Waft of pithas during Bihu and Eid Biryani still allure me: Poonam Dohutia


Many of my colleagues and friends are observing the holy month of Ramadan. Being brought up in a Hindu household and never having even skipped a meal, let alone fast for a whole day, I have utmost respect for fellow friends who fast long days (especially longer in the summer in Northern hemisphere when sun rises at 5:00 a.m. and sets around 9:00 pm) for a whole month.They do this with such grace; always with a smile and not complaining. I am in awe of such resolve, such disciplineand self-control behind a religious observance in an attempt to empathize with the less fortunate who go without meals regularly.

Having grown up with Muslims around me (along with people from many other religious backgrounds) I find it hard to sympathize with recent anti-religious sentiments, especially the ones arising post Syrian refugee intake. Perhaps the anti-Muslim sentiment is not entirely recent. At the very least in North America, it has much to do with 911. What is unlike us is scary. So, people fleeing ISIS and Asad’s regime and seeking shelter in other countries are unlike us therefore scary. I get that. However why blame all Muslims? Isn’t it ironic that we cannot sympathize or empathize with people from a religious background that work so hard at empathizing with the less fortunate?

I feel incredibly lucky to have grown up in India. I grew up in the beautiful state of Assam. Oneof my fondest memories of childhood is that of taking part in Iftar and celebrating Eid with friends. Much like I miss the sound of dheki emanating from my grandparents dheki ghor, the smell of my aunts and my mom making pitha during Bihu, I miss the mouth-watering waft of Biriyani and korma wafting out of neighbour’s kitchen during Eid. As much as I miss the sounds of naam during the holy Bhadomah, I miss the sounds of azaan from a local mosque.

So it’s only too natural that I pine for Eid goodies just as I pine for Bihu goodies. And I have felt down the odd years that I didn’t get to celebrate Eid with friends. I feel very honoured that this year one of my African Muslim friends has invited me to the region’s biggest community Iftar meal this week. I feel excited that I will get to taste dishes cooked by Muslims around the globe.

My mom’s best friend is a Muslim and one of my best friends is a Muslim. Growing up we had many Muslim family friends. I remember many a Ramzan when I would feel so lucky when I got to take part in an Iftar meal at a family friend’s house. All my Muslim friends would attend school while fasting and all I would be doing is counting my days down to Eid while not even skipping a meal. Having had a sweet tooth I would look forward to the golden creamy “sewaiyan” one of my Mom’s friends late Ahmed aunty made for Eid. No Hindu can cook Biriyanis like the Muslims. Same goes for their kababs, kormas and golden moist buttery parathas. I would look forward to Eid when we would be invited for sumptuous Eid feasts. I still haven’t figured out how our friends always managed very carefully to not serve us Hindus any beef even though sometimes we, as children, would show up at a friend’s house during Iftar by surprise. I admire their respect for other religions. I wonder if I was half as respectful of their religion.

When I moved to Canada for my post graduate studies I was incredibly lucky to come across a very dear friend of mine from Bangladesh who lived in the same residence as me. I will call her Jasmine for anonymity. Jasmine cooked the most incredible Biryanis and could whip up kababs in matter of minutes. I thought I hit the jackpot when I started getting invited to the most delicious Bangladeshi feasts and above all Eid feasts and Iftar meals.

As a child, I liked Eid and Iftar because I always related them to mouth-watering food, food that an expert cook of like my Mom couldn’t produce even after following Ahmed Aunty’s recipes to the T. As an adult now I appreciate the ideas behind Ramzan and Iftar. I have deep respect for a religion that has so many ardent followers that put themselves in the shoes of the poor by not even drinking water during the day for a whole month. Ramzan Mubarak and Eid Mubarak in advance my friends.

Poonam Dohutia is a civil servant with the Canadian Federal Government. She was born and brought up in Assam and lived all over Assam. Poonam did her Ph.D. in Philosophy from University of Waterloo. In her spare time she can be found gardening (Canadian weather permitting) in the summer months and planning about gardening during the harsh winter months. Poonam is passionate about Canadian Aboriginal issues and has been very privileged to travel to the Arctic.