Posted by: cochinblogger | August 2, 2010

Sympathy for the Crab

When my parents were living in Calcutta as a newly married couple, my mother decided to cook prawns one day. Her Hindi-speaking skills were nonexistent, so she consulted an English-Hindi dictionary and located the entry for prawn. The corresponding Hindi word was listed as kekda. So, the maid was dispatched to the market for kekda; she returned carrying a bucket, out of which, in front of my mother’s astonished eyes, jumped a few frisky crabs.

My father wrote to the dictionary’s publisher, pointing out the error (I think the correct word is chingdi) and describing its domestic consequences. He received profuse apologies and a promise that the error would be rectified in the next edition. (One can imagine far graver, catastrophic consequences of such errors in dictionaries.)

That is how crabs got off on the wrong foot with my family.

But I’ve since discovered that crabs, unfairly in my opinion, appear to be universally despised.

The story of the Indian crab is known to all Indians. Here is one telling of the story:

Indian Crabs

I normally give cookery books a wide berth, but happened to idly browse through a book I’d bought for my wife called Simple Cooking with Soups, Starters and Salads by celebrity chef Karen Anand. Here is the entry for “crab” under Tips and Terms:

“You must always buy crab live, not dead. This is because crab flesh goes off very fast after it has been killed. The only way to ensure you are getting a fresh one is to buy it alive and do the dirty deed yourself, which can be a bit tricky, or you could ask your fishmonger to kill it for you, but in your presence.

I used to plunge the thing live into boiling water out of fear, but was informed by a Goan nanny we had many years ago that this was completely wrong. It toughens the meat and the precious claws can fall off, leaving you with flavourful water and chewy flesh. The correct way to go about it is to dismember the creature first, clean it by removing the gills and the spongy parts under the shell and then wash it thoroughly. Then you crack the claws and the crab is ready for cooking. Along the way somewhere, the crab sort of dies (probably when you have removed all its moving parts).”

“The thing”? “Live into boiling water”? “Sort of dies”? “Moving parts”?

Look, I’m not asking for a Christian burial, but is it too much to ask that some elementary respect be shown to the animals we kill for our table?

Later, I came across this story (note the 85 comments below the story; it seems to have touched a raw nerve in some folks):

Crabs Feel Pain

Very recently, I found a negative reference to crabs in an unexpected place, the book C. G. Jung: Lord of the Underworld by Colin Wilson. That was the last straw; I just had to blog about it. Here is how Colin Wilson puts it in his book (note that the following excerpt deals with the time when Jung was a schoolboy):

“Jung had made another fundamental discovery. When human beings spend their lives doing the will of others, they could be compared to crabs, a creature that has its skeleton outside. Inside, it is soft. The moment a man feels inspired to do his own will, he turns into a vertebrate, a creature with its skeleton inside. Suddenly, he has a backbone. In our society, few people evolve from crabs into vertebrates, for we become accustomed to doing the will of others from the moment we are born. Jung’s struggle to overcome the habit of defeat had made him aware that he was a vertebrate.”

Readers, please spare a friendly thought for the lowly crab and uphold it in your prayers.

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