Ramzan reminiscences

  • A dollop of nostalgia and a dash of hope


As a rule, nostalgia is a counter-productive emotion. That’s because it has its roots in a selective recalling of good and bad memories from the past. Like all rules however, there are exceptions to it. The way the fasting month was observed 30 or 40 years ago may be a case in point. In this regard at least, one can’t help feeling that probably we have proceeded in the wrong direction.

Businessmen, since time immemorial, have rarely let an opportunity to make more money slip by; and this has always been true of the fasting season. Of course, the phenomenal rise in the number of TV channels, the insane number of competing brands selling their products, and the insufferable Ramzan transmissions have all made Ramzan much grander than it ever used to be. Commercially, that is. If one turns one’s attention to the consciousness of the ordinary man however, Ramzan was a much bigger phenomenon 40 years ago than it is today. It may not have been a grand affair then, but one could find the characteristic Ramzan ‘feel’ in every home– something akin to the serene happiness visible only in today’s ads could be found in most households. This, even though the budgets involved were smaller, and the sehrs and iftars were essentially domestic, private affairs. (Iftar parties were exceptions rather than the rule.) All members of the house were sure to assemble however, and because there were no cell phones, all were present in every sense of the word. Yes, there were those who didn’t fast, but even they displayed genuine enthusiasm for the proceedings.

There are millions who in their childhood would have experienced the kind of Ramzan I have attempted, however inadequately, to describe. Few among them have succeeded in replicating that atmosphere for their children in turn

In the intervening years, two opposite trends have gradually grown, each feeding off the other. On the one hand, atheism and its uninhibited profession have been steadily on the rise. On the other hand, religious fervour among the believers– at any rate the wearing-one’s-religion-on-one’s-sleeve variety– has proportionately increased too. Each of these, in their own way, has marred the convivial Ramzan atmosphere of yore– the first by casting doubts on the meaning of the whole exercise, and the other by robbing it of its spontaneity and authenticity.

It’s the children who have lost out most on account of this transition. Children, much more so than adults, need anchors of solidity in their lives. Ramzan was one such anchor providing certainty and meaning, so long as the adults appeared genuinely enthusiastic about it. Children can immediately sense if something on the part of the adults is fake or half-hearted. With an overdose of readily available thrill in the form of the internet and videogames, today’s children are much more prone to feelings of emptiness and meaninglessness than were children of older generations, who needed to be inventive and hard-working merely to pass the long summer afternoons. It’s a pity that Ramzan for most of them is just another month, albeit with altered school timings. (The author has taken the trouble of interviewing many children before making this claim.) These kids could have done with a yearly dose of heartfelt festivities of a mild sort.

One does feel a pang recalling the fasting seasons of yore when it used to be a month of genuine festivity just beyond the power of words to describe. When everybody, from the eldest member of the household to the youngest kid, made it to the table at sehr and iftar time– not because it was mandatory but because one would rather be nowhere else at the time; when children as young as seven insisted on fasting for half a day if not for the whole day; when Ramzan was observed not individually, but as a household; when the siren to announce the breakfast time was impatiently awaited by the whole family crowded around the kitchen table. The fruit-chaats, the sherbets, and the pakoras are still very much there, but that quiet cheerfulness of the atmosphere is somehow missing. Reh gai rasm-e-azaan, rooh-e-Bilali na rahi.

There are millions who in their childhood would have experienced the kind of Ramzan I have attempted, however inadequately, to describe. Few among them have succeeded in replicating that atmosphere for their children in turn. Of course, there are complex social factors at play here, but while most of the reasons may have been beyond their control, the parents and elders can’t escape at least part of the blame.

Tailpiece: On a positive note, news is just coming in that Fawad Chaudhry, the Science and Technology minister, has formed a committee, comprising SUPARCO and PMD experts, to prepare lunar calendars for the next ten years. Unless it’s one of those committees that never do anything beyond looking important and claiming TA/DA, this step was long overdue and should go a long way towards eliminating the yearly confusion regarding the sighting of the moon. It’s a pity it took so long for the nation to refer the problem to science, considering it wasn’t a religious matter in the first place. The enormous talents of Mufti Muneebur Rehman and company will be much better utilized finding solutions to more exacting problems instead– those that require more than the art of gazing into the eyepiece of a telescope.

Happy fasting!