Last Ramzan, the names of Indian curries and their ingredients would confound Rabiu Sami Zurmi, a 2nd year MSC student from Nigeria studying at Jamia Millia.
Now Zurmi regularly cooks chicken biryani with his friends for iftar—the breaking of the roza or fast. "There are six-seven of us. During Ramzan, we gather in our friends' rooms and contribute food," he said.
Another scene unfolds on an evening at a hostel in JNU. Students from Afghanistan, Iran and India are on a deadline. Iftar is at precisely 6:34 p.m.
The students gather around a table, in groups of twos and threes, joking and jabbing each other as they cut guavas and shell pomegranates. The pile of fruit tossed in a deep bowl grows by the second. There are some attempts to transform the fruit and sugar into a chat. All this time, a couple of mess workers are busy in the kitchen, preparing snacks for the fasting students.
There is a sizeable international student population both at Jamia and JNU. While most international students at Jamia are from Muslim countries, the number is lesser at JNU.
Nevertheless, during Ramzan the cafeteria in hostels of both universities become a hub of activity and a place for interaction between students of different countries and cultures.
"We collect Rs 500 per person and with this we buy food for iftar," says Hafizullah Saadat, a 2nd year MA student at JNU. "Iftar parties" as they are called, are organized by students, both international and Indian, and anyone who can eat is invited.
"Mostly students organize everything at the University (JNU), so administration doesn't figure in," says Dinesh Prasain, President of the Foreign Students' Association (FSA).
But when there are no such Iftar parties to go to, Hussain Jasim Motlak, a PhD student from Iraq, has his friends to thank for the Iftar they sometimes share together.
This is his fourth year in India, but the first Ramzan without his wife, who used to prepare sehri and iftar earlier. To top it off, "Iraqi people don't like spicy food," he says. So, he usually has iftar with his friends "from all over the world" at his hostel in Jamia. Hussain's lesson from his Indian Ramzan: "[Each] person should learn something different from a country's food and tradition."