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Of Fasting & Feasting



It is that time of the year, the holy month of Ramadan, time when a huge chunk of the global population performs roza, going without food and water for long hours. This is out of choice, out of faith. It is time for namaz, time to strengthen the mind, to increase the will-power, time for sharing, time for giving. People in various capacities complete their daily tasks without fail, weaving roza into the day. They know how to earmark time to pray, to work and to celebrate iftar – the time to eat.

This is to share with you how yours truly got to know the impact of this ritual fasting on one’s mindset- how it inculcates discipline and focus, how it underscores humility and lifts the mind to a newer strength.

Those were the years when the faces in my classrooms came from one of the tiny islands of Indonesia, in the backwaters of Singapore. Indonesia was only a name in the textbooks except for islands like Java, Sumatra and Bali, which sounded vaguely familiar from travelogues. The country got a face when children walked into the classrooms, often escorted by mothers or care-givers in burqua and zilbab. Being a predominantly Muslim country, during the holy month, time was woven around the calls for prayer, azaan. During the day, life was in low ebb. Shops were open but less crowded, less vehicles on the roads, less people hanging around at the street corners- like a quiet stream flowing past. At regular intervals, the call for prayer would rise from the mosques, young and old would converge, quiet would settle down once again.

The evening was a different story. After the azaan, it was time for iftar, to eat a khajoor and break the day’s fast. Within no time, the streets came alive. Families converged around eateries. Pleasantries were exchanged and the food was shared with an air of cheer and camaraderie.

In an international school, the holy month was not tangible except for the local staff that, at frequent intervals, walked down to the prayer room at the far end with the prayer mats under their arms. Work went on as usual- lessons were taught, activities were held and assignments were checked. Children had their swimming lessons and went trekking. The swimming coach wouldn’t get into the pool but would give instructions squatting on the poolside. ‘What if I accidentally swallow a drop of water?’ he confided once. Their faith was in its place so was their profession!

It was but natural that I too would observe roza for a day in solidarity with the country that put food on my table. ‘You? Roza? Are you crazy?’ are the usual responses when friends come to know of my roza. ‘You actually say ‘no’ to the evening tea?’, ‘Not even a glass of water?’, ‘But why?’ so it goes on.

How can one describe the sense of elation at the time of ending the fast? How to convey the way breaking a habit, ignoring a craving and resisting a temptation, makes one’s conviction deeper, mind clearer and character stronger?

Due to the lockdown, at the azaan time, instead of heading for the mosque all the faithful must be spreading their prayer mats in their courtyards. So what, the religion is a personal issue, a one to one communication, a matter of faith, isn’t it?