Today, Tuesday, is the second day of Ramadan, or Ramzaan as its known here in India.
On Saturday evening, out of the blue, I got a telephone call from a man in Syria. He was travelling to Calcutta, and wanted to know the local fasting time. I was very surprised. I asked him how he had got my number, and he said he had got this through the internet. I was most puzzled! I told him I would get the details and so he could call me later. I called my colleague Amina and asked her, and later conveyed this to the person.
But I’m not a practising Muslim, nor was I born in a Muslim household. Nor am I observing the Ramadan fast, or have I ever done so. But I was glad to be of some assistance to a traveller.
Fasting between sunrise and sunset through this month – not even drinking water, or swallowing one’s spit. This is one of the five cardinal pillars of Islam, together with faith, prayer, charity and pilgrimage. Fasting, or roza as its known here, is at the very heart of a Muslim's faith, and identity. This is an awesome vision and conception, a grand teacher, a ritual par excellence, for the ascent of humanity, to all that is good and high. Bearing discomfort and hardship; self-discipline; humility; virtue; conscience; reflection; appreciation; gratitude; goodwill … these are among the qualities seared into the flesh and fibre of Muslims by the great fasting; as much as they are also filled into the belly by the great feasting, of Ramadan. It is a most auspicious month.
Ramadan is as much about feasting as its about fasting! It is the time when the thoughts of Muslims are entirely on food! It is the time when food is like ambrosia lovingly fed by compassionate Allah’s own hands to the meek, starving follower! The spirit feasts, in gratitude, on the Almighty's kind compassion.
It is a time when Muslims cannot help awakening to “good”, to listening to the voice of conscience, and to practicing piety and virtue.
In India - where the second largest number of Muslims live (after Indonesia), as a large minority among peoples of other faiths, principally Hindu, but also Sikh and Christian - the fasting month of Ramzaan is a time when non-Muslims are naturally aroused to feeling, solidarity, support, compassion, admiration and one-ness towards Muslims; as they are drawn by the feasts. So the evening iftaar, the grand meal, is the means for warmth, friendship, camaraderie, between Muslims and people of other faiths. Several non-Muslim friends of Muslims join their brethren in fasting, to express their one-ness with them.
Ramzaan is a special time for me. It is the time when I call on my Muslim friends and colleagues, when I eat delectable goodies, the time when I love to walk through the crowded, adorned lanes of Muslim neighbourhoods. Everything is a feast; for the eyes, the colourful shops full of wares to tempt families to purchase for the approaching festival of Eid: of fragrances; of smells of food that make the taste buds and the stomach do acrobatics in unbearable anticipation; of innocent, eager, cheerful faces, bright eyes …
Last year, I had posted a piece called "Ramzaan Buffet" on an internet readers’ list. This was about the magnificent culinary spread laid out in the city of Calcutta during Ramzaan, and inviting readers to contact me for a guided gourmand’s tour. I shall make such a post again now. I've acquired a digital camera since then, so I can now garnish my narrative with captivating (and fragrance-exuding) pictures.
My love and good wishes to all my Muslim brothers and sisters! May your valour and prayers in this auspicious month help to bring peace and brotherhood in the world.