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Fast to Feast

india Updated: Aug 12, 2011 23:00 IST
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Muslims all over the world fast from dawn to dusk during the holy month of Ramzan, awaiting the festival of Id-ul-Fitr. The 30-day long daily fasting takes a mighty toll on a person’s will, not to mention his stomach. No, you don’t lose weight in Ramzan, contrary to popular perception. You end up gaining it.

That’s because food suddenly starts tasting better. You start to look for treats which will make your Iftar (the meal with which you break your fast) all that more special. After all, it is the first thing you eat all day since the sehri (a small meal eaten before sunrise). You don’t want only plain pakoda and fruit chaat. You go out of your way to find delectable and scrumptious food to satisfy a grumbling belly.

The customary Iftar (in India at least) usually consists of mixed fruit chaat or kachaloo (fruit mixed with some potato), onion and potato pakodas, chholey, and even chane ki daal with chopped tomatoes and onions. Let’s not forget the date or khajoor, which is meant to be the first bite of the Iftar, a tradition followed since the time of Prophet Mohammad. In the mix, there is sure to be something sweet, at times gulab jamun or even jalebis.

The Iftar menu is almost the same throughout the country but varies enough to give it a flavour of the region. Like in the south, you may find bondas, bhajji and chips fried in coconut oil instead of pakodas and kebabs. And in the east, dishes are usually made of chana and muri (puffed rice grains) But, the general rule seems to be — don’t binge. It’s a light meal. It’s meant to be a simple snack, with bite-sized food enough to last through the maghrib namaz (evening prayer) till dinner.

But Iftar has come to mean a lavish feast of late. As soon as the customary Iftar gets over, many people prefer to go for kebab platters and kathi rolls. Some have even taken to hosting large Iftar parties, where dozens of
people come together to revel in their shared culture.

Iftar diplomacy of the world leaders
With the start of the holy month of Ramazan, the concept of Iftar diplomacy has started. Many political leaders have hosted Iftar parties already and many will follow. Even abroad, for instance, traditional adversaries — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — shared an Iftar dinner during
the Mid-east peace negotiations last year.

In India, the tradition of Iftar parties was started by former President Zakir Hussain, when he was vice president of the country.

This year, Vice President Hamid Ansari hosted an Iftar party earlier this week, which was attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, chief minister Sheila Dikshit, among others. Even the US President, Barack Obama hosted an Iftar party this week, continuing the tradition started by Bill Clinton and followed by George W Bush.

Ramzan then, is more than just an Islamic tradition which tests your self-control and faith. It is an occasion for different people to come together and celebrate the bonds of friendship and community.
As Barack Obama said, ‘It’s an occasion to join with family and friends in celebration of a faith known for its diversity and a commitment to justice and the dignity of all human beings. So to you and your families, Ramadan Kareem.’