Reliving the community spirit of rural Ramadan
The time meant for cleansing of the soul has unfortunately turned into a month of deal-hunting, TV viewing, shisha-smoking and wasting of food
Every year, Ramadan brings memories of my remote rural childhood. There was no electricity, no telephones, no running water, and almost by default, no marketplace. Dim-lit lantern would show the way to the kitchen where ladies of the household would shoo away rodents before preparing Suhoor, or the pre-dawn meal.
Preparing Iftaar meant relentlessly blowing into mud hearth to keep the embers alive and fetching water from the well to prepare the local sharbat, or shorbet. Sometimes, just for change sake, I would be asked to bicycle around 10kms to get a slab of ice, wrapped in saw dust, to prevent it from melting. The shorbet, with ice in it, acquired different meaning altogether.
Things were changing even then. There was yearning for material comfort, civic amenities and for good food. But it was not at the expense of the community spirit. Ladies in the neighborhood would spend hours preparing delicacies and then share them with neighbors. Village men would gather into large community spaces, or local mosques, to break the fast together. Children naturally inculcated the habit of sharing.
Not anymore. My native place, like many others around the world, has been reduced to a cacophonic marketplace. All kinds of edibles are sold on the streets. Makeshift arrangements are made during the fasting month to make biryani and haleem for sale. Soon there will be “dine-in” and “home deliveries” outlets. There will not be a local community anymore, just a collection of families.
A world apart
However, this isn’t about championing the rural cause. Be it cities or villages, we seem to have collectively allowed material comforts to overcome piety and simplicity, the hallmarks of Ramadan. Every year, we are inundated by Ramadan hotel packages, recycled television shows, and lavish Iftaar discounts. The time meant for acts of faith and cleansing of the soul has unfortunately turned into a month of deal-hunting, TV viewing, shisha-smoking and wasting of food.
It is ironic that when rural communities had access to fairly basic amenities, they valued what was available to them and remained closely-knitEhtesham Shahid
Like it or not, these are just manifestations of the way we are choosing to lead our lives. It is ironic that when rural communities had access to fairly basic amenities, they valued what was available to them and remained closely-knit. Today, when most products and services are available at the click of a button, we tend to think more of ourselves than others, even in the month of Ramadan.
This transformation may be visible everywhere but it is indeed is the product of the urban lifestyle that has been thrust upon us. More and more people are being drawn toward big cities with the lure of a better life but they end up losing more than what they bargain for.
It can be argued that there is free will and those willing to be pious have the opportunity to do so. But try doing that in the sea of unbridled greed and the reality stares in your face. Like it or not, gluttony and indulgence gets the better of us for most part of the otherwise fasting month. The message of simplicity goes largely unnoticed as vulgar display of wealth and vanity becomes the order of the day.
It may be unfair to look at the vagaries of the world through the prism of childhood experiences, but it is as important not to lose sense of the direction in which one is headed.
Ehtesham Shahid is Managing Editor at Al Arabiya English. For close to two decades he has worked as editor, correspondent, and business writer for leading publications, news wires and research organizations in India and the Gulf region. He loves to occasionally dabble with teaching and is collecting material for a book on unique tales of rural conflict and transformation from around the world. His twitter handle is @e2sham.
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