A social-distanced Ramazan

May 24, 2020

Pre-Covid-19, Ramazan was not just a month of religious observance but also an occasion celebrated on a social level


s an Eid even going to be like an Eid, without new clothes and family gatherings?” asks Kinza, a twelve-year-old who lives in the Marriyan graveyard’s neighbourhood along the posh Model Town in Lahore. Her mother, Musarrat, works as a domestic help for the bungalows in the posh locality. Despite having received her salary without working for the past two months, finances have been awry for her household. “My older daughter and I ate our meals at baji’s (employer) house, which saved us food on a daily basis. We even brought home leftover bread, gravies, fruit and sometimes pocket money which added to my kitty. But now, it is hardship for me,” a woeful Mussarat doles out. Salary does so much, she adds, but not all, for the house rent, bills, school fees and daily rations have been piling up through the month of Ramazan.

“What does it matter whether shops open or not,” says Kinza, stirring a syrup of sugar dissolved in water for iftar, “Ammi does not have enough money to buy us clothes.”

In a pre-Covid-19 Lahore, Ramazan was not just a month of religious observance and duties, but also a month-long occasion celebrated on a social and filial level. “This Ramazan makes one realise how the little things which one overlooks or takes for granted are quite the spark that rekindles human connection,” says Mahnaz, a teenager who has been in lockdown with her family since the middle of March and is exasperated with the on-screen images of her teachers, friends, school-examiners and cousins. “My best friend’s sister is having her nikah on Eid, which I cannot attend; we had a Mother’s Day during Ramazan in lockdown and I couldn’t even get my mother a flower. It is just so unfair!”

In a pre-pandemic Ramazan, the day began with the drum beater – dholchi, and his companion – the street crier, both warning against the menace of sleep during Ramazan. “It is all about festivity, a kind of warmth that exudes from everywhere. Every Ramazan, come sehri, a generous aunty from the neighbourhood brought over a bowl of sewaiyyaan or pheni to share. This year, she has disappeared. And although we took her delicious shares for granted at times, I kind of miss her this year,” says Tashfa Zafar, a teenage student in Lahore.

“Every Ramazan, come sehri, a generous aunty from the neighbourhood brought over a bowl of sewaiyyaan or pheni to share. This year, she has disappeared,” says Tashfa Zafar, a teenage student

Other than the classy sehri menus in uptown restaurants, trips to the Walled City of Lahore – for want of paaye in Gumti Bazaar, parathay in Mozang, nihari in Androon Bhaati Gate and halwa poori at Abbott Road – were for most men the idea of a boys’ night out during the few hours that the protocol of Ramazan allowed. “The pandemic has brought a halt to all those who sold manna in the name of paaye, nihari, chholey, lassi and tea and it is a loss for us, who bought these things,” a group of men who like to party the Lahori way – over food – reminisce their sehris in previous years. The factor they weigh in on is that they may still have options for food consumption but the food stall owners have none for earning.

On any given pre-Covid-19 day in Ramazan, neighbours shared platefuls of food in reciprocation. The neighbourhood’s chowkidaar received his share of iftar and dinner from several households while iftar parties were arranged in the most affluent urban homes and in the humblest, like that of Kinza. “One box of chocolate milk would suffice for us all to sip from with Ammi’s food for iftar. Now I can neither share my straw nor invite anyone home,” Kinza complains with a frown.

Amira Younis, a psychologist by profession, lends expert opinion on the ongoing Ramazan with respect to how insecurities have affected everyone. “This health crisis which is beyond any single person’s complete understanding has developed a fear of the unknown amongst people. Everyone is concerned, not for themselves alone but for their near and dear ones, who they cannot reach out to.”

“The health issue has come with economic uncertainty and a future quite not in clear sight for everyone, and that has dampened the socialising spirit of Ramazan,” says Younis adding that women and children in a lot of households have been experiencing domestic violence, verbal and emotional abuse during the lockdown and that too shall reflect on the psychology of people during Ramazan and Eid.

“This Eid shall be very different,” she says.

During the normal days of Ramazan, groups of men and boys would return from the local masjid after having offered their taraweeh prayers. This year, it is quite the opposite. Ali, a young marketer, has been pulling his hair out since the beginning of the pandemic, for his father would not miss Friday prayers and the taraweeh in the first week of Ramazan until Ali convinced him to hold jamaat at home with his family. “Now my next challenge begins, and that is to make him stay at home for Eid namaz, which should be easy since all mosques in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey etc are closed already, but…” his voice trails off. He vents his frustration in tweets, however.

Ramazan in 2020 is different, no doubt – the dholchi plays a daft monotone; the domestic staff calls their employers to ask for eidi because the salary did not last; the streets are quiet without the midnight cricket; and the old man who cooks the best aloo parathay in Mozang has had to close shop for the past three months.

The writer has authored two books of fiction, including Unfettered Wings: Extraordinary Stories of Ordinary Women (2018)

Coronavirus: A social-distanced Ramazan