Joydeep Hazarika for BeyondHeadlines
As Eid is knocking on the door, I am reminded of the significance of this festival for over the years in my life. My farthest memory of Eid goes back to my early school days when we saw illustrations in moral science books of Ram and Rahim sitting together and eating sewaiya on the occasion. During the early years, I believed that Ram and Rahim had actually something to do with this festival until later I was corrected. But still that early image still remains strongly etched in my mind till this day and defines to me what Eid signifies to the various communities in a country like India.
Early memories of Eid also include the cooking of sewaiya at our house on the occasion, notwithstanding the fact that we are Hindus. It was a happy occasion for us to gorge on tasty sewaiya which our mother would cook up. It was also during Eid that me and my brother visited the gatherings at our father’s Muslim friends and chanced upon some of the tastiest dishes imaginable. It was during one of these occasions that I had the first bite of beef in my life and immediately fell in love with it. In Assam, Eid remained primarily a one-day affair for us as it was a certified day for us to have sewaiyas and gorge on beef.
It was not until the post-graduation days in Jamia Millia Islamia that Eid assumed an important part of my life. My two years in Jamia will always be a landmark for making me understand Islam and its culture that most non-Muslims often misinterpret. I remember moving into the university hostel during the first week of Ramadan and immediately some of my new friends took me to a stroll in the night to the nearby locality of Jamia Nagar. I had always heard that Muslim areas never slept during Ramadan, but had never really ventured out there during the said period. It was perhaps love at first sight with Jamia Nagar as it sparkled in the grandeur of the Ramadan evenings. The busy market and the hustle bustle swept me off my feet and I could not savour a single day after that without taking stroll in the maddening Ramadan crowd there. The food available there was excellent, some really attractive clothes were up for sale, and every girl looked like a hourie as they walked around in the market.
Some people may think that it is risky to be a Hindu studying in a Muslim university. While there may be occasional hiccups as everyone you encounter may not meet your expectations, but the truth is I believe I had a gala time during the Ramadan days in the university hostel mainly because I was a Hindu. Of course I did not observe fasts, but both sehri and iftar were available to me apart from the regular breakfast, lunch and dinner. Once the warden stopped me from collecting sehri, stating that I was not allowed for it. I just said one line to him, “Are you discriminating against me just because I’m a Hindu?” That was enough to unnerve him and hand me over a plate of sehri food. The boys near me, all Muslims, laughed aloud and were visibly happy to have one more head joining them at sehri. Who says only Muslims can play minority politics in India?
But apart from these minor incidents which became funny memories, there were also the iftar parties at our department as well as the hostel. Biryani was the staple food item at these dos, and how could I stay away from such delicacies? I remember discovering a newfound love for dates and would often buy packets of them from Jamia Nagar. But seeing all my Muslim friends fast throughout the period, filled me with a sense of guilt to eat during lunches. I made it a point to fast along with them atleast once during Ramadan. I still remember the first time I ever fasted as per the guidelines of Roza. I was almost half dead with thirst and hunger by the time the fast was broken in the evening. I remember drinking an entire jug of Rooh Afzah as soon as it was announced that we could eat. That was the day I developed a newfound respect for every Muslim who fasts during Ramadan. It is not an easy affair to stay without food and water throughout the day for an entire month. But every time I have fasted during Ramadan, it did not seem such a big torture as all the fasting fellows would always stay huddled together, especially for a fellow like me as I needed to be watched over so that I may not lapse into taking a sip of water. I feel Hindu fasts are child’s play compared to a rigorous exercise like Ramadan and kudos to these people who fast in that manner. But Ramadan is not just about fasting and it is a time when both Muslims and non-Muslims can show respect and support to each other during this period in ways that most people can marvel about.
Eid has since then became a special event in my life and I make it a point to eat within limits or pray in a personal capacity during this period so as to achieve mental peace. I remember during my first Ramadan in Jamia, a friend in the hostel gifted me a copy of the English version of the Holy Quran. It remains one of my prized possessions and I still read it sometimes during my free time. Its been years since I passed out of Jamia, but it seems as if it was only yesterday that I was waking up at 4 in the morning to have sehri food and waiting to attend an iftar party in the evening.
I just hope the spirits of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitre become a yearly exercise that bring the various communities closer to each other and make people realize that they are more similar to each other than anything else. Eid Mubarak….