Imagine going without food and water for a full month, but having to go about life in the same way: reporting to work or school, taking part in sports or other physical activities, all the while watching people satiate their hunger with food that’s perhaps your favourite. The toughest challenge is depriving the human body of water from sunrise to sunset – well over 15 hours, especially in peak summer. In a nutshell, this is Ramadan for practicing adult Muslims, who consider this holy month as a time to reflect and connect with their inner conscience, abstaining from all temptations and indulgences, including sexual. They are their best versions at this time of the year, feeding the hungry and donating to the less fortunate. By starving themselves for long periods, Muslims get a first-hand feel of how the people of the world, who go hungry without choice, feel and cope.
Now, fast-forward to the festival of Eid, announcing the end of this rigorous regime with prayers, and allowing you to soak yourself in tantalizing aromas of biryani, fried samosas, sweet and savory pastries, cakes, seviyan (the traditional dessert of toasted thin wheat noodles cooked with fragrant rich milk and garnished with an assortment of dry fruits). And we have only scratched the surface. The scope of this article will not allow room to accommodate the innumerable delectable treats that feasting families indulge in, making up for the month-long abstinence, and devoured with fervor in a community spirit.
Women adorn their hands with intricate henna patterns and bodies with sparkling new colorful outfits; men trim up with traditional wear; and children complete the family portrait with clothes bought for them especially for the occasion. Families and close friends get together to enjoy food, fun and frolic, reveling in music, dance, games or friendly chatter.
I remember fighting my Muslim friend in India for a taste of their traditional dessert of seviyan, the sweet vermicelli with cream and cardamom. Even though she shared with me the simple recipe of toasting the broken vermicelli noodles in butter until they smelt nutty, before cooking them in rich milk scented with fat cardamom, and topping it off with nuts and dry fruits; when I tried my hand at this scrumptious dessert, the result was less than satisfactory.
Dates play an important role in Muslim cuisine, not just as symbolic dry fruits with which to break the daily fast during Ramadan, but as quintessential ingredients to trump dishes or be served by themselves. This sweet chewy fruit is packed with essential nutrients and is a great source of dietary potassium and many more health benefits.
The three-day festivities of Eid al-Fitr are a well-deserved gift of God to all those who cleansed their bodies and souls with intense discipline and self-control. The hope is that the spiritual detox will last until the next Ramadan rolls around, when people will once again self-introspect about their conduct and relationships.