Ramadan: fasting, family, food and much more

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Two cannon shots ring out across the vast courtyard of the Jama Masjid and the crowded streets beyond, signalling an end to a long, hot day of fasting and the beginning of some feasting with family and friends.

But Ramadan aka Ramzan means a lot more for those who don't drink or eat from sunrise to sunset, observing the 'roza' for the entire month until Eid.

As the day ends and dusk falls over the area, there's a momentary silence as thousands of 'rozedaar' gathered in the courtyard of one of Asia's biggest mosques begin the ritual of the evening namaz.

And then it's time to open the sherbet bottles, to ladle out fruit salad and hand out plates of dates, the chatter building up as it is Eid.

After the namaz of Maghrib, the crowd starts to trickle out in the streets, famous for its kababs, roasted chicken, biryani and other Indian-Mughlai delicacies.

Family, friends and food make for essential parts of the holy month of Ramadan but the underlying principles and reasons behind observing the fast are never far from the mind, said Abid Ali Khan from Ghaziabad.

Sitting in the Jama Masjid courtyard, surrounded by his family, the 55-year-old businessman said that organising a feast for family and neighbours during Ramadan not only gives one a chance to get together, but an opportunity to have great food too.

Ramadan: fasting, family, food and much more

But keeping a 'roza' is more importantly about practising a moral way of life.

"This one month is like a rehearsal for the next 11 months. It's not just about going fasting, it is about avoiding everything wrong and taking the path of what's right. Not thinking bad for anyone, not stealing, harming others, keeping away from immoral thoughts, that is the real 'roza'," he explained.

One would think that fasting devotees would eat great portions of food, he added, but when it comes to 'iftar', breaking the fast, only water matters the most.

Ramadan: fasting, family, food and much more

"You would feel like I want to eat this tonight, or that special dish. But at 'iftar' all I want is water, we have a lot of liquid through sherbet and other drinks," Khan said.

Sitting by the southern colonnades of the mosque, Mohammad Sameer from Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, gently offers people around him a bottle full of Rooh Afza, the famed rose flavoured squash, to break the fast.

After a long day in the market selling 'arbi' (colocasia) from his farms back home, Sameer said he isn't really bothered about either the heat or hunger.

"I have fasted regularly since I was seven through sun and rain. The first few times I felt uncomfortable, but now it does not take any effort," the 38-year old said.

Ramadan: fasting, family, food and much more

The farmer-scrap dealer has a train to catch in the night, so how will he have his 'sehari', the pre-fast meal taken at dawn?

"I will buy something on the train, tea and biscuits usually. We don't feel the need to pack especially for 'sehari', since it has become a routine to be travelling during the early hours. We manage," he answered, a confident smile appearing on his face.

Dikhra, a PG student at AIIMS from Kerala, was also fasting far from home and missed it as being around the family made the fasting month more comforting.

"It's difficult to keep rozas alone. When with family or in a group you feel motivated and will have the whole Ramzan feel. Here I just feel like keeping the fast, I can't deny that it is not tiring. At times, it is very tiring," she said.

Matia Mahal, a colourful, crowded market in front of Gate no 1 of Jama Masjid, welcomes a continuous stream of those wanting to have some more before heading home for dinner.

Sitting with a large platter full of 'halwa' made with desi ghee, Mohammad Rashid comes to the market outside the mosque and sets up his shop around 4 pm in the afternoon.

Cooking and carrying the dry fruits-laden halwa to the market could make anyone salivate, but not devoted rozedaar Rashid. For Rashid, it is just another day.

Ramadan: fasting, family, food and much more

"It has been 40 years since I have been fasting during Ramadan. Preparing this halwa does not interfere with the fast. And the hardship, well, when Allah is there to take care of everything we don't have to worry about such trivialities," he said.

It may not be a matter of concern for Rashid, but a few meters down the road Mohammad Shakir does not observe the fast.

"I used to keep the fast till I was a young boy, but now my work involves standing for hours and roasting kababs. I don't think that would be an honest fast," the 37-year-old vendor said while slow-roasting kababs dripping with spicy juices on an open barbecue.

Another famous food item during Ramzan is 'shahi kheer' or 'firni' and Mohammed Mustafa's shop is particularly known for the quality of the sweet, made of slowly cooked milk and mixed with almonds and pistachios.

No matter how tempting, Mustafa does not feel a thing when he fasts.

"It is work for us, have been doing it for generations. It's only Allah's blessing that it does not even feel we are doing anything extraordinary. There are times when I don't even remember I am fasting," Mustafa said.

Between those who cook to sell and those who eat, the sentiment of all 'rozedaar' remains. As Sameer said, "Allah has given us this month. It has his divine mercy and beneficence. And he only gets us through".

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