Multiverse Chronicles: A Dream of Culinary Liberalism
Imagine an alternate universe where the evolution of religious ideology took a different turn, swapping one taboo for another. It’s a place where the focus of religious scrutiny is not the second basic instinct of humans, but the first. This is a world that enjoys sexual liberalism and full gender equality, but new restrictions have been imposed in the name of morality..
Fawad spreads himself out on the couch and runs his fingers through his hair. There’s nothing good on TV – nothing to take his mind off the dreadful series of events of yesterday. He settles for a channel airing a discussion between a crambazzled American and a scantily-clad priestess with a noose-necklace, a religious symbol Fawad had developed much disdain for.
“All I know is that fried foodstuff is haram.” says the priestess vehemently. “We will not stand for West’s interference in our affairs. This is not our moral code. This is not our law. This is God’s law, and must be obeyed!”
The American shakes his head. “That’s fine, but what compassionate God would demand us to stone gluttons to death? Don’t you find such punishment itself to be an immoral one? I mean, such inhuman..”
“No! No! They cannot act like animals and demand to be treated humanely.” The predominantly religious crowd applauds. “These laws are here for a very good reason.”
“Those laws and morals are based on your beliefs, not mine! It’s moral relativism! What you find immoral isn’t necessarily..”
“So if I find murder to be ‘moral’, does that mean..”
“Can I please finish?” says the American hotly. “No, murder’s different because then you’re impinging upon somebody else’s freedom to exist. If a person eats a hamburger in the privacy of his own home (the priestess winces), it’s nobody’s business but his!”
“We have to intervene for the greater good of the society! Our religion grants much liberty to its followers. One may eat almost anything he likes in privacy, but some things are just plain unacceptable! It’s not religion, it’s pure science! There’s direct association between consumption of fried foods and heart disease. Even if we choose to forgive them, nature won’t! Atherosclerosis is Almighty’s curse upon these gluttons! In your country, you have fat people walking smugly around the streets! People eating in public! In public!”
“What, you think we don’t know? In our country, you know what happens to these immoral creatures? These…these..walking abominations? We punish them!” Crowd roars. “We punish them and we ensure that this travesty does not become a norm!”
Fawad turns off the TV. “Stupid burgerchompin’ priesties!”
“Language!” Fawad’s dad, Masood, had appeared in the room out of nowhere, wearing a frown on his forehead and a murderous look in his eyes. Fawad drops the remote and jumps up.
“Oh..uh..dad.” he stammers.
“Shouldn’t you be at work right now?” Dad asked. Fawad works at the flagship store of a sex-toy giant, McZest, in downtown Lahore. Sex-toys are a lucrative business and despite his struggles to climb the corporate ladder, he still hasn’t gone any further than the bottom rung. He has now almost given up on his dream, and accepted the possibility that he just might remain a loser forever.
“I’m not feeling very well. But I asked Hamid to cover for me.” Hamid is a demonstrator at the store, and a particularly friendly person.
“You’re not gonna get promoted glued to the couch like that, are ya?” Dad scoffed. “Hannan’s getting his second book published this month. Meera’s already a successful lingerie model. Do you have any ambitions at all?”
Fawad has ambitions, but none that would be accepted by the society. He’s a natural cook. He makes a terrific fruit parfait and various kinds of salads. He’s a bona fide artist with dough and occasionally, if he can get his mitts on a bottle of oil or some animal fat, make sinfully delectable potato wedges. None, however, are talents that he may share with the world.
Or at least, not in his world. Fawad knows that on the other side of the planet, exist people with a moral code malleable enough to accept, if not truly appreciate, the culinary arts. Fawad is a Pakistani left-winger, which is usually the same as a Western right-winger, but that’s not strictly true in this case. He longs to escape. Even more so since yesterday when, quite foolishly he now believes, brought some homemade samosas to work to eat in his break. He had underestimated Jaweria’s (one of his co-workers) bloodhound-like sense of smell. Expectedly, she raised quite a ruckus. Fawad denied having anything to do with the fried food.
Fawad is a perpetually depressed loner and a low-grade sociopath. He’s neither very handsome, nor too charming. Unlike most young men, he doesn’t wear clothing that allow every contour of his body to be appreciated. He doesn’t have a very nice body – in fact, he’s been getting little bulky around the middle, which is a cause for concern. If he gains any more weight, the morality police won’t spare him. He loves eating food as much as he loves cooking it. He can’t help it.
His dad leaves the house. The bang of the front door behind him reverberates through the lobby for a few seconds, playing havoc on Fawad’s mind. He’s in enough trouble already – he needs all the allies he can recruit in the upcoming struggle.
He rushes to the computer to check his Facebook account. His friends list is down by eight friends; his inbox teeming with hate messages; his wall splattered with videos about how eating fried food is not just a sin, but a health hazard. If this gets any worse, the administration will have to take action. Fawad can’t have that. Not after all the strings his dad had to pull to get him this job. If things are ugly now between him and his dad..
Fawad calls the only friend he can trust in such dire circumstances.
“Oye, Hamid. What’s the status?” Fawad inquires anxiously.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Hamid yells. “I mean..have you gone completely out of your mind?”
“What’s it like over there?”
“These people want your head on a platter! Everybody’s talking about it. You hear this noise in the background? They’re all discussing that crap you pulled yesterday.”
Fawad feels a chill running down his spine. “Have you told them that the..thing..wasn’t mine?”
“I’m trying, but nobody’s listening. Damn, why couldn’t you just bring a piece of fruit or something? It’s embarrassing enough to be caught having food in the workplace….but a samosa?! Jaweria’s the leader of your lynch mob right now. They went to the manager and demanded that you be fired.”
“Okay..” Fawad tries to sound calm. “How did the manager respond?”
“Expect a call from him soon. They’ll probably have to fire you.” Fawad buries his face in the palm of his hand. “I’m sorry, man. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
“Is there any chance at all that..”
“Talk to your dad. I know it’s hard for you, but you need his support right now.This could get a lot uglier than what it seems right now, and if it does, you’ll be needing his connections.”
This is the last thing Fawad wants to do. His father doesn’t walk around with a miniature noose hanging from his belt, but he is a very conservative man indeed. He’s a successful lawyer, and has prosecuted many gluttons. The punishment for eating in public is a hundred stripes, and for eating fried food, death through stoning. Worst of all, he’s an idealist. Fawad has his doubts if the man would spare even his own son.
He paces across his room for an hour thinking of a way to break the news to his dad, if need be. He’s spared the inconvenience by a phone call from his dad in high dudgeon.
“WHAT AM I HEARING?!” His father bellows. Clearly, he has connections. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!”
“I…I’m..sorry.” Fawad stutters, trembling in his boots. “I don’t know..”
“Do you have any idea what this means? You’ve made a complete fool of me! You fat, pathetic worm, you!”
Fawad remains silent. There ‘s nothing for him to say.
“Stay in the house! DO NOT leave. I’m on my way home. I’ll be there in fifteen.”
Fawad waits in agony for the longest fifteen minutes of his life. He goes downstairs to his other dad, Munir, who’s busy playing with Fawad’s kid sister.
“You know, Hadia..” says Munir sweetly. “You’re a big girl now. You have to learn how to go foo-foo by yourself.” Apparently, Munir hasn’t heard the news yet. Hadia looks disappointed, and attempts to peel an orange by herself.
“Hey, I thought you were at work!” Munir says to Fawad.
“Dad, I need to talk to you about something.” says Fawad apprehensively. He proceeds to explain the incident while watching the blood drain from Munir’s face. “Please don’t hate me.”
“Does Masood know?” Munir asks worriedly.
“Yeah. He’s on his way home right now.”
“How did he react?”
“He seemed furious on the phone. Dad, I don’t know what to do.”
“Why did you have to do that in your workplace? Do you realize how stupid that is?”
“I had no idea it would turn out like this!”
“I’ve been there, you know? I mean…I’ve had…that..food in my life.” Fawad felt awkward listening to his father talk about such stuff. He knew dad wasn’t too comfortable with it either.
“Back in college, I was..”
They hear a loud crash in the living room. Fawad rushes in there to investigate – he finds a brick lying on the rug amidst broken pieces of glass. It has begun. Fawad’s nightmare is now officially a reality. He has no friends who can help him..no law that can defend him.
He didn’t need Munir to scream, “Run!” to know that they had to escape fast. Soon Fawad’s co-workers would break into their house, most likely led by Jaweria herself. Yes, she’d scratch his eyes out with a smile across her face. Fawad understands perfectly well that for her it’s about so much more than just the samosa. They share a turbulent history, which explains why the situation has worsened so quickly – such drama doesn’t surprise him in the least. She had always been looking for an excuse to break into Fawad’s home and rip him to pieces, and now she does. She’d likely be hailed for killing a glutton. The government wouldn’t touch her.
The cacophony is unnerving. Munir grabs Hadia and sprint out into the backyard with Fawad. Fawad jumps over the boundary-wall like a kangaroo on crack, and lands on their neighbor’s yard. As he helps Munir and Hadia climb over the wall, he sees a white Corolla screech to a halt in front of the slightly ajar wrought iron gate.
“Hurry!” Masood screams from the driver’s seat. Fawad has no time to pinch himself, but it all seems as if he’s stuck in a bad Michael Bay movie. The only thing that could make the situation any more Hollywoody is if the house behind them explodes as they run for the car in slow motion.
They get into the car and Masood drives off. He flings a fanny pack at Fawad.
“All arrangements have been made.” Masood’s talking as fast as an angry chipmunk. “The plane to London leaves in an hour. Your tickets and passport are in the pack.”
Masood instructs Fawad on what to do as the car speeds towards the airport. As it pulls over in front of the departures area, Masood violently pushes his son out of the car – partly because they’re in a hurry, and partly because he’s finding it hard to contain his contempt – contempt for his son for committing such an immoral act, and contempt for himself for betraying his own ideals by helping a felon evade justice.
Masood remains inside the car. He doesn’t want to be recognized. Munir gets out of the car and hugs his son with a force only slightly less than what’s required to crack a man’s ribs. The last thirty minutes have been a surreal blur. It’s hard for them all to wrap their heads around the catastrophe that has befallen them. There isn’t even enough time for Munir to bid his son a proper farewell. The five-second hug must suffice.
Fawad disappears into the airport crowd. He had always wanted to leave the country…but not like this. Definitely not like this.