“I was eight years old when I kept my first roza. That is my earliest Ramzan memory. We celebrated by inviting others my age from my neighbourhood to open their fast with our family. Also, since I stay in a Muslim neighbourhood, so when I was younger, I would accompany my father on weekends when he would go and bring Haleem and the famous 'bhajiya and Imarti' from Haji Allauddin, a shop which is nearly 100 years old, located close by,” remembers researcher Mariya Salim who grew up in Kolkata.
“We always have a minimum of three items when we have iftaar as a family and are not living in different cities. There is always something fried, either pakoras or keema stuffed bread rolls, one boiled dish - a chana or chola of some sort and fruits. We always open our fast with dates and a prayer,” she added.
The essence of Ramzan
Ramzan evokes such precious memories from people’s childhood that it also reminds us a bit of how we were probably a decade back and makes us ponder over how things have changed over the years. The month-long Islamic festival that culminates into the Eid fervour is something that most of Muslim community still celebrates duly each year in the country. Fasting during the holy month is one of the five pillars of Islam including prayer and charity. Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and engaging in sexual activity from dawn to sunset to exercise roza.
While Salim recounts accompanying her father to bring Haleem, Golfer Afshan Fathima who grew up in a nuclear family in Jaipur recalls folding the Keema samosas and helping her mother cook iftaar food. “I remember helping my mother and in fact, everyone including my brothers would do some chore or the other and we would cook the meal together and then eat it together. The memory is still deeply etched in my mind,” says Fathima adding that she is so particular about Ramzan celebrations that she skips tournaments during the months to spend time with her family.
Even Bushra Ismail, who is an entrepreneur, reminisces about her Ramzans spent with her family when she lived with her parents in Kolkata. “I remember marking the days gone by in a calendar to keep track of how many rozas were over because it was a run-up to Eid and family celebrations. The women of my house were all working so during the Ramzan month we would all disperse in the morning to our respective schedules and reconvene at 4.30 to prep for iftaar, which is when all four of us, and sometimes even extended family came together to break the fast. My dad, brother and I used to pitch in to help mom in the kitchen and to set the table. It’s still a family tradition.”
She also talks about the iftaar parties which were a norm back in her childhood and how everybody would be excited about it.
Fouzia, a Dastango artist, who grew up in Old Delhi in the 80s remembers drinking Tukhmira ka sharbat and eating Pheni and Khajla with freshly made phulki in Sehri time. “We used to wake up at three in the morning when my mother would cook the food that early in the morning. Then after iftaar which has always been a very delicious affair with fried snacks, I remember my mother and aunts would get to knitting and sewing and making embroideries on curtains of the house and sewing our dresses. Earlier everything used to be handmade and so night time was when the women would start working on Eid decorations,” Fouzia told SheThePeople.TV.
Ramzan then and now...
There are also those who have come to a point where they don’t consider fasting through the month. Its meaning has also changed over the years as the modern Muslim people don’t believe in the idea of abstinence as much as it was in the past. “What has changed over the years is that knowing the difference between just staying hungry for fun or as a challenge and fasting because you believe in the spiritual blessings it brings to your life, and knowing how precious the month is,” notes author Andaleeb Wajid.
Her earliest memory is that of some vacations that her family spent in Hong Kong because her father had his business there. “I remember sitting down at the Kowloon Masjid with my mother for iftaari, the delicious chicken Ganji and samosas that we ate there.”
“I tried it once or twice in the beginning when I had just moved out but I realised I couldn’t do it without the support of my family. The fact that my mother would feed me healthy food at Sehri, it would make me go on with my day with ease but living alone, I couldn’t manage it and so I dropped the idea. Although I still make it a point to visit my family during Eid because that is special”
While Ismail would keep rozas with her family, she stopped doing it after she moved out of her house and came to work in New Delhi. “I tried it once or twice in the beginning when I had just moved out but I realised I couldn’t do it without the support of my family. The fact that my mother would feed me healthy food at Sehri, it would make me go on with my day with ease but living alone, I couldn’t manage it and so I dropped the idea. Although, I still make it a point to visit my family during Eid because that is special,” she added.
Similarly, for Urdu poetry artist, Afreen Akhtar also does not fast anymore during Ramzan because she moved out of her house. “Frankly I never liked the idea of forced fasting because one belongs to a certain religion. I know that children are forced to keep rozas even when they don’t understand the meaning of it. Why should I do it when I know that I am not going to practice abstinence? All I think of it is that there should be a choice for everyone,” she raised an important point of how one should not be looked down upon for not keeping roza.
On the other hand, Wajid likes settling into a new routine for a month and getting used to waking up at odd hours. “I also enjoy not having to wonder what to make for lunch or breakfast and my kids don't trouble me saying they're hungry all the time because they're also fasting! Strangely enough, I am much more productive during Ramzan because there are no interruptions until the evening when we start preparing iftaari.”