busily for several days. In the end the elders came to Prasanna Rao with a proposal: how about a pig for the village and hens for the “having-read people” (the educated ones). Satyam said, “Never!” Prasanna Rao, on this issue, took his son’s side. He had stopped eating beef in Vizag for the sake of being allowed to rent a place to live and now the thought of it revolted him. If he wouldn’t have beef, there was no question of his allowing pork. Instead of a pig, he had bought sacks of vegetables and—from some kammas whose children he taught in Thelaprolu—some strange uppercaste flour-based foods: appadams and laddoos.
One thing saved the wedding from boycott. It was that neither Prasanna Rao nor Satyam had a say in what the bride’s family could or could not serve at their feast on the night of the wedding. Everyone knew Kutumba Rao had been raising a pig for the last few months.
It was not clear whether Kutumba Rao had bought his pig or caught it himself, but it was a black Indian pig. That was the pig the young men in the village were chasing the morning of the wedding day, waking Manjula with their screams.
Manjula went out to watch the six very agile young men running, their loincloths pulled tight, their bodies shiny with sweat, cigars clenched between their molars, armed with long thick sticks. One carried a special net. The whole child-folk of the village, twenty, thirty of them, naked, dust-coated, wild-haired, runny-nosed—the girls among them also all naked but for silver, copper, or snail-shell anklets—ran alongside the hunters. Everyone was screaming and the pig was screeching louder than the people. Wild with fear it whizzed past the huts, trying to escape the murderous crowd. A cloud of dust rose from under the hooves of the fleeing pig and the feet of the chasing men. It wasn’t clear whether Kutumba Rao had fed his pig or it had fed itself, but it turned out to be a fine pig, ready for the feast. It’s amazing with how little food and care a pig can get so fat. Its plentiful muscle would easily feed the whole village for days. And it ran so fast.
The reason for chasing the pig instead of tying it down and butchering it is to save its blood. The blood is what makes it tasty. So they scare the pig with their shouts and make it run for its life until it collapses on its own from exhaustion.
Men and women of the village came out of their huts to look at the spectacle—the pig running and squealing, the men right behind it screaming and chasing, the children cheering them on from behind. Young women and girls admired the muscles rippling beneath the men’s glistening brown skin as they wielded their sticks. Each thought fondly how her own man ran faster than the rest, how he tackled the pig expertly to the ground. The men were aware the women were watching, and they tried their hardest to impress them.
The pig ran and ran until, after half an hour, it could run no more and fell to the ground. One hunter threw his special net over it and the others raised their sticks and beat it into semi-consciousness. They carried it to the center of the village and tied its snout shut with a rope. They tied its front legs to a pole and stood it up on its hind legs. The dazed pig looked at the sky.
As a piglet grows in size, its neck soon gets so fat that as long as it lives it is never able to lift its head and look at the sky. But a wedding pig, in the last moments of its life when it is tied to a pole and stood up on its hind legs, lifts its eyes and for the first time in its adult life it gazes skyward. Untouchables will say of an unfortunate man who has lived in poverty all his life, never having had a moment of happiness but for a small respite at the end when his son gets a job and is finally able to take care of his parents: “Veedu pandi lanti vadandi. Chacchipoyye mundu akasanni choosedu.” (This fellow is a fellow like a pig. He saw the sky for the first time, at the end of his life.)
On that wedding morning the hunters gently roasted the still-living pig and carried it to the bride’s house. They unhinged the front door and laid the pig down on it. Two elders, uncle Nallayya and cousin Abednego, were invited to do the honors and carve the pig.
A few years before there had been a brahmin in Gudivada who worshipped Gandhi. He spread the principles of non-violence among all and sundry, especially the cruel and crude untouchables. One day he found himself in an untouchable colony where a wedding was taking place. Before the men could lay the pig on the door, the brahmin lay down in its place and wept. “How can you get hands to hurt this voiceless animal? Have you no heart? Haven’t you heard the teachings of our great spirit Gandhi?” He told the untouchables to cut him up before they took a knife to that creation of God. The youth in that colony, full-drunk, took hold of the brahmin and were ready to do as he said when their elders prevented them in the nick of time. The brahmin never tried that particular tactic again.
He didn’t even stay to watch what they did next. If he had he might have fainted. Surrounded by sixty, seventy people, the wedding cooks separated out the intestines, which would make a tasty sauté. Other special parts were carefully removed: the heart, the brain, and the liver. A curry made out of these is not meant for everyone. A portion is given to the pastor who performs the wedding and the rest goes to the wedding families. For days the pig fed the whole colony. They made soup with its bones and curries out of its testicles and hooves. People swore how divine it is to eat pork fry while drinking. The taste is not comparable to any other meat. “Chicken is nothing,” they’d say.
But the affair of the pig is more than its taste. It’s the circus of hunting it, the feats of the men. It’s heroic, it’s romantic. It’s a metaphor, it’s rhetoric, it’s erotic. It is deeply philosophical. But these are all superstructures. At the base, it’s economic.
“The cheapest meat for the cheapest man on earth.”