Religious functions and late lunches

I remember being invited for a distant relative’s housewarming ceremony a few years back. The invitation card proudly stated “lunch: 12:30 pm”. I had a quiz to attend later that afternoon, at 3 pm, I think. Knowing there was enough slack for me to go to the function, thulp lunch and then go to the quiz, I went. At 12:15 (I have this habit of turning up at functions fifteen minutes prior to food; that way I don’t get bored, and people won’t think I’ve “just come for lunch”). Some ceremonies were going on. 1:15. Ceremonies continue to go on, no sign of lunch. 1:45, I realize there’s no slack at all, and want to leave without eating. Relatives get offended. Finally I went to the cooks, thulped some sweets and went off to the quiz.

Almost ten years back. My thread ceremony (upanayanam/brahmopadesham/munji). The priest arrives at the hall at eight o’clock, a full thirty minutes late. “My colleagues are coming at 12:30”, explains my father, “and we should serve lunch by that time. I don’t care what shortcuts you use but make sure we can serve lunch then”. Maybe munji rituals aren’t that compressable after all. Come 12:30, there were still quite a few procedures to go. Lunch was served while the ceremony continued to go on.

Religious functions are notorious for serving lunch late, and the religious purpose of the function is often used as an excuse to do so. I fully support religious freedom, and fully appreciate people’s choice to perform whatever ceremonies that they want. Keeping guests waiting while you do that and delaying their lunch, however, I think is gross disrespect for the guests’ time. And the sad thing is that religion is usually given as an excuse for this disrespect of time.

When you bring religion into a debate, it sometimes becomes tough to pursue a rational debate. In religious functions, if you were to make even the smallest noises about the timing of lunch, you are accused of being inconsiderate, an ingrate, and for having come there only for the food (I don’t know if the last mentioned is actually a crime). It is disrespectful to leave from such functions unless you’ve eaten, and so you are trapped into cancelling other appointments, and staying on until they actually decide to take pity and serve lunch.

I’ve brought up this topic in family forums a few times, and each time I’ve been chided for making such a big issue of something trivial. I don’t, however, understand how lunch is a trivial issue. And how disrespect for people’s time is a trivial issue. I have decided that the next time I attend one such religious function, where there is potential for the hosts to waste guests’ time by serving food inordinately late, I’ll take along a framed printout of Leigh Hunt’s Abou Ben Adhem. And tell them that all their prayers and respect to god will have no effect unless they also respect their fellow men.

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