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Ramzan mubarak

We lived in a joint family where a dozen children raced to the terrace to spot the Ramzan moon. On sighting the thin sliver, we went around the house greeting the elders with “Ramzan mubarak”..., Sadia Dehlvi.

art and culture Updated: Sep 15, 2008 16:59 IST

We lived in a joint family where a dozen children raced to the terrace to spot the Ramzan moon. On sighting the thin sliver, we went around the house greeting the elders with “Ramzan mubarak”. Moon-gazing connects you with nature, reminding you of the Creator and His universe.

There have been some recent debates on standardising the Islamic calendar so that Ramzan starts on the same day in various communities. The relationship of celestial bodies with the earth is a living reality and every location has its own sky, its own timings. Being a traditionalist, I can’t understand why modern minds want to by pass natural phenomena and fix it all. In my grandfather abba’s days, on the eve of Ramzan, delicacies for sehri (pre dawn meal), including pheniyan and khajla, procured from special shops near Jama Masjid, filled the kitchen.

Iftaar used to be an elaborate affair with special foods and snacks. Each evening, a huge degh of aloo gosht along with khameeri rotis arrived from the old city and was distributed among friends, relatives and the destitute. The dining table was pushed to the side and all family members sat around the dastarkhaan with heads covered, hands folded in prayer. The telephone kept in the lobby would be dragged by a 20-metre cord to the dining area and we waited for the phone call confirming the announcement of iftaar time from Jama Masjid, where a gola still goes off.

The pattern continued for decades until mobile phones took over, by which time families had gone separate ways. Just who used to call remains a mystery for me even today. Everyone in the family fasted, creating an atmosphere of spirituality. Radios were locked and televisions veiled with a cloth for the entire month. Going to the movies or parties remained out of question, a childhood rule I still obey.

Iftaars are now a quiet affair, with usually just ammi and me. Getting Arman to leave the football field and join the table involves a daily struggle, but he is slowly coming around to respect tradition. He fasts on school holidays and orders pizzas for iftaar. Fasting is essentially about purification, discipline of both body and soul. Love of the world is weaned by voluntary deprivations, for prohibited things are ‘extra prohibited’, and the permissible becomes prohibited during fasting hours.

We grew up being taught that fasting protects from Satan. It is a time when gates of paradise are open, the devil chained and the doors of hell closed. I am reminded of an anecdote about Ghalib. It was the month of Ramzan and Ghalib was sitting alone in a room sipping wine. One of his students arrived, and seeing him in a state of intoxication, commented, “I thought Satan was locked up in Ramzan.” The witty poet remarked, “Indeed he is. This is the very room Satan is locked in.”