As a child, my first impression of the month of Ramzan was of getting awakened every day before sunrise by a band of youths from Wajib Nagar, our predominantly Muslim neighborhood at Dighali Pukhuri in the heart of Guwahati through songs set to the tunes of popular Hindi songs. Though intended only to wake up the faithful for sehri, the determined rendition of the youths usually woke up the whole neighborhood. Soon the songs became quite popular and the lyrics extolling the virtues of fasting or Roza were hummed by everyone in our neighborhood during the month of Ramzan.
The end of the holy month is marked by celebration of the festival of Eid ul fitr. By evening, on the eve of Eid, our street was decked with brightly colored paper festoons from end to end. A loudspeaker blurted out the catchy songs, sung every morning before sunrise through the last one month. From tomorrow they would no longer be sung to wake up the faithful.
My earliest memory about the month long fasting during Ramzan was of incredulity. How could anyone go on fasting for one whole month? I used to wonder. Sauqat, my childhood friend further fuelled my sense of bewilderment.
“You can’t drink a drop of water or even swallow your saliva during the time of Roza,” he told us. It was at Sauqat’s house that I first participated in Iftar – the ceremony of breaking the fast – along with members of his family.
On the day of Eid ul fitr what struck me most as a child was the amazing sartorial transformation of my Muslim neighborhood into a sea of starchy embroidered white. Everyone from the young to the old donned the white fez cap and kurta pajama. There was something deeply pious about how people I saw everyday appear so much alike –and equal– that day.
Every Eid ul fitr , I still remember going to Sauqat’s house and discovering how exquisite Hussain Aunty’s Chicken Biryani tasted. I had never known that rice could smell and taste so heavenly. As I grew up, some of my closest friends were Muslims. Every Eid ul fitr a difficult choice awaited me: whose invitation would I accept this time.
Looking back, the festival of Eid never meant anything different for me from any other festival that we celebrate every year. It was through Eid ul fitr that I came closer to my Muslim friends and Islam. As I grew up, I realized that I couldn’t think of my Muslim friends and colleagues as belonging to some other realm other than my own. The spirit of Eid ul fitr taught me that the differences in our faiths hardly matter before that sense of belongingness.