by Anindya Bhattacharyya
“I’m going to kill a cow,” he declared, scrutinising my face.
I stared back blankly. There was a short awkward silence.
“So are you offended by that? I bet you’re really offended by that.”
He would then proceed to explain why I ought to be offended by him killing a cow – but also why I ought not to be offended, because worshipping cows was just stupid you see.
This scene, with minor variations, was a pretty regular occurrence while I was growing up. At first I tried to explain that my parents were from Bengal and the cow thing wasn’t a big deal in Bengal. But that cut no ice. They’d read it in a book somewhere that Indians worshipped cows, and that settled the matter.
Later I changed tack, pointing out that while cow worship might look ridiculous to Western eyes it might make more sense in a pastoral society. But again that cut no ice – worshipping cows was just stupid you see, and that was self-evident, and anyone who failed to get that was just stupid you see.
And after a while the blank stares became cold stares as I realised this wasn’t really about cows, or offence, or superstition, or reason, or anything like that. But it took me a while to work that out.