Fasting and feasting

Ramzan

The time is sunset, to break the roza — a fast that is kept for the sake of Allah. During the month of Ramzan, as one walks past the mosques during the jama’at (prayer) time, one can note the Godly presence and Ramzan ambience in the fully packed mosques which otherwise have sparse devotees!

Perhaps no one is as attentive in prayer as these devouts and during the minutes the namaz is conducted every evening, a sort of calm steals over the otherwise traffic-congested areas with dense Muslim population, whether it is Bangalore’s Shivaji Nagar, Kolkata’s Colutola, Delhi’s Ballimaran, Mumbai’s Bhendi Bazaar or Pune’s Mominpura.

According to Maulana Mufti Mukarram Ahmed, the Shahi Imam and eminent Islamic scholar of Masjid Fatehpuri, Delhi, the holy month of Ramzan is auspicious to Muslims the world over. It is celebrated the day after the crescent for the 10th lunar month of the Islamic calendar is sighted. The Muslims are ordained to observe fast for 30 days, starting with the sighting of the new moon, and end it after seeing the new moon the next month.

Feasting and fasting during the month of Ramzan is a common practice throughout the globe, states Hasan Shuja, editor, Sahafat Urdu daily, Delhi. It’s no different in my native city, Delhi, a city with a 350-year-old history of mixed traditions where all festivals are celebrated with equal gusto. Ramzan is a gala affair to Delhi’s month-long special nightlife that boasts no malls, no nightclub, and no fine dining, and yet so much fun.

Relates renowned Muslim scholar and writer, Dr Aziz Burney, on Delhi’s mixed traditions, “The temple bells here alternate with the devout muazzin’s (caretaker) call from the mosques’ minarets. The tradition of tolerance towards each other’s faith still runs high in the walled city of Delhi’s Shahjahanabad and areas like Zakir Nagar, Noor Nagar, Welcome Colony in Trans-Yamuna area, etc.”

The best social fair is the Ramzan food, according to Maulana Riaz-ur-Rehman Rashshadi, Imam of Bangalore Jama Masjid, City Market! Temporary and crude eating arrangements are set up for the evening with tables laid with cheap plastic sheets and wooden chairs by roadside offering tantalising food this month. The lights that illuminate the mosques further make the Ramzan ambience graceful.

Just enter the lane of any Muslim area during Ramzan before iftar and you will be led by your nose to mouth-watering murgh changezi, nargisi koftey, qorma, shaami kabab, badshahi badam pasande, murgh jahangiri, chicken akbari, karhai gosht, tikka ajwaini, aatish pasande, qeeme ki golian, qalmi bade, longcha kawab, etc. Besides, yakhni pulao too is a housewife’s forte.

Thick meat, broth or yakhni is prepared during the Ramzan month for strength in which whole spices are wrapped and tied in muslin cloth (potli) and dipped in the broth. After the aroma of spices has been absorbed by the meat and rice, the potli is taken out and the rice is cooked on a slow coal fire. Such perfection cannot be achieved even by five star chefs, but only by housewives.

Of course, one can’t ignore the costermongers kicking up the frenzied cacophony in the all-pervasive aroma of nostril-trickling and mouth-watering Ramzan dishes like seekh kebab, qeema samosa, desi ghee jalebis, imartis and balushahis being prepared in restaurants, on vendors’ push carts and even by roadside squatters. Shops with neatly stacked Ramzan sweets bustle with human activity.

Grilled delicacies like chicken changezi, shaami kebab, naan and nargisi koftey are all there to be gorged along with chana chhola and chane ki daal, providing a grand spirited and unique Ramzan flavour.

Those with a weakness for sweets can have a whale of a time during Ramzan, especially in Old Delhi’s Shahjahanabadi halwais (sweet marts) where sweets are prepared with aromatic flavour in Sheerin Bhawan at Matia Mahal, Standard Sweets at Hauz Qazi, Vishal Mawa Bhandar, Tewari Sweets, Ghantewala, Shiv Mishthan Bhandar, Jalebiwala and Haldi Ram, all at Chandni Chowk.

Burqa-clad ladies will find much to content themselves with at the garment stores at Zakir Nagar, Joga Bai and Batla House: cotton salwar suits, chikan work from Lucknow and kurtas with inimitable zari, karchob and gota work. A store called Fashion Gallery at Jogabai sells designer kurtas ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 1,000 while others including Akhtar Kurta, Fashion Gallery, Golden Garments, Sufia Cloth House, Sami Garments, Golden Garments, Sufia Cloth House and Cross India too do not find themselves far behind.

After shopping, it’s time for the famous chawal ki kheer of Pehelwan Bhai, on the main road of Zakir Nagar beside the area’s Jama Masjid. Don’t forget Mubashshir Mian’s Unique Bakery, which has meethi double roti and bun specially made for the Ramzan season. If it’s pre-dawn sehri time, take a detour to the nearby Javed’s restaurant to end the ‘day’ with their delectable bheja, paaye, nahari and quorma.

Zakir Nagar, Matia Mahal, Ballimaran, Chooriwalan and Jama Masjid are also about pajamas, jeans, jootis, bed sheets and even jewellery. Shops like Shandaar Cloth House, Gulzar Garments and Fashion Zone stock cargo trousers, T-shirts, track pants and kids wear besides also stitching these.

Prices range from Rs 100 to Rs 500. Bargain is the watchword. Though these shops too remain open quite late into the night, I suggest if you want to buy clothes, come when the night is still young. I’m told that these are still early days of Ramzan, and nightlong shopping would take place only after the 15th roza.

After all this euphoria, it is time to spread the true message of Ramzan — piety and compassion — even as we celebrate the spirit of communal harmony.

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