We are well into Ramzan by over three weeks. For the Muslim community, this is a month of penance and piety and the devout among them observe ‘roza’ by abstaining from food and drinking any liquids throughout the day after a pre-dawn meal called ‘sehri’ and the fast is broken after sunset with a meal called ‘iftar’.
The very complexion of the predominantly Muslim areas changes dramatically during Ramzan. The Walled City which otherwise looks dull and uninviting at night now bustles with activity till the wee hours of the morning.
The ‘galis’ is brightly illuminated and some of the traditional markets like Bazaar Matia Mahal look like a veritable fairyland. The glittering Jama Masjid nearby remains open all night for those who wish to pray even at odd hours and brisk sales take place at the Eid Bazaar below it, where traditional Muslim women in ‘burqas’ do shopping. Ramzan time has become a gourmet delight.
Hordes of people can be seen making a beeline for Karim’s, Al Jawa har, or Aslam for a hearty dinner throughout the night, washed down with sweets and lassi from Kallan’s near Jama Masjid. The foodstuffs in great est demand are the wide varieties of ‘kebabs’, ‘biryani’, ‘sheermal’, ‘tandoori rotis’, and various other mouthwatering non-vegetarian stuff on offer.
‘Nihari’ is particularly preferred for the ‘sehri’ or the last meal before sunrise accompanied, of course, by ‘phirnee’, ‘jalebi’ and fruits which have a lot of water locked within them. Iftar is not complete without dates, ‘sherbats’, and a delectable range of non-vegetarian fritters.
In fact, Iftar parties have become popular in recent years, cutting across religious divides, with politicians vying with each other to outsmart the other in terms of the spread offered. It’s said that many a political deal is also clinched in such Iftar parties apart from the bonhomie between even the staunchest enemies. While the Ramzan eats are now easily available all over the capital, it was not so in the olden times.
According to renowned Delhi chronicler the late R V Smith, when Emperor Shah Jahan decided to move out of Agra and set up his capital in Shahjahanabad, he initially camped at Kala Mahal, an almost forgotten monument in Daryaganj. Being a man who never missed a ‘namaz’ or his ‘roza’, he was acutely conscious of the needs of the people who had begun to settle down in his new city. Hence, he got foodstuffs brought from Nizamuddin, Mehrauli, and sometimes even from Agra for them to observe Ramzan the way it should be.
While wishing Eid Mubarak in advance to one and all, let us not forget the underlying spirit of the festival, which is love, compassion, and sacrifice as immortalised by the character of the little boy Hamid in Munshi Premchand’s all-time favourite short story, ‘Idgah’.