Monday, September 24, 2007

Watching People Eat

I’m not in the university guest house, at the moment. My room has been taken over by a gigantic physics convention. The person in charge of this convention wanted to rent more rooms than the university currently had available; and so the people furthest down the hierarchy were asked (no, told) to move out of the guest house for a week and make other arrangements.

So I’m in a backpackers’ hostel, in the city. And thrilled to be here. The university campus is peaceful and beautiful, but isolated. So I jumped at the chance to get away from the university… and, for that matter, away from the mess hall and its three rotating curries (bhindi, aloo and capsicum, and brinjal).

Anyway. I arrived at about 5:30 p.m. on the first sunny day in over a week. I put my things in the hotel room and took a moment to freshen up from the bus ride, and then flew down the stairs to start my evening’s adventure. Strangely, it looked as if the front desk clerk had “freshened up” as well. In the five minutes (okay, ten) it had taken me to re-braid my hair and reapply lipstick, he had combed his hair and put on a white embroidered cap. It almost looked as if he had put on a different shirt as well, but I couldn’t be sure.

I went out into a street that was on the cusp of twilight. The first thing I noticed was that nearly every man was wearing this same white cap (I know it's got a real name, but I can't find it on Google... I'll let one of you educate me ^__^). The second was that everyone – men, women, and children alike – were dressed in these gorgeous, sparkling things. The third, which I realized as I stepped into a group of people as they crossed a street and followed the group through to safety on the other side, was that everyone was congregating around a set of sweet-stalls set up at a prominent intersection.

Then I got it. It’s Ramadan, seconds from sundown, and they’re all about to break the fast.

There was such a sense of excitement in the air, which surprised me, because we are about two weeks into Ramadan already. Is there this excitement every evening? Of course, if I had spent the day fasting, I think I would be more than a little excited myself.

I didn’t watch to see the moment when the sun set. I wanted to, but it seemed like it would be prying into something very personal. It was enough to see the anticipation of these penultimate moments. So I turned and went onto a different road.

On this road, rows of electric lights drew me towards a giant Ganesha pandal (voted one of the top five pandals in the city, as the sign announced). This one had a dancing Ganesh instead of a seated one; his fingertip touched a fountain, and water poured over lotus flowers. This pandal also had a crowd of people and more coming from every direction.

They were doing puja and taking prasadam, only it seemed like the prasadam was an entire meal; rice, dal, and pooris. Plate after plate went out. I went closer, to see if money was exchanging hands, but whatever funds enabled this pandal to have a working lotus fountain (and be rated “top five in the city!”) were also enabling the pandal to feed this huge crowd for free.

Thus on one street, Muslims were breaking the fast; and around the corner, Hindus were taking prasadam. Everyone was eating. Everyone was happy. The sun set, and all around the city these glorious colorful lights came on. It was a perfect moment.


Blue Bike said...

and there are no comments yet on this post !!!
I found it pretty touching :-) and how I miss India, being from Bombay, I miss Ganesh festival as I have Ganesha at my home also as well as Ramadan feast from Minara Masjid... and while you're on the Ramadan feast thing ... can you please please enquire something about "Bihari Kebab" the dish in discussion is a rage in Pakistan but Bihar being a region of India has never heard of it !!! I've been to bihar myself and have a couple of bihari friends but none of them have heard of it ever !!!
If you get something you can post as a comment on the same post ...

Enjoy my country !

who? said...

what a beautiful description - i could see it, and feel it. i really like the way you write. seems to be brimming with a sort of warmth which is very attractive. will check out your archives as well. glad, you write!

Shruti said...

Absolutely..Its like I am standing there I can see it and I can smell the Haleem as well as the pooris...I wish and pray everyday to be this beautiful and peaceful ..Thank you soo much for bringing me soo close to home....:-)

Sirensongs said...

Great post, so warm and descriptive! Here in Leh there are so many Muslims, I haven't noticed anything special yet at the fast-breaking...a bit disappointed. ;-(

I have always heard the white cap called a Kufi but surely there's another name.

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