We (my immediate family) have a rather tenuous relationship with religion.
Like a now on-now, now-off affair between lovers who really don't see eye-to-eye and are a little mortified at the prospect of a lifelong marriage-type commitment... but since they can't see where else they could go for relief and familiar acceptance, they jsut stay.
And so, whenever confronted with the ridiculous, the mad, the incongruous, the false, the stretched-to-limits-of-incredulity in our religion, our reactions range from a shrug to a laugh.
Often, I try to examine my own, and my family's, attitudes to the religion we were born into, to study the multi-pronged fork with which we stab at it, and the social sabre it uses, in turn, to stun us into conformity.
When inviting distant relatives over for dinner, my mother spends several hours agonizing over the choice between veg/non-veg. This is as much a mehmaan-nawaazi dilemma, as it is a religious one.
It is serious stuff because, culturally, if there's no maas-machhi on the menu, our guests won't feel honoured. Mutton or chicken or both are expected, sort of, when you call people over.
On the other hand, there's this business of halaal and haraam. You have to make sure the meat-shop is a Muslim guy's shop.
This is the part where I suffer horribly because, if the butcher isn't obviously muslim - wearing a cap, a beard and a checked lungi, and a big chalk sign somewhere saying 'halaal', how am I to know?
In Delhi, with new, swankier kebab-shops opening up where the names are cosmopolitan and the shopkeepers rather suave, clean-shaven people, I have no way of knowing halaal from haraam. And I refuse to find out. Besides, I don't care. Why should I ask?
But my mom points out that it might bother our guests.
I point out - we don't need to tell them.
Mom points out - but they may not eat, if they suspect it's not halaal.
I point out - not my concern. Let them go hungry.
Mom points out - It is our concern. The food will go waste.
I am silenced, at this point.
My solution to this is simple though - let's just not call people who're so touchy about their meat.
Mom say - it's not a solution at all. You can't escape family.
But later, as we finally eat our suspect-halaal kebabs, mom muses - But what do these people do at MacDonalds? Do they ask for halaal burgers?
And I try to recall a single instance when somebody has questioned MacDonalds' burgers' halaal quotient. I can't.
I see plenty of burqa-clad, head-scarf-donning women at MacD's. I see Arab men. Nobody kicks up a fuss. Yet, these same people do kick up a huge fuss when it comes to the neighbourhood butcher-shop...
And I completely fail to understand - why?
I've heard Mohammad (the prophet) himself ate without kicking up a fuss. He ate with tribal chieftains who weren't necessarily his followers. He ate with Europeans, Greeks. I can't imagine him checking with the chefs.
But then, they say that religion is not about Mohammad alone, not anymore. Religion is never about its origins, its prophets, its holy books. I'm still trying to figure out why.