We often find it too easy to hurtle through the days, in an attempt to outpace the bustling city – be it London or Bombay – which always seems to be running away like a steam-engine train on a rickety track.
Occasionally, it does us good to pause for thought, to disembark the carriage and sit on the platform awhile. The next few weeks will see millions of Muslims across India and around the world, from Bombay to London, take the time to reflect, pray and taste the essence of a simpler life. In observing the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, our Muslim brothers and sisters refrain from eating and drinking during daylight hours, devote time to prayer and to the giving of alms. In Islam, Ramadan holds special significance as the month when the first chapters of the holy Qur’an were first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
The morning starts early, too early, when healthy adult Muslims wake and make their way downstairs. First, some eggs, toast or some porridge, perhaps, and always plenty of water to nourish and sustain for the day ahead. Then, recite the morning prayers. The day may be altogether routine: filled with meetings and laughter, emails and quizzical expressions, with small breaks for prayer. But when it is time to return home, when the sun begins to set, the family gathers together. With the bite of a juicy date, that first sip of water upon parched lips, with family and friends and loved ones, the fast is broken and it is time to remember the things that matter. In Hyderabad they eat the traditional Ramadan dish of Haleem – a thick, smooth stew of pounded wheat, lentils and lamb, cooked for many hours and spiced delicately.
The culmination of Ramadan will bring with it a day of festivity known as Eid-Ul-Fitr. Following a communal prayer, Muslims take time to visit extended friends and family, give children gifts of money known as ‘Eidie’. A three-day-long affair in many Muslim countries, new clothes are tailor-made, planned for many weeks in advance. A time to enjoy one another’s company after a month of relative austerity, Eid is a cherished and celebratory affair. Veritable feasts are held and the food is rich – Biryani, rich with saffron, Nihari, steaming with chillis. And of course, Haleem.
In the spirit of reflection, of getting off the train and sitting on the platform awhile, we have some dates set aside for those who are fasting to break their fast (just ask!) And good luck with the rest of the fasting!
With February comes a gladdening of spirits, lighter morning skies and discernibly louder birdsong. It is also the month to bid farewell to our winter cocoons (at least partially) and tune back into the world beyond our blankets. Allow us to ease the de-hibernation process, by sharing some of the things piquing our interest this month.
“Who wants to see some magic?” Chef Arun calls out. He flings the rolled out dough into the air, sending it soaring above the counter. It spins and twists, a graceful dancer in the air. The children watch its arc, their eyes wide with wonder, until it lands gently back in the chef's hands. The children shriek in delight.
January is a most divisive month. For some it heralds the hopeful turning over of new leaves; for others it is a month to trudge begrudgingly through towards the promise of spring. Whichever camp you find yourself in, we have plentiful diversions to share. See them as the cherry atop your already gleeful January cake, or a welcome distraction while you await winter’s end.
I AM HERE, dear reader, slovenly and slouched, staring into my drink at the end of the bar in our new restaurant in Battersea. My mind is still down and out, sifting around in the dregs of ’23 but of course it knows that I should really straighten my back, raise my chin and look squarely up into the cold new light of ’24. My drink – Choti’s Punch – clear and strong, sweet with a little salt, may help.