Misplaced Curiosity 

When it comes to asking irrelevant questions, bordering on obnoxious, “some” people have simply aced the art. Having never had a lot of interest in what people are upto (unless they belong to the class of Obama et al) I find it extremely unnerving when people show undue interest in my life and pass judgements over highly personal choices that are personal to the extent of not having any externality. 

Why/how are you a Vegetarian? 

This is the single most annoying rhetorical/genuine question that just kills my already peanut sized appetite. Looking down upon or ridiculing one’s choice of being vegetarian is a thing amongst Indians in particular. In New York people will either show respect or not bother about you being a vegetarian. Likewise in other parts of the globe. India works differently. Ubiquitous facts about vegetarianism being the superior eating habit don’t matter. 

Every year 70 billion farm animals are produced, most of them indoors, in cramped factory farms. They in turn consume a third of the world’s cereal harvest-essentially cereal that could have fed a billion people. The antibiotic-intensive meat industry also threatens to unleash drug-resistant superbugs.

Farmageddon in Pictures: The True Cost of Cheap Meat by Philip Lymbery gives a graphic account of the unsustainability of the global meat industry; and this is a recent addition to the formidable extant literature on the topic. So if anything I should be questioning the meat eaters’ preferences rather than the other way round.

The reason I get annoyed with this mostly Indian habit is this. Friends will call you to meet up, an evening of socialising that you have no desire or time for. They insist and you end up going only to be told, in a highly contemptuous, mocking and condescending tone, something to the effect of “Damn! You’re a vegetarian. Now we will have to order something for you. Why the hell are you still vegetarian?” I’ve always wanted to give a piece of my mind to the blessed souls: Firstly, not taking the My Life, My Choice rhetoric as far as Deepika Padukone did, my food habits are definitely my choice, my personal choice that I don’t expect others to comment on. Secondly, let’s just contend with the fact that my taste buds got burnt somewhere along the way as I was growing up. Since I was eating to live anyway I thought that may be I should choose the healthier, more environment friendly and less violent mode of eating. I didn’t see the problem in moving a step down the food chain and frankly the move hasn’t done me any harm so far. Thirdly, since a lot of us are not vegetarian by religion but by choice stop trying to tempt us with all the try it once bull shit. If you can’t respect our choices at least don’t make a fool of yourself with all the buffoonery. Fourthly, all the information about proteins and nutrition in meat comes to nought if you look at the way meat is generally prepared in this country (all the deep frying with spices galore) and its quality. Vegetarianism or the lack of it should not be a topic of conversation. We could discuss the merits and demerits of these dietary habits in an objective fashion without questioning each other’s food preferences. 

Why do you not drink?

Had this been a genuinely inoccuous interest in your reasoning behind abstaining from alcohol you would humour this curiosity. But generally this is a rhetorical question aimed at judging you for being “uncool” and “not fun”. That the decision to drink should be governed by the maxim to each their own is lost on most people. There was a time when I was a teetotaller surrounded by nincompoops who would drive me nuts over trying out a drink and their constant questioning of my drinking habits bordered on harassment. Come to think of it. “Drinking” is an acquired habit. No one is born with a taste for alcohol. You develop it. So while some do, others don’t. The natural question should be from the teetotaller to the drinker asking him/her what made him/her take to alcohol.

What do you do? What’s your package?…

A few days back a blessed soul had texted me regarding life and after life at Indian Statistical Institute. While inquiring about which books to study for the entrance he suddenly asked “If you don’t mind me asking what are you doing currently?” I don’t think he realised the benevolence that Lady Luck had bestowed upon him that day, the fact that the conversation was happening over messages just got him “No offence but that is not relevant to the conversation here.” It’s not just this incident. Go back home and people (read “school friends”) ask you about your “package”, about your designation and blah that not only is rude but something that even I have stopped keeping a tab of. The one thing I figured out in my brief stint in the corporate was that designations are simply HR’s creativity. Manager, project manager, assistant manager, vice assistant manager, lead assistant manager….the management just goes on. The beauty was in the amount that actually got managed by the whole managerial pyramid. It would do a lot of good if people instead discussed relatively mundane but more kind “How was your day” or “Do you like your work” kind of questions.

How much will you study? Won’t you get married?

If I plan to do a second, third or fourth masters or a PhD, how does that bother someone who doesn’t have to fund or do the study on my behalf beats me. The won’t you get married blah, well, it’s like this: I will when I will.

Why are you still single? 

Bertram Wooster and Henry Higgins are my role model. Does that suffice? Single, not single, I don’t understand why the profound “Why” should be prefixed to this topic. This same “Why” when applied to more pressing concerns like the apple falling from the tree has been the force behind the greatness of Newton. But in wanting to know the “why” behind people being single or quadruple is not going to get us anywhere.

There are a lot of things to talk about. Movies, books, politics, the profound 3 am origin of the universe talks, cats versus dogs-the better pet, Cows…. Avoiding the annoying and going for more neutral and impersonal questions seems to be the weakly dominant strategy to me. But to each his own.


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