EID MUBARAK! To all my friends…
May Allah bless: Your days with happiness, Your weeks with prosperity, Your months with contentment, And your years with love and peace! Happy Eid al-Fitr!
On this joyous occasion I take pleasure in sharing with you an excerpt from my novel Across Borders, that vividly describes my view of the celebration of this festival of love and warmth, through the narration of Maya the central character:
– Chapter 6 –
Soon it is time for Ramadan. In 1964, the first day of Ramadan of the year 1383 AH, is the 16th of January. It has been over ten days that I am living in Zaina’s house. It is here and now that I gain understanding about the actual significance of Ramadan. Muslims around the world anticipate the arrival of this holiest month of the year and unite in a period of community-wide fasting and spiritual reflection. The annual fast of Ramadan is considered one of the five “pillars” of Islam and all Muslims who are physically able, are required to fast each day of the entire month, from sunrise to sunset. The evenings are spent enjoying family and community meals; engaging in prayer and spiritual reflection; and reading from the Quran. The fast of Ramadan has both spiritual significance and physical effects.
However, in spite of being part of a Muslim household, since being Hindu, I have religious independence and am not expected to observe the fast like everyone else. The children and I are exempted from the fast, but I participate in other activities with the rest of the family. Particularly during this time, as well as other times of the year, Muslims are encouraged to read and reflect on God’s guidance. The first verses of the Quran had been revealed during the month of Ramadan and the very first word was: “Read.” I spend considerable time trying to understand the learning’s of the Quran from Uncle and Aunty. I sit with the family when they have their meal at 4am. Though they do not eat anything till sunset, the children and I have our breakfast and midday meals as usual, prepared by the cook.
I look forward to Iftar with the family. Iftar is the evening meal when Muslims break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan. It is often a community affair, with people gathering to break their fast together. Iftar is done right after sunset, by traditionally consuming a date first, when the fast is to be broken, followed by a large meal. I love eating out of the common large platter of Iftar food items, like piyaju and beguni (batter-fried onions and eggplant); jilapi (batter-fried sweetmeat dipped in sugar-syrup); jhalmuri (puffed crunchy rice spiced with onion, chilli and ginger); haleem (a type of stew made into a thick paste from pounded wheat and mutton or beef); khejur (dates); dal puri (a spiced-lentil stuffed pastry) with chola (spiced, cooked chickpeas); fish-kebab; Mughlai paratha (paratha with egg-filling); pitha (pounded-rice based sweets) and seasonal fruits and drinks such as Rooh Afza (a rose flavoured drink) and lemon sharbat.
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims, in addition to observing a strict fast, participate in pious activities, charity and peace-making. Many believe that Iftar as a form of charity is very rewarding and that it was practised by Prophet Muhammad. This is also the time of intense spiritual renewal. I am certain God will reward Farouk uncle and his family for their benevolence in hosting me, feeding me and keeping me under-cover all through Ramadan. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this family, for hosting me during the sacred month, especially when other Muslims are out there killing Hindus in the riot. There cannot be a better form of charity than protecting and feeding the child of perhaps another God. Allah chose this family to give me a new lease of life, but more so to teach me to respect and love people of all religious faiths.
I will later learn of the killings of a number of my close kin by Muslims in the current riot and the subsequent ones leading to the formation of Bangladesh in 1971. But my private experience of living amidst a Muslim family, who adopted me in turbulent times when not even those close cared to find out whether I was still alive, will always spearhead my reverence for the faith. This incident will never allow me to hate Muslims like most Bengali Hindus of my times, who in addition to their own hatred, will leave behind gory tales to feed the hatred of subsequent generations to come. Their hatred is perhaps justified, stemming from Muslims killing their loved ones, wiping out entire families, usurping their land and property, chasing them away from their homes and plentiful lives in East Bengal, to an existence of bare minimum and struggle, in starting life afresh in West Bengal.
At the end of the month of Ramadan, Muslims throughout the world observe a joyous three-day celebration called Eid-ul-Fitr (the festival of fast-breaking). The aim of this festival is to promote peace, strengthen the feeling of brotherhood and bring oneself back to the normal course of life, after a monthlong period of self-denial and religious devotion. Muslims are also encouraged on this day to forgive and forget any differences or past animosities that may have occurred with others during the year. Possibly due to these tenets, by now the riots have petered out, from gradually running out of heat since Ramadan started to being reduced to cinders at its end. I would like to believe its end was hastened by Muslims recalling the teachings of the Quran, making amends to their mistakes, retracting from instigating innocent people to rise in arms against fellow humans; not merely due to the fasting period sapping out the energy of those murderous amongst them.
On the day of Eid, as is customary, Farouk uncle and the family go for the morning sermon and congregational prayers at the nearby mosque. After they return, I join them in visiting friends and relatives, exchanging gifts and greetings, feasting, celebrating the completion of a month of blessings and joy. Shortly after Eid, Taahira auntie’s younger brother is getting married at Dhanmundi, a place little distant from where we live. I attend all the ceremonies along with the family and am given a new blouse-piece to stitch into a blouse, to match a sari I own. It is given to me as a token, in living up to the custom of every family member wearing new clothes to the wedding. With all the expenditure incurred lately, since building their house, it is what uncle and aunty can afford now. But I sincerely appreciate their magnanimous gesture in considering me a part of the family and in demonstrating so.
The Amazon, including Kindle link to getting your copy of Across Borders: