Thursday, 4 April 2013

Of God and Food for thought...

Some of  my most profound conversations often transpire with strangers.

Well this one happened when a guy came to paint our garage door the other day. Halfway through, a cup of black tea was duly requested. I brought it out to him but couldn't help noticing the carton of soya milk he produced.

"Oh, dairy allergy, " my mind pinged and I said it aloud.

"No, a vegan by choice," he answered. I was surprised. A white guy who is off milk and meat. I had heard of many vegans but meeting one was a first for me in this country.

My ethnicity and diet has often led to many a a question in the past.  "Is it a  religion diktat or a matter of choice?" and then further clarification, "Does that mean fish is off limits as well?"

Believe it or not, people in the UK often find it difficult, incredulous even, to believe that being a vegetarian means not consuming anything living. Fish included. Our diet often evokes awestruck looks from our non-English acquaintances, literally elevating us to the status of a martyr.

Anyway, so this guy was one step further. No milk or yoghurt either. And that too for a good number of years. He now had my total attention. I asked him how he got by.

"It is very inconvenient for my family but I cook my own food, bake my own cakes. It is not too bad."

I said it was refreshing to meet a white British guy who was off meat just like us. He explained his reason for staying off meat and milk was an expression of solidarity towards animals.

"But for you, it must be a religion thing, isn't it?" It was his turn to probe.

I said yes. But what started off on a religious note was now a matter of choice as well.


Talks turned to religion and suddenly there was a barrage of questions - What is it like being a Hindu? Was I a believer? Did God exist for me?

Taken back, I asked him was he a sceptic? He admitted, he was a cynic who had sampled various forms of beliefs imposed by friends and family.

He had seen the transformation in his troubled sister after she became a Buddhist and accompanies his friend to celebratory evenings of being an evangelist christian at the local church . Both had made unsuccessful attempts to draw him to their beliefs.

"I can empathise with their ideology and wish I could share their faith but I can't."

Taking a sip of his tea with a faraway look in his eye, he asked, "Buddhism believes that there is no self and after death you become at one with the God. Is that how Hinduism works as well?"

I told him yes, the Bhagwad Gita preaches of the soul (aatma) joining the bigger force (paramaatma) but confessed that my knowledge was far too limited to embark on a discussion about it.

How quick are we to typecast people on the basis of their profession! I recalled reading a class survey on the BBC website the other day where some random factors were used to determine people's place in the society. The generalised survey seemed an unfair means of slotting people and after this chat, I began to believe it was more so.

Nonetheless, worried that matters were getting too theological at the cost of the job at hand, I offered to take his empty cup back in.

"Thanks, that was the most interesting tea break I have had in a while," he said as he handed the cup and picked up the brush.

I smiled back at him.

As he resumed the paintwork, I sat down to do the same with words instead.