As a kid, all Eid meant to me was a lot of non-vegetarian food at Junaid uncle’s house. He was a dear friend to my father, residing in a flat right above ours. Like a tradition, we used to go their place on Eid for dinner and aunty used to be ready with all the delicacies you would expect in a Muslim home. Mind you, not everyone was invited for this dinner; others in the colony used to meet the Ahmed family to wish them and were only entertained with dahi bhalla and meethi seviyan, much to their dismay. It was only the Srivastavas who were called for dinner year after year, because of the close friendship between the men of the two families.
I remember while walking to the room for dinner, I used to cross their kitchen and see huge taamba utensils (big enough to cook a full grown man), and tonnes of mutton and biryani to feed our mohalla. I would think, “Oh God! How much can they cook and eat?”
Now, I sense, God must actually have been looking down at my younger self and saying, “My dear child, just wait for some more years.” Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t cook and definitely not the way Junaid aunty or my mother-in-law can. My only claim to fame was seven years back in the US, our first Eid together as a couple. Shahzeel – my husband – being the only Muslim in our circle, him and I hosted a lunch and I cooked for 18 hours straight a day before Eid, just to make him feel little less homesick.
The success of the Eid gala was made evident not by the hours put in cooking, but by the content look on the faces of invitees. Also, I mentioned to them that there won’t be another party at Jawed-Srivastava’s for at least a year, as I was dead tired from all the cooking.
This year marks my eighth Eid with Shahzeel, and hence eighth Ramadan. To be honest, when I saw him go through this the very first time, I found it highly eccentric. In my defence, I was not raised in a Muslim household or amidst Muslim traditions. But over the period of time, his spunky spirit spoke to this cynical side of me, helping me see the exquisite part of this long-lived tradition.
Shahzeel is one of the biggest foodies I know of, may be the biggest. I am not exaggerating when I say this; you can actually control his mood through food. When this man enters home and smells bhuna murga or any non-vegetarian item, his face lights up like a five-year-old entering Disney World. And if he smells aloo gobi or green veggies (which he refers to as ‘ghaas phoosh’), it’s like the same kid learning that it’s Disneyland Paris and not Florida. In other words, disappointment.
And so, it amazes me when this bon vivant refrains from food and beverages for a stretch of 12-18 hours a day for 30 days straight. I know it’s a matter of practice and you eventually acclimate, but from what I have learnt it’s all about faith in yourself (willpower) and your God. Day one is the most difficult of the lot, when this ‘tea-man’ (his love for the beverage is legendary) skips his cup of morning tea and goes without food or drinks until the sun makes its peace with Earth. Eventually, the days start getting easier and the person starts getting stronger – physically and more importantly, mentally. But yes, it’s not easy, saying not as an observer but as a performer. With famished eyes and parched lips, I kept my first roza seven years back to accompany him. I remember asking him then, “How do you manage this? What keeps you going?”
His confident answer still echoes in my ears: “For 11 months, your creator gives you the liberty to do things your way, and in return you only have to give a month. I think I can do that bit!” He keeps his belief system so guarded and secured that it is impervious to the battering of doubts. Many of us question our faith because of the unfortunate incident(s) that occur in our lives, but in his case it made him closer to Allah. My husband had the most troubled childhood I know of, yet, his faith in Allah stayed intact. If possible, it grew stronger.
It’s not that I have not seen people paying gratitude to God before, but his way of thinking and performing his righteous rituals never fails to amaze me. I believed Eid was a day of celebration, rich food, family get-togethers, and Eidi. And that it is, but now I know it’s more about Ramadan that leads to Eid, which is about perseverance, dedication, humility and submission to God.
So far, this has been my understanding of Ramadan, and I’m still on the learning curve. Coming from one religion and to be married into another, makes you wiser – if you have an open heart, and more so, an open mind. I may be the odd one out there but then I love what I am and where I am. Being different always has its own perks!