Barely a week after moving to Hong Kong in 1996, I ventured through the unfamiliar territory of North Point wet market to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. As I entered Java road, all I saw were rows of meat stalls, chunks of meat of varying size and shape hanging on hooks. I walked with vigilance, taking tiny steps, sometimes even tiptoeing, to circumvent the rivulets of blood seeping from the meat stalls on either side of the road. I clutched my handbag tightly, dreading it will slip and fall into the bloody mess. I could see meat being chopped with heavy blows. Immediately, I shielded the right side of my face to ban that ghastly sight but I could still hear the cracking of bones and the slushy sound of meat under the butcher knives. The overpowering smell of blood and meat hit my nostrils. I tried to hold my breath for as long as I could. And all I wanted was to buy some vegetables. I should return back.
As I was about to turn back, my head had bumped into something. To my utter horror, I realized I had walked right into the belly of a large pig hanging upside down, outside a shop. The eyes seemed to stare at me accusingly. I had disturbed the pig’s deadly equilibrium! I stood frozen to the spot unable to move. The horror of it! A Tambram woman had just bumped into a dead pig! I came out of the shock and dashed towards home. Such was my trauma!
I rushed home and bathed, scrubbed, and washed my hair multiple times. I called my mother in Chennai and lamented about this horrific incident. My shloka-reciting mother, wearer of the nine-yard sari, and who was steeped in tradition, gasped at the other end. “Aiyayyo…. why do you have to go to such a place? Take a cleansing bath and say a quick prayer. Aiyyo Rama! Even I have to take bath now. I feel polluted even though I live thousands of miles away in Chennai!” The family felt the trauma as well!
After the initial shock, I was more “cool” about my subsequent wet market trips. I learnt that I had to walk through the entire length of open meat stalls in order to reach the Java Road Market to buy good vegetables. Every time I said to myself I could handle this, something new and shocking would pop up. Like the time I saw a guy heaving a bag full of slithering black snakes. Or the time I saw dead frogs sold by the dozen. Then on, every time I went to the market, I sought out things that could “shock” me, even looking out for the good old pig I had bumped into earlier, so I have a story to tell my mother and my siblings in Chennai. The drama of it all entertained my family and they related it to their friends. What would be considered so mundane in a Hong Kong wet market became fodder for “Chinese whisper” amongst my orthodox Brahmin family in Chennai! And my poor mother took a bath for every story I told her. So she could help cleanse me of blasphemy 🙂