So days here feel strangely long and short at the same time. Long because I am aware of the heat and am experiencing unfamiliar things, and short because at the end of the day, I feel like a lot has happened and another day has passed. I also forget a lot that we do.
At the moment there is a small boy sat to my right, getting mixed up between English and Urdu words for things like fruit. He and his sister have been drawing pictures in my notebook (so it’s now illustrated with random things like bags and watches) and we played catch in the garden.
The last few days have been interesting. My family is handling my vegetarianism well, I think. Although we had to have an intense talk about why I have chosen to be so – even though I’m barely vegetarian since I happily eat fish. They understood after a while, my urdu is sufficient enough I think, for them to understand well, although they remain a little unconvinced. They constantly ask me what I would like to eat. I keep trying to say that I will eat whatever they give me or whatever they’d like me to eat provided it is vegetarian, but they disagree. For them, this is a good opportunity to treat me even more, and to make what i’d like since we see each other so little. My grandmother also remains exceptionally, sweetly, tuned in to my eating and drinking. If half an hour passes and she hasn’t seen me with either a drink or sustenance, then she grows worried. The rest of the family now, has accepted that I will get drinks when I want, and will let them know if I don’t like anything – that said, they still check that the dishes they cook will be okay.
So far the notable home cooking I have eaten has been:
- Fish biryani (Soo gooood!)
- Palak dahl (spinach and lentils)
- TARKARI!!! (basically the best thing ever. It’s a potato curry, which is very sauce based and has small segments of potato)
- Harra Mirchi Saalan (green chilli curry)
My Bhabi (sister-in-law except actually cousin-in-law) is also pretty into her veg which is great!
I also had a very very long discussion with my Mamu (uncle who I’m staying with) in which we debated lots of topics. Censorship of literature (Salman Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ mostly), reactions to Charlie Hebdo’s magazine depiction of the Prophet and the shooting, gender equality, and living by Islam in non-Islamic countries. I’m confused about the terms ‘non-Islamic country’ and ‘Islamic country’ – because since when can land have a religion, and what does it mean for people who aren’t muslims to live in an ‘Islamic country’? Still, the term is useful and gets the message across.
My Mamu (uncle who we’re staying with), thinks that censorship is right. If someone writes something that is ‘wrong’, it should be banned. He was particularly unhappy with things hat depict Islam badly or ridicule it. that said, my Mamu is a teddy bear, so I don’t worry when he says this, he’s a good man and wouldn’t hurt anyone. What he seeks is censorship in the first place, and protest, not violence or any such thing. I personally have very different views. I think that people should be allowed to write things that I don’t like, and it’s up to the reader to use their judgement to decide whether they agree or disagree. Whether its about religion or politics or anything, I don’t think censorship is the answer.
We carried on like this, my uncle being quite conservative and religious, me being quite liberal. It was fun, we debated, and tested each other’s views, an ultimately it was quite nice because it was a real discussion in which we tried hard to persuade each other, but still respected one another’s views. I feel like I rarely meet anyone who has such different views to me, but whom I can still debate with and not feel like we’ve hit a stumbling block in our friendship.
Something that is interesting here is that religion isn’t a side discussion, or a different topic. Life lessons are taught through religious anecdotes, points are made by citing a Qur’anic verse or prayer, and politics is thought of, often, with a religious point of view in mind. Saying ‘Christ’ in England is largely accepted as a turn of phrase, but here, to say ‘Ya Allah’ often doubles as an actual addressing of Allah.
For a lot of people I know, this is a bad way to live or is senseless or silly or ignorant. I find it strange, but not bad. I may be biased towards my family but I can judge well enough and can tell that they definitely aren’t ignorant, silly or bad. There’s genuine belief that religion pervades every moment of your life, and that that is right. And as well as driving politics, religion allows for some form of action for empathy and love alongside pragmatic action. Love is shown through prayer – a child brings you water and they are given a prayer for long life and health; someone feels ill, and another will pray for their health as they take medicine or drink water. And the person who receives the prayer feels good about it.