By Prachi Wakpaijan:
Fasting is a spiritual endeavour in almost all religions all over the world. Yet it was never a welcome thing for me. I love my food! I belong to that kind of people who explore good restaurants, coffee shops and even roadside eateries, just to please the taste buds and enjoy the indulgence. Eating is one of my favourite pastimes!
My earliest experience of fasting was during my school days. My mom fasted on Thursdays and I joined her too, only to enjoy the sabudana khichadi, which is my favourite dish.
The second time when I voluntarily took up this tedious task was when I was in Pune. All women and girls devotedly observed Shravan Somwars (Mondays) during the auspicious month of Shravan. I observed that nearly all of my roommates and female colleagues were gearing up for this fast and if I had disclosed that I am not observing the fast, their reactions and follow up questions would have left me with a sense of guilt. And yes, then there is a belief that unwed girls who observe it with utmost sincerity and devotion can please Lord Shiva and fulfill their wish of a getting the groom they desire!
This reason was compelling enough for me to join my friends and observe this fast!
Plus the sabudana khichadi and vadas always kept me motivated. However, I did it in the first year of my stay in Pune and never thought of it again.
The next time I was fascinated by fasting was when some of my Muslim colleagues in office were observing Roza during the holy month of Ramadan. Even while fasting, they managed to put in nearly 10 hours in office every day. They sought some time off work to offer Namaz and everyone merrily gathered in the evenings for Iftar, with some dates, fruits, Roohafza and other delicacies.
This fascination soon grew into respect due to the tremendous amount of patience and commitment required to go without food and water for nearly 15-18 hours. A serious desire to experience it myself had already taken root in my mind.
I contemplated and prepared myself for the fast. I read various posts online to understand the dos and don’ts and noted the Sehar and Iftar timings. I was all set for the fast the next day, which was a Saturday. That meant no office and I could be at home with no official work to look at.
I set an alarm for 4.00 a.m. so that I could eat before I began my fast. The next day I woke up frantically. Alas, it was 8.30 in the morning! Oh, my God! I had missed the Sehar time. The alarm had failed me. I grew anxious and skeptical of observing my fast. But I remembered how determined I was the previous night. “So what if I missed eating at dawn? I can still manage to fast.”
And so the day began.
I proudly declared to my mom that I was observing my first Roza ever and I would neither consume food nor water until sunset. She laughed at me and teased me saying that I keep on munching things when I am home and will not be able to manage without eating until sunset. This strengthened me to persevere further.
Going without food was somewhat manageable than being without water in the soaring temperatures of Nagpur. I frequently felt the need to wet my dried lips and throat but I did not. I kept myself busy with some work or the other throughout the day and paid no attention to the silent requests of my parched and hungry self.
I lay down for a nap but it made my mind more observant of my predicament. So, I brushed aside the idea of napping and started watching Priyanka Chopra’s “Quantico” series on my laptop. Yes! This was helping as I got immersed in watching one episode after another. It kept me busy for a few hours.
When I was done with the series, the clock ticked 7.00 p.m. It was time for Iftar. I felt on top of the world. I felt happy and accomplished at having survived my first Roza. I broke the fast with dates and water. I felt relaxed after having the first sip of water and I gulped down two glasses of it.
Soon, my family sat down for dinner and we all had a sumptuous meal. In my heart, I said to myself, “Enjoy your Iftar!” And that is how I tasted ‘hunger’.
The fasting this time was indeed a great learning experience for me. It taught me how difficult it is to be without food and water. It also gave me a glimpse of Islamic practices and the true nature of fasting of which I was unaware hitherto.
Here, I would like to quote the words of a famous Islamic religious leader, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad:
“The person fasting must remember that the aim is not simply to remain hungry; he should be engrossed in the remembrance of God so as to attain severance from worldly desires. The object of fasting is that a person should abstain from the food which nourishes the body and obtain the other food which satisfies and brings solace to the soul.”
Similar to Islam, fasting is also mentioned in the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament as well as Mahabharata. In Judaism, fasting is observed on several days annually, primarily on days of penitence (such as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement) or mourning.
In all religions, the end of fasting is marked by celebrations. Analogous to other religions, the end of Ramadan is marked by Eid-ul-Fitr. It is a celebratory day for Muslims. They gather in the mosque to pray and greet family and friends. They spend the day visiting family and friends and exchange gifts.
The basic teaching of all religions is to develop a relationship with God and fasting is one way of achieving it because when we fast, we remember the blessing of life which we normally take for granted and sympathise with the sufferings of those who sleep on an empty stomach every day. This way we can become more compassionate towards our fellow human beings who might not enjoy the basic necessities of life.