From my childhood, it was evident that I was different from other children in the family. I was a brilliant student, but I was different in that I would question everything that I heard. It wasn't surprising that in college, most of my class fellows were convinced I was an atheist (I suppose they had never heard of anyone being agnostic).

On my way back from Haj (in 2005), one of the group's leaders sat next to me and tried to persuade me to conform. "You want me to grow a thick beard, and go around with a rosary in my hand, telling people what an awful fate awaits them after death if they don't turn into what you think are good Muslims?" I asked. When he said yes, I told him that there were thousands, if not millions of old men who do exactly that after they attain the age of 60. But people like me, who don't take anything seriously and make people laugh, they are the ones who are sorely needed. He went away a sadder man.

My father and his brothers (except one) were what you might call irreligious. The one who was different was mentally unstable at times, he had lost his first wife to tuberculosis when she was just twenty. He had become deeply religious after that, with the result that he occasionally believed that it was his duty to save Muslims from the Fire. 

As for my father's eldest brother (who performed Haj a year before his death, but didn't grow a beard, nor did he ever pray even after Haj), I was surprised to hear him make a speech on the evils of watching TV (which had been introduced into the country a few years back). He said that bad times were coming, because in Muslim families, men were watching TV along with their daughters and daughters-in-law. All the old geysers in the hall nodded approvingly. Even at that time I wondered why he had suddenly changed and was objecting to men and women watching TV together, considering that English movies and Urdu plays were heavily censored, and we had only one state-owned TV channel (which started at four in the evening and shut down after four hours). I'm sure he would have been shocked to see TV channels today, with scantily-clad women the norm.

As I said, I was always a non-conformist and continue to be one, whatever others may think. If one stops doubting, there is no purpose in life. I'm sure on the day I die, I'll still have a question in my heart.