Challenging and enjoyable!
I have been in Kashmir for three months now and the second time during Ramzan. I’m fascinated by, and love everything Kashmiri, but never thought my natural curiosity will culminate into fasting!
The decision to keep a one day Ramzan fast was an impulsive one and suggested to me one evening during iftar. As I was enjoying the iftari delicacies with my local friends, I asked what it was like to eat after such long gaps. The obvious suggestion was “why don't you fast with us?” I hemmed and hawed. I’m a non-believer, an atheist. While I love to observe various customs, I had never been interested in following any. But short of offending my hosts, I couldn't see myself getting out of this one, and found myself agreeing.
Sehri morning with meals
“Waqt-e-Sahar, waqt-e-sahar,” I could hear it loud and clear. It was 2.30 AM when the Sahar Khwan, a designated human alarm clock, announced the hour of sehri by beating drums and waking people up from their sleep to attend to the rituals. I was still groggy when my friend’s mother shoved a plate full of rice in front of me, accompanied with tangy tomato and chicken curry. I looked at the food in despair as my stomach refused to indulge. The matron smiled, “It will be difficult now but tougher during the day if you don't eat.”
Fasting in Ramzan is not just about abstaining from food and water from dawn to dusk. My friend’s father explained. “The food we eat at this hour is meant to keep us full and energetic during the day.” He further explained how every item on my plate had a scientific reason. The rice digests slowly so it will keep me satiated during the day. The chicken has the protein to give me energy, and the buttermilk will keep me hydrated and also help in digestion. I looked at the food one more time and started eating reluctantly. The family was clearly having a field day looking at me going at it. Just as I finished, I was handed a glass full of Lipton tea (the usual tea) with czhot.
Enjoying doodh kahwa
Now it was time to pray. My friend and his father left for the mosque, and the women of the house stayed behind to offer prayers (dua), also known as `roze ki neeyat’. I had to share with the lord about my intention to fast today and thank him for everything. I clearly didn’t know what to do so I watched the mother and sister pray in silence. Once the prayers were done, my roza officially began.
I went to bed soon after so that I could spend most of my day sleeping. I woke up around midday and instinctively asked for a cup of tea when I was reminded about my fast. It was 1 PM and I had six hours before iftar.
Ramzan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar is a month of cleansing, not just physical but also spiritual. It teaches you discipline and self-control. It’s also a good time to do some self-reflection and connect with your faith at a visceral level.
I was enjoying my day with the local family who was now well acclimatized to the fasting routine. It was time to offer our second prayer at 1.30 PM and the men of the family left again while the women stayed home. As the day went by, I began feeling the first pangs of hunger. I was at my peak around 5 PM and counting the minutes. I looked at the clock again, 2h 40m to go!
Communal iftari at a local mosque
The hour of iftari was announced by the muezzin at exactly 7:40 PM. The table was laid out, one more time with dates, feerni, babriyol tresh, and fruits. With the first bite of dates and a drink of sherbet, my fast was over.
Firni, dates and babriyol tresh to break the fast at iftar
Eating dates to break the fast not only has ritualistic importance, but also scientific. The dates have just the right amount of carbs to give you a boost of energy and eating something sweet after a long day of fasting gives a sugar rush that will pump you right up. Babriyol tresh, the traditional sherbet made from basil seeds rehydrates you. Many people also eat water-rich fruits such as watermelons, melons and mangoes that are rich in fibre and water content to meet the body’s requirement from the day’s fasting.
Breaking the fast
Dinner was a meal fit for a king. With an assortment of dishes and meat, it felt like I had earned this meal. I was genuinely thankful for the food in front of me. It tasted better and sharing it with such a hospitable family only sweetened the occasion.
Dinner time (Kashmiri wazwan)
My one day fast was challenging but also enjoyable. The spiritual energy in Kashmir at this time is palpable. Everyone is doing it, so you feel like part of a unit. Would I do it again? Ummm let’s put it this way – I’m willing to try most things once!
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By Kanika Gupta
Photographs by Kanika Gupta
Cover photo credit: washingtonexaminer.com