It is the feeling of brotherhood that makes fasting in Ramadan a unique and joyous experience
On the 14th day of Ramadan, as I drove back home to break my daily fast (roza), a beep on my cell phone alerted me to an incoming message. This is what the message said: "Hello, Mr Bhatt. I understand through your utterances and writings that you are not a religious man and you do not believe in the efficacy of prayer. But I have now learned that you maintain roza in the month of Ramadan. But the peculiar thing is that when you break the fast you do so without offering prayer. Your actions, Mr Bhatt, bewilder the Hindus and shock the Muslims as well. May I ask why you keep roza?"
This question from a stranger made me smile but since the query was an innocent one I instinctively punched in my response, which was, "Islam is a part of my heritage. I was born to a Brahmin Hindu father and a Shia Muslim mother. When I was a child my mother would ensure that I fasted for at least one day in the month of Ramadan. I remember her telling me that during the month of Ramadan the Muslims say that the gates of hell are closed and the gates of heaven are open. This is the month when Muhammad received his first revelation. After my mother died six years ago I realised that the only way to keep her alive within me was to fast for every single day in the month of Ramadan."
That evening when the distant azaan was heard and the clock announced that the day’s fast had come to an end, my parched body welcomed the first sip of water that I had taken in 14 hours like a desert would welcome rain. As I bit into an overripe date I discovered that at this particular moment I was a part of this collective release which bound me together with millions of people in my country and all over the world with such unnatural force that I experienced a sense of exhilaration like I had never experienced before. And it was then that for the first time I realised what the spirit of Ramadan is really all about. When so many people together wholeheartedly share a common purpose, they are united in a way that one has to experience to truly comprehend. And the exhilaration comes from the fact that it’s not about the individual alone but about all of us, together, doing something so completely.
And it is perhaps this feeling of brotherhood that makes fasting in Ramadan such a unique and joyous experience.
In this buy, consume and junk age where one’s consciousness is being bombarded by all kinds of pleasure peddlers who market their mouth-watering food and drink on the hour by the hour, it is such a relief to shut the door to them and their wares and protect your body from an overdose of pleasure.
In the month of Ramadan one takes a break from the hedonistic way of life. One gets off the treadmill of constant pleasure seeking and lives a life of austerity and simplicity. This rejuvenates the physical organism and fills one with unusual vigour. As days turn into weeks you begin to realise that the human organism spends too much energy in trying to process excess food intake. The maxim that man is killed by too much food rather than too little food suddenly begins to make sense.
In the first few days of Ramadan, when the pangs of hunger gnaw at your insides leaving you to constantly stare at the clock, you suddenly feel as if there is an invisible umbilical cord connecting you to the sea of otherwise faceless people all over the world that often go for days without a square meal. Your apathy and indifference slowly begin to fade away and your heart begins to wake up to the all-pervasive suffering of your fellow human beings.
Another thing that makes this Ramadan even more special for me is that my 13-year-old daughter, Alia, has for some strange and unknown reason spontaneously decided to fast along with me. "Like you fast for your mother, I fast for you," she said simply after I asked her what prompted this unexpected decision. No wonder a wise man once said, "What you teach your children, you also teach your grand-children". I wonder whether years ago while my mother was shaking me awake in the hush of the morning light and whispering, "Beta, time for sehri," she knew she was also awakening her future grand-children. Isn’t this at the end of it all what culture is all about?