Nearly a quarter of all humankind is set to stop eating and drinking between dusk-to-dawn from July 09, 2013, when Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims, begins. Of course what part of Muslims actually fast – can’t possibly be known.
I started fasting from the age of 10 (okay, 12!), completing 3 out of 30 days at the first go. On the other 27, my mom ‘took my fast and trapped it under an upside-down glass/mug for preservation’ (!) – allowing me to eat and drink. Later I’d get the fast out and swallow it again. I still can’t fathom how I bought into that scam.
In later years, when we had grown older, there would be no food cooked or stored at home during Ramadan. If someone was not fasting due to illness, (s)he would have to eat in secret. Mom was the Minister of Abstinence and she ruled with an iron hand. My father would somberly announce, every year without fail, that “on the days of Ramadan, God shrouds the Earth with boundless mercy”. We would nod and wonder why he obsessed over this shroud so.
Out in the streets, tea-stalls and food-joints would put up heavy curtains / plastic-sheets or drop the shutters altogether. My friends and I’d do what we called a plastic fast – one that wasn’t broken by the occasional Coke, Choc-bar or cigarette. But it had to be behind curtains and beyond the watchful eyes of the neighborhood. I remember a friend who actually hung a Crucifix from his neck, paraded into restaurants and feasted to his heart’s content. Thankfully, mom never found out about our escapades.
As the sun plummeted, everyone would get busy preparing the feast that was the Iftar (break-fast). Wherever you were and however important, you’d have to be home for Iftar. We’d share chores: some frying battered eggplants and lentils-onion dumplings (Peyaju), some making lemonade (or Tang on a good day) and the little ones setting the table. It was common for a homeless person or a beggar or two to be invited inside. As sunset neared, our lips would feel more and more parched and seconds would stretch into hours.
The streets would become deserted, travelers would pause and if you had been out, you would’ve seen random strangers opening up lunch-packs and water-bottles to share with passersby. As the Azaan (call to prayer) rang out at long last, everyone would break their fast together: often sharing from the same bowl. The blandest of homemade dumplings (often very / hardly salty – because no one had tasted it) would taste like heaven and we’d stuff our faces till sheer exhaustion overcame us.
I miss the old Ramadan days. These days, the neighborhood doesn’t care if you are fasting or not. KFC and Pizza Hut blatantly advertise Iftar menus: all you can eat pizzas for Taka 1100 only! The commuter-traffic doesn’t pause for Iftar. Beggars aren’t allowed inside apartment complexes. Juice comes from cans. Dumplings are store-bought (and never very / hardly salty). Abba (dad) isn’t around to make his shroud announcement anymore. Now, I find myself passing on his message of the ‘Shroud of Mercy’ to friends and colleagues as Ramadan nears. I find myself trying to get siblings together for weekend Iftars. I’ve also announced that, this year, there’ll be no Tang – only hand-squeezed lemonade.