A Hindu Ramzan: Sense of purpose, discipline, achievement


I craned my neck, looking at what I thought was a ‘SALE’ sign, and emptied half the contents of my purse into one hand in my determined pursuit of sugared rubber. Barely listening, I absent-mindedly hmm-ed to her wistful reminiscence of fasting with her family, back home in Malaysia. I put my hand into the growing hole in the lining of my purse and out came the gum! Somewhere between popping the mint-flavoured gum into my mouth, looking out for errant drivers before crossing, and vowing to splurge half my salary on shiny red glass beads, I found myself saying, “Relax, I’ll fast with you…”

She squealed with delight and I was quietly stunned at what I had just gotten myself into. I’ll fast with you? Was it too late for me to take it back and admit that I had suffered from temporary insanity — a combination of the sugar hit from the chewing gum, the noise of the traffic, and the dangerous and irresistible lure of red glass beads? Who had ever heard of a beef-eating atheist Hindu fasting for Ramzan in Melbourne?

But my word is my word, I thought, wryly wondering if I should have been a feisty Rajput princess instead of an expatriate business analyst. Aishwarya Rai didn’t fast with Hrithik Roshan in ‘Jodhaa Akbar’, did she? But Dipanjali Rao shall do so with Jill Kamaruddin.

Day Zero: “Can I drink coffee?”, I asked Jill later in her apartment. “No”, she said, “not even water”. “What? How do you expect me to survive?”, I countered with a hint of annoyance. “It’s ok lah Dipa”, she said, using the Malaysian equivalent of ‘re’. ‘You can drink because it’s your first time; you’re not used to it’. And so even before the holy month of Ramzan was upon us, I had given myself two allowances — coffee and water. I was getting excited. I would be part of the Muslim world for a month, it was a good opportunity to practise self-control and I just might lose some weight. My feminist self angrily chided me for the last thought... whatever... I was going to fast for Ramzan!
Day one came, and it wasn’t that bad at all! It was 11 in the morning, and the last meal I had eaten was more than 12 hours ago. I closed my eyes and tried to get ‘in touch’ with my body to see what it was telling me. After a couple of seconds of intense concentration, it told me that that people would think I was dozing at work. My eyes flew open and I got back to work. Six hours, two cups of coffee and three bottles of water later, I was feeling fine. No gym tonight, I thought, as the combo was a recipe for disaster. Talking of recipes, I was looking forward to dinner, my first ‘iftar’.

Day Three: I felt smug at my self control. But suddenly, my insides tightened, and I froze. My stomach growled, and my digestive juices responded even before I could think — cheese sandwich! The heady aroma from the office kitchen almost overcame me. I tiptoed to the kitchen, looked around guiltily, and took a breath. My lungs full, I tiptoed back. Is smelling food the same as eating it during fasting?

I had a few other ‘brushes’ with such temptations in the month, but resisted all. I soldiered on. Hunger came, and hunger went but I went on forever... err, two weeks.
Day 15 came and I called Jill, my one point reference for all fasting-related things. “Jill, I need to eat breakfast and lunch tomorrow... I’ve got a presentation and I will be talking all day... I won’t last without food.” She gave me permission. I had only one other lapse in the entire month — a temptation called biryani! I weighed myself a week later and cursed the machine when the needle on the scale barely moved a kilo. As the month drew to a close, I knew I would miss fasting and the sense of purpose, of discipline and of achievement. Fasting had changed the way I felt about food. Food no longer seemed to be about fulfilment, taste or pleasure. It was something basic I needed to survive the day. It was somehow, liberating.

D-day came, and Jill and I went out to celebrate and break our last fast. We went to an Indian cafe, ordered food, cheerfully wished the Indian Muslim cafe owner ‘Id Mubarak’, and proudly announced we had fasted. We talked about our ‘lapses’ during the month. I told her guiltily about mine. “Yeah”, she said, “a few days I too didn’t fast, I’m so sorry lah Dipa.” “A few days?!!! Why, you...” I chastised her. Kabab in one hand, a glass of water in another, I told her how it takes true determination, commitment and purity of soul to achieve what I had.

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