Eid is the most important festival for Muslim community all over the world. It is the day of feasting after a month of fasting, penance, prayers and Zakat or offering. There are many social and cultural constructs which prevail around Eid. Whenever there is a holiday during Eid, people ask why there is a holiday in a non-Muslim community that we are gradually creating in our close vicinity due to mistrust, intolerance and inhibitions. Some of the non-Muslim bus and auto-rickshaw drivers would say its Eid only for the Muslims, not for us so we will continue to work. In Christian states of North East India, nobody has even heard about Eid when we conducted a random survey.
In a multi-cultural locality where I live, there is a mosque in our neighbourhood and we hear the Azaan and Iftar call every evening these days during the holy month of Ramzan. Iftar is the breaking of Roza (fast) for Muslims across social class and diverse linguistic and gender differences. Both men and women are supposed to fast unless health condition, monthly cycle and pregnancy for women relieve a Muslim person from the fast. But in all other conditions, fasting is a norm. It is a very holy period of faith for the believers when the doors of heaven are opened and doors of hell are closed. This is the period for reflection through prayer, meditation, repentance and acceptance of one’s actions, thoughts and words.
During this period the Holy Quran Sharif was revealed by the Prophet for human well-being. Hence the month of Ramzan holds very sacred connotation in the life of a Muslim person. There are instances of people holding Iftar feasts for all people in their homes and sometimes the affluent people donate their wealth to the mosque where Iftar could be hosted for the hungry and needy persons. These are traditional customs which have been handed down through the generations and people follow them throughout their lifetime.
In diverse neo-liberal workplaces these days, people follow interesting ways to include Muslim colleagues to keep their Iftar fasts and break them together with common meals. But mostly I have noticed that Muslim colleagues would remain excluded from official teas, lunches and dinners during the month of Ramzan. Exclusion becomes a notion of tolerance for the faith related considerations.
While conducting a random survey with some friends and acquaintances about their preferences during Iftar feasts, I found very interesting insights. Some were very cautious with their responses and tried to be politically correct, few of them refused to comment, some said quite bluntly that they were non-Muslims, so how can I approach them for such responses, while others were very happily sharing their favourite food preferences.
I also asked the home chefs who cooks for the feast about their personal favourites. The list is endless from cool sharbat with lemon juice, fruits and nuts to chana, khichdi, pakoras, kormas, puris, pulao, kheer, sewaiyan with milk to biryani. Some friends from Delhi, Hyderabad, Gurgaon, Bangalore and Kolkata also added haleem, hyderabadi biryani, nihari and kebabs of all flavours, textures and meat combinations. Some people specifically mentioned the beef part of the kebabs, kichdis, kormas and biryanis while some were focusing on paneer, chicken and mutton versions.
Some friends told me specifically that Ramzan is not a time for feasting and how such a misnomer gives a very disjoint version of the Muslim culture, while others shared that Ramzan is the time when one values the plight of a hungry person who cannot afford to have more than one meal every day. It is also the time when people maintain restraint in their desires, thoughts, anger and passion which will redeem them from all ills and restore their lives. Hence Roza or fasting during Ramzan holds a deeper significance for Muslim persons especially.
Coming back to Eid celebrations, I have always enjoyed mughlai and Mediterranean food in Bangalore’s Frazer town, Shivaji Nagar and Cox Town areas during my short stint there during Eid. While in Delhi, Nizam’s and Karim’s were my favourite hunts for special food during Eid. In Indore I used to go to the Muslim areas to have non-vegetarian food and even in Bhuj, I went to the Muslim restaurants for mouth-watering kebabs and roomali roti. In Lucknow, I got the taste of tunday kebabs and in Srinagar goshtaba during Eid festivities. I have frequented authentic biryani food joints during Eid in Hyderabad to taste some of the amazing Hyderabadi cuisines during Eid. My journey of food during Eid doesn’t end in Indian cities and towns only; it extends to Dubai, Malaysia and Sri Lanka where I ate some of the most amazing Mediterranean, Malay and Lankan delicacies during Eid celebrations. I still remember the aromatic chicken korma and Afghani Nan in a Pakistani restaurant in New York City way back in 2007 which reminded me of home during a month long work assignment. I always wondered then that how come Eid falls during the time when I am travelling to some of the best known food places in India and abroad.
But Eid feasts in Namrup (Assam), where I grew up were celebrated in people’s homes and our friends would invite us to enjoy such festive occasions with sewaiyan and pulao. In Guwahati, I used to look forward to my school friend Nahid’s Eid feast cooked by her mum and served to us with great delight. Such bonhomie over a meal was possible only during Eid. Once a student from UP asked me to grant leave for a long time during Ramzan followed by Eid. He said he would like to be with his family and friends to celebrate Eid because he missed home during Eid in Guwahati. I told him how I used to enjoy Eid festivities and asked him to reduce his long leave so that he doesn’t miss his classes. He smiled and asked me with a pleasant surprise, “Ma’am, you know about Eid?” The boy celebrated Eid that semester with his new classmates and also managed a small trip home without losing too many classes. Now on retrospection how can I say that Eid is not my festival?