This time, Ramzan is being observed all over the world under lockdown. Pre-COVID, luckily I got opportunities to observe the month of Ramzan in many cities in India and abroad because of my professional obligations. There are some beauteous memories and moments associated with this month, which I would like to reminisce about here.
I remember vividly, Ramzan of my childhood days and the exhilaration associated with this month. We kids would become almost crazy till the time we got our Eid dresses and accessories completely done. In 80s, readymade dresses were not so popular (or they might have been there but possibly beyond our reach). My parents used to take us to a local bajaj’s (draper) shop to get the fabric for our dresses. On the same day, we would drop those fabrics at the tailor’s shop, who used to be the most complex nettle of this entire episode. He could hardly measure up to our expectations as he never delivered our dresses on time. We used to purchase other accessories like shoes, topi (skull cap), hanky, and much else from the Chowk market. Once we were done with our Eid shopping, my father would give kulfi treat to all of us. As soon as we come back, we used to rush to our neighbourhood friends to show them our dresses. In turn, they would also open up and show their purchases. And all said and done, from that day of Ramzan we would restlessly start cooling our heels, waiting to revel during Eid.
In my childhood, there used to be a very gracious old faquir – bearded, tall and lean beggar man, who would come to our colony every Thursday. He was also Seherkhwan or Seheriwala, who used to go from house to house and wake up people for the pre-dawn meal (seheri) in Ramzan. His voice was so melodious that often kids from my colony would request him to sing the same poetry which he used to chant during seheri calls, “roza rakho ramazan ka..” and he would happily start singing that poem every time we asked. Those days Seheriwalas worked as human alarms. In modern days, this practice is neither widespread nor popular because of technology. We seldom hear seherkhwan’s tumultuous waking up calls in Ramzan now.
As a kid, sometimes I was having iftar (the meal eaten by after sunset during Ramzan) in a nearby mosque regardless of the invectives from my cousins. I used to feign fast to meet eligibility criteria in the mosque for iftar. I have no qualms in sharing this today that the main reason for that pretext was the variety of delicious eateries, which normally households sent to nearby mosque for the people who are away from their homes. When I moved out of my native place, I realised the importance of having iftar arrangements in mosques. For a single person, it is difficult to arrange seheri and iftar during Ramzan if s/he is away from his/her home. At the same time, a person also gets emotionally choked when s/he has to break the fast alone without her/his dear ones. In my view, iftar in mosques with fellow rozedars relegates this emotional void to some extent.
It was also a month of Ramzan when for the first time I went to USA. You can imagine how difficult it must be for a stranger to arrange seheri and iftar in a new country. I was singing the blues and desperately clutching at straws. One day, I googled and found a mosque near my flat. I went there for prayers and the same day I could observe that they arrange iftar every day in the associated community centre for the people who would assemble for prayers in that mosque. I was still under jet lag but when I tasted different European mouth-watering cuisines there in iftari, my jet lag vanished in a jiffy. Besides, I also got an opportunity to interact with people from different countries and regions.
When I shared my experience about this arrangement with my flat-mate Ravi J, (an IITan and presently CFO in an MNC), he could not resist the temptation of somehow joining me there. I immediately complied with his request and from then onwards, we both started going there for iftari and eventually stopped cooking dinner throughout Ramzan. Before this, we would generally ransack our fridge for leftovers to rustle up our dinner after coming back from the office.
After my return from USA to Hyderabad, I had a very memorable time till I stayed at the beautiful campus of my then organization Satyam Computer Services. The Company’s facility manager Mr. Joseph especially used to arrange seheri and iftar for the bachelors. Even, our other friends, who do not observe fast, would join us in seheri and iftar meals in the cafeteria. I also got familiar with HALEEM (a dish made of wheat, barley, meat, lentils, and spices) in Hyderabad. Oh! What a tasty nosh!
I will tell you another interesting story about iftar. One of my acquaintances in Hyderabad – Prof. T.V.Kattimani (ex- Vice-Chancellor, IGNT University) used to organize iftar every year for his colleagues and their families when he was HOD, Hindi department in MANU University. Many times, I also attended his iftar party in MANUU campus. Then, a few years back, he was elevated as a Vice-Chancellor and had to relocate to Amarkantak. You will be surprised to know that still he religiously visits Hyderabad with his family in every Ramzan, just to organize iftar for his old colleagues.
I try to be in Prayagraj (my native place) to celebrate Eid with my family and friends. Normally, I come back to the city in the last week of Ramzan. While travelling, I witness plenty of public harmony in trains. People support rozedars with their food, drinks, and offer seats to perform the prayers. In Prayagraj two of my school days friends Ashutosh Dubey and Satya Mohan Singh eagerly wait for my arrival to have iftar at my home together. We are continuing and enjoying this practice for almost the last thirty years.
Just to share; my wife cooks very good Eid special Qimami Sewaiyeen. But you would be surprised to know the source from where we get the khoa/mava for this Qimami Sewaiyeen! It was a secret but I will share it today. Every year, my childhood friend Ashutosh goes to khoa mandi along with another khoa expert – Lallu ji and they both pick the best lachchaa khoa for our Qimami Sewaiyeen.
I am proud to be part of this exemplary Ganga-Jamuni culture. Simply put – Ye hi to hai Bharat! (This is India!).