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March 09, 2007


[I am reposting this comment from http://acorn.nationalinterest.in/2007/03/25/sunday-levity-new-delhi-bbq/#comments just in case Mark does not see it there.]

Philip, the protagonist in W Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, makes himself a provisional rule on how he ought to behave. It was: “Follow your inclinations with due regard to the policeman round the corner.”

India is de facto a fairly liberal place even though de jure it is illiberal, puritanical, and restrictive. People generally live and let live. Thankfully theocratic oppression is largely absent given that an overwhelming majority are non-monotheists. Compare India to its Islamic neighbors and you will see what I mean. Sure, some Indians would not look upon you favorably if you were to disregard their religious and cultural sensitivities and consume beef. Indeed, a significant percentage (but not a majority) would even disapprove of any non-vegetarian food. But they will not go on a rampage and harm you if you do get yourself a nice juicy beef steak. The worst they will do is to ostracize you. Big deal.

For Mr Straub beef is comfort food, and he has every right to consume it at home, and abroad if the laws of the land permit that. Writing about the difficulties he had in finding a good steak on his personal blog is not a crime either, although one may consider it is in poor taste (pardon the pun). Civilized sensitive behavior may require that one does not unknowingly offend one’s hosts. Note, I write “unknowingly.” If the intension if to provoke deliberately, that is a different matter altogether.

Though cliched, doing as the Romans do while in Rome is a pragmatic principle. It may not be illegal to eat beef but it may be culturally insensitive to rub the faces of your vegetarian hosts into the grill. Sometimes a distintion is made between being right and being correct: Mr Straub is right but may not be correct. Different people would make different calls on this subject and they may all be right.

I am sure that he would be much more circumspect about eating a pork tenderloin in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. Even if by any chance he did have one, he would dare not publish his experience. That he has that freedom in India, I am immensely grateful for. Though India is not entirely free, it could have been much worse.

I want India to be a country with the maximum degree of freedom consistent with a liberal society. Fortunately, it has a lot going for it to become that — the greatest of which is that ethically and culturally it is Hindu. I note that it is not a Hindu country (unlike say England which is a Christian country) but then it does not have to be one since it is de facto a Hindu nation. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nation).

The guest is considered a representative of god by the dominant ethic of the land. So if Mr Straub is reading this, please feel welcome in our country and may you have a very agreeable stay.

Atanu Dey

Thanks Atanu,
I will.

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