Sunday, May 28, 2017

Ramazan, Ramadan, but more importantly, mubarak!


Some people have excellent memories – like my younger sister who claims to remember details from family holidays when she would be 2 years old, bringing to mind the concept of fake and made-up memories, however, too often her words are corroborated by someone else, someone who wasn’t 2 back then, or maybe a photograph or something harder to ridicule than a younger sister...

My mind, on the other hand, is like a sieve, and while most slips through the small holes and disappears into the fading black of my unconscious, some memories remain, sloshing about silently till a random stimulus from the present dives in, hook, line and sinker, and slowly swivels it up into the bright light of now.  These memories exist like snapshots rather than film, like a 2-second clip you’ve accidentally trimmed and then, even worse, deleted the rest of the video, so I won’t remember what happened before or after, but I’ll remember that precise moment.

One of these Polaroids from the past is of curly-haired little me sitting half way down the staircase in my house in Karachi, probably 5 or 6 years old, looking at my family eating sehri, the pre-dawn meal which starts off our fast, and I look dramatically sad with my chin tucked into my knuckles, elbow on knee, classic philosopher/mopey damsel style. 

As a child I remember thinking of fasting as a mysterious, exciting privilege available just to adults.  It was equated with waking up in the middle of the night and eating hot, crispy parathas.  What’s not to love about that? And I remember my first roza, I remember feeling pretty special, skating in my terrace an hour before iftaar (ah those white roller skates with the bright pink laces and pink wheels and that pink front brake that I never learnt to use…), leaning over the banister to watch my mamu and his family pull up at the gate, here to join us on this special day – I got little gifts and big praise, I definitely felt very cool.

Growing up in a culture where most people around me fast, it never seemed like a particularly gasp-worthy feat, that is till I would tell my non-Muslim friends or colleagues and they would gasp, and from St Louis to Nottingham to Rome and Barcelona (the latter added just for dramatic effect), always ask the same question (it’s in their handbook; the first FAQ) – ‘but you can drink water, right?’ and when I’d shake my head and smile, bigger gasp, and I’d feel like a superhero.

Except, not really.

I mean, we kinda just grew up doing this, you know.  It’s like the children in Northern Pakistan who scamper up and down mountains in rubber flip-flops as if they were playing hopscotch on the sidewalk, or people who wake up at 5:30 am and go for a refreshing morning jog (if I’m ever be out of bed at that time, sleepily holding onto a mug of coffee, I look at these superstars and am so drowsily envious.  I mean, wow! That’s definitely more amazing to me than going without food and water for a few hours).

Of course our fasts in the UK are just a bit longer than ‘a few hours’.  The roza doesn’t really breeze by but I must say I thought it was much easier on the first day than I had anticipated, but like always, there are phases of a roza…

2:50 am: sudden realization of lingering thirst and quick drink of water

2:56 am: sudden panic about not having drunk enough water and feeling a ghost thirst tickle my throat and a little demon in my head throwing his head back and laughing ‘it’s too late!’

8:30 am: wake up with a dry throat, slightly thirsty, thinking: why am I thirsty just a few hours after I had five glasses of water? And then forgetting about water and start obsessing about caffeine – what, addicted to coffee/chai, me? No! is my happiness really tied up to consuming things … brief introspection … shaking of head and feeling stronger.  I’m glad I’m doing this!

10:00 am: opened windows, cool breeze dancing in, tidy house, the smell of vanilla from a burning candle – utter peace and solitude.  This isn’t so hard after all…

12:00 pm: soft, clean bed, feeling a bit drowsy – seriously, fasting is such a cleanse.  Really feels good to challenge our dependence on food and beverages, think about how much time we spend on cooking and buying and ingesting…

Nap break … naps during fasting are the most delicious because you’re usually really tired and you just melt into the arms of sleep, cosy, soft embrace like sinking into a bed of cottony clouds …

1:00 pm: what the … STILL EIGHT HOURS TO GO? Slight headache.  Need for tea… addicted, me, caffeine? Come on!

And so it goes on, from periods of peace and tranquility, especially when after months of hurried prayers and rushed duas, you take some time out and actually think about the verses you’re reciting during namaz, breathe deeply, realize how similar this feels to yoga, to moments of thirst and more than hunger, boredom. 

Time gets drowsy during Ramazan too and sort of drags its feet, sluggishly moving from 1 to 2pm, pausing, yawning, and then trudging forward again…

I think the busier you are (unless its manual labour or business out in the sun), the quicker time passes by, and usually the last couple of hours go by pretty quickly for me – right till the fifteen minute mark, when time suddenly comes to a sudden stop, digs its heels in and stands with its arms crossed like a sulky 4 year old in a toy store.

And then iftaar, when the best moment is drinking your first glass of water, and food is usually an anticlimax.  But that long awaited cup of chai after namaz! Oh, hot, sweet tea…!

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of what Ramazan has become in Pakistan.  I’ve heard of how it’s celebrated – yes, the key word is celebrated, not enforced or mourned or feared – in other countries and it sounds so much nicer…

Imagine this – a Ramazan in which prices of fruits and milk and yogurt don’t shoot off into space, a Ramazan in which ridiculous draconian laws banning eating in public and forcing restaurants to shut down aren’t passed and enforced, a Ramazan in which people don’t turn into devil incarnates on the roads near Iftar time (seriously, if the devil is supposed to be locked up during this month then it’s a little frightening how similar humans are to Iblees and his companions…) …

Imagine, instead, a Ramazan in which we decorate our homes with flowers and stencil in red, yellow, green letters to spell out Ramazan Mubarak and hang streamers in our windows, in which we break our fast with khajoors and family and friends at home, a month in which we spend more frugally on ourselves and more generously on the less-privileged, hosting iftaars for the poor and donating time and money in charity, a month in which we practice self-restraint and pinch out the mean little thoughts from our minds, shake out the habit of judging others and making declamations of who’s fasting and who’s not and who’s a good Muslim and who’s not, shake it out like sharp pebbles from your shoes, and instead, walk comfortably on a silky smooth path of love and acceptance.

In which we realize that fasting is not an excuse to be grumpy and miserable and shouting at other people, it’s not a pedestal that you’re supposed to look down from at other people and turn up your nose on, it’s not an excuse for bad breath and bad driving and it’s as important to restrain yourself from saying something mean to someone as it is to restrain yourself from popping a sweet grape into your mouth!

Imagine a Ramazan in which people fast because they want to, out of love for Allah, out of a desire to rid themselves of their dependencies on material things, out of an effort to realize how blessed they are and to empathize with people who cannot afford to eat and drink what they want when they want … not out of fear of being told off or judged by the auntie next door or the uncle at work, not in pretense of piety or out of habit …

Imagine a Ramazan in which restaurants and cafes don’t have to shut down during the day, imagine a Ramazan in which the elderly, the young, the non-Muslims, the sick, the women feeding babies or on their period and the people who simply choose not to fast, can eat what, when and where they want, where people in office aren’t forced to eat a packet of biscuits furtively in a corner or forgo their cups of tea and coffee just because our faith is so fragile and our resolve so weak that a whiff of a kabab roll or the sound of a tea bag dipping in hot water will drive us over the edge and destroy our fast…

Imagine a Ramazan of love and hope and charity and good thoughts and good deeds … of Eid prayers in which thousands of people pray side by side in their bright new clothes under an arch of a thousand bright balloons filled with candy and confetti (taken from my friend’s story of Eid namaz in Egypt where this actually happens!), yellow, pink, blue balloons that are released after the namaz and flutter slowly to the ground, bumping into heads and smiling faces …

Imagine.

… wouldn’t it be nice …


Ramazan Mubarak and Ramadan Kareem.  May it be full of love and peace and joy.\


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