Sunday, July 31, 2011

Holy Month Of Ramzan

RAMZAN is generally perceived as the Muslim month of fasting. To the believers though, this holy month holds a much larger significance. It is a period of spiritual cleansing – of selfdenial and abstinence, of introspection and above all, a reaffirmation of self-surrender to the will of the Almighty. It was on this month, in 610 A.D., that the prophet Mohammed had experienced his “divine revelations” which went on to form the essential text of the Holy Koran. Ramzan celebrates that event every year with the sighting of the crescent moon – the month lasting for 29 or 30 days, depending upon the lunar cycle. Ramzan is also the time for communal bonding and strengthening fraternal ties. Much as the community fasts between sunrise and sunset, food constitutes a star attraction in the daily ritual, should the popularity of iftaar parties these days provide any indication. While politicians and business barons might strike deals over lavish spreads of malpuas and haleem, the more modest and humble would gather with the family around dinner tables to savour an array of biryani preparations, not to mention sumptuous snacks ranging from keema samosas to kababs and chana bhatura. Amidst these, the humble date occupies pride of place. While many might crunch the fruit in its natural or unadorned state, others would have it packed with almonds, soaked in rose water or perhaps, wrapped in fluorescent cellophane. Then there are always those tall glasses of faluda, fruit juice and radiant heaps of pomegranate, oranges and watermelon – all peeled and mildly chilled. Indeed, on no other occasion, would these sherbets taste as delicious and refreshing as in the month of Ramzan. Take a walk down Mumbai’s Mohammad Ali Road after sunset – or say, Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, even the area around Kolkata’s Nakhoda Masjid. These are busy thoroughfares, which bear a business- like order urgency during the day. But by nightfall, during Ramzan, the very same streets are transformed into a fairyland of bright lights and clattering pans, suffused with the heady aroma of mutton biryani, murg mussalam, malpuas, crunchy mughlais, sheer kurma, tikka… It is then that you realize that Muslims in India are determined to crown their month of fasting with more than a little bout of feasting. And whoever heard of disturbing concepts like cholesterol and calorie counts in a culture that boasts of rich tradition of royal cuisine! Another fast emerging trend is that these iftaar binges are not restricted to Muslims only. Non-Muslims are increasingly partaking in these power-packed delicacies, some deliberately fasting during the day so as not to miss out on the variety. In that respect, Ramzan has already emerged from the ‘purdah’ and is acquiring secular overtones, much like Diwali and Dussehra. Political parties have been quick to recognise the mileage to be gained from this “bonding with biryani” and are hosting iftaar parties for all communities these days. In all this, what escapes attention is the behind-thescenesvpreparation for the grand occasion. For months before Ramzan, housewives would sun the dry fruits, go around town for the condiments and flavors, grind the masala, roast them and so on. Good Sheer kurma for a gastronome could take up to ten days of hard work before this divine mixture of vermicelli, milk, nuts and dry fruit is cooked right. And then, there is no one way of cooking this dish – equivalent to what plum cake is on Christmas or modak is on Ganesh Chaturthi. Every Muslim family has its own recipe for sheer kurma it would not easily part with. But everybody is welcome to it and many foodies make it a point to visit one another over the evenings, only to drink vast quantities of this delicacy. Moreover, within the community, different sects have their own culinary preferences during the festival. So while the north Indian Khans might freak out on kheer, Muslims from Kolkata would go all out for laddoos made of vermicelli. Many Bohra households in Mumbai prefer to dole out chocolates while for others, it could be marzipans. After all, barring dates, which is considered “sunnah” (auspicious), there is no religious binding on what should be served at the end of every day of rigorous fasting.

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