Shaukat Ajmeri

Mickey Mouse and Afghan veggie kabab

2-minute read

This past weekend we went to an Afghan restaurant, and the choices on the menu was an affront – at least to a vegetarian. Between Veggie Mince Kabab and Veggie Chapli Kabab there was not much to choose from. For a split-second the carnivore in me reared its bloody head again, and like so many previous occasions, was quickly nipped into oblivion. Transitioning from a meat-eating culture is not easy. Temptations lie in wait every time you sit down to eat.

The funny thing is, Afghans treat their vegetable the way the Taliban treat their women – they never let them out. The veggies in my kabab must have been grown and prepared in some dark place and were perhaps seeing the light of day for the first time when it was put on plate in my honour. I felt a pang of pity for this thing, and was in no mood to give it any further grief. But pangs of hunger soon overtook and I dug into the kabab with gusto and started masticating it down to another dark place. The palate was not impressed. The kabab tasted just the way the dry, arid Afgan countryside would.

As if eating veggie kabab in an Afghan restaurant wasn’t odd enough, there soon appeared a Mickey Mouse character. The irony of this this life-size mouse in this setting was not lost on the people around. I felt a mixture of empathy and revulsion. Empathy for the poor, desperate guy who was driven to make a living in this manner. The burqa-clad Afghan women, I wondered, might feel no different from him – claustrophobic, demeaned and forced. But at least this guy had a choice. Apparently.

Revulsion because here was this Disney character symbolising everything American. And here was this restaurant representing everything Afghan. One a ruthless imperial occupying power. The other its poor, helpless victim. To see a Mickey Mouse in this context seemed a cruel joke – but only from a safe North American perspective.

In Afghanistan, joke was hardly the word one would associate with the savage American occupation. Afghans have been raped, ravaged and killed by the thousands and their country laid to waste. But all that cruelty and savagery as well as the cry and pain of the victims seemed distant and surreal. Just like the panoramic idyllic Afghanistan that the restaurant owner proudly displayed on the walls. For a moment the mind wandered trying to make sense of this mad, mad world but soon returned to the joys of the veggie kabab. All of a suddend, it tasted like irony.