Tomorrow marks the beginning (for most Muslims) of the holy month of Ramadan. Considered sacred by Muslims primarily because it is the month in which the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed, Ramada is also a time of austerity and self-discipline for Muslim people. Fasting from dawn to dusk in Ramadan is regarded by most as one of the cornerstones of Islam. While they fast, as prescribed by the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet, Muslims also experience a sense of joy and elation, aware as they are of the spiritual significance of the month (and of the drawing closer of Eid!). Of course, many also live it up, with delicacies served for the Iftaar (the breaking of the fast). In fact, I have even heard the mock-complaint “saare saal ki kamai, Ramzan mein gawai!”
What’s a little ironic is that while my devout Muslim friends would be wilting in the Mumbai heat while observing the fast, the non-Muslims and the not-so-Muslim among us would be quite chirpy and chummy with them, hoping to get invited to their houses for the Iftaar! And what a regal treat the Iftaar used be! Few Mumbaikars (who are not vegetarian) must be unaware of parts of the city in Ramadan. Parts of Mahim and the entire area bounded by Nagpada, Do Taanki and Palton Road came alive at night. A friend of mine who did his medical residency at JJ Hospital would wait eagerly for Ramadan each year. A hard rationalist, he had little time or patience for anything religious. This did not deter him from informally joining his Muslim colleagues in fasting through the day only to work up the monstrous appetite he’d need to gorge himself atMohammedali Road at night. Barah handi, boti kabab, tangdi kabab, kiri-kaleji, murg musallam, shammi kabab, and scores of other carnivorous delights, rounded off with a maalpua and a falooda!
In the Arab, Persian and Pakistani quarters of many Western cities, too, the nights of Ramadan are magical. In London, for instance, Edgware Road and Green Street become completely nocturnal. And the food is superb. A Swiss friend who was with me at university in London would declare himself an honorary Muslim for a month and shamelessly queue outside an East End mosque to partake of the communal feast served by the worshippers. Generous to a fault, they always fed him till he could eat no more.
I was told of something called Les Belles Nuits du Ramadan in Paris (website in French) and have heard that in several parts of the USA too, Ramadan is popular among many who are not Muslim. I just noticed a poster announcing an all-you-can-eat Iftaar buffet at a Montreal restaurant. So if you’re abroad and homesick and on a tight budget, find a Muslim friend and get real chummy. An Iftaar spread is not to be missed. The Islamic societies of many universities too serve free food. And it’s almost invariably the good stuff. Of course, all this is possible only if you are carnivorous. If you are vegetarian, some might opine that, you are already fasting every day and Ramadan is no different! And all you Muslim brethren out there…. Guys, it’s Ramadan. Be generous. Invite us to your Iftaars!