Thursday, October 06, 2005

Absolute Lee 3.0

I’d have liked to mark my 2nd blogversary with a little more elegance. There were many plans – a new look, a nostalgia-tinged post, some funny observations of life in the Muddle East. But not only have all plans been thwarted by a grueling offline schedule, even my existing template seems to have upped and left. I have to admit; the present look is pretty much what life looks like right now. A BIG thank you to all of you who visit and leave comments, even though I’m unable to reciprocate at the moment.

Now that I’ve begun, I thought I’d write a little about the unique experience of Ramadan. For reasons unknown to most out here, it’s ‘Ramadan’ and not ‘Ramzan’. A trifling disparity in pronunciation, but a huge departure from my experience of it in India. I had a close Muslim friend, who fasted sporadically. But I’d rarely come across anyone who kept up the arduous schedule of fasting and prayers.

I’m in awe of the way things work out here to assist people in maintaining the austerity required at Ramadan. From sunrise to sunset, life alters irrevocably for everyone – Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The most welcome change has to be the reduced working hours. All companies are required by law to alter office timings, with the result that offices everywhere start at 9.30 or 10 a.m. and end by 3 or 4 p.m. My driving classes have come to a halt because instead of 8 a.m. classes are only authorized to begin at 9.30 a.m. Even with the reduced work hours, little gets accomplished. It’s a well-accepted norm that any major business decisions, or even recruitments will happen only post-Ramadan.

Yesterday morning I inadvertently broke a Ramadan rule. I was waiting for the office car and overcome by thirst, I started sipping an orange juice. I almost choked when I remembered that eating or drinking in a public place is prohibited during Ramadan. No beady-eyed policeman was bearing down on me, but that didn’t stop my heart from thudding a little faster. Most restaurants are shut until sunset and those that stay open have to enclose the dining area. Even the 24-7 store in my office complex, which has all of 3 tiny tables, now has a cane partition demarcating the eating area.

Apart from fasting, the emphasis is on prayer. One of the first things I found fascinating in my office building was a Prayer Room on every floor with the prayer timings marked out. Perhaps anticipating an increased number of worshippers, the management has recently added a shoe rack outside the Prayer Room. One of my colleagues has set an adhan (call for prayer) alarm on his laptop. So every few hours, we’re treated to the plaintive call.

At sunset, the transformation is dramatic. The starving countenances are lit up with smiles in anticipation of Iftar (fast-breaking meal). Shuttered restaurants now throw open their doors, advertising lavish Iftar spreads. The messy traffic situation gets messier as families decide to go a-visiting.

There’s a distinct change in the weather as well. The days are shorter and somewhat cooler. The promised ‘good weather’ seems to be upon us, finally. The piety followed by gaiety adds to this pleasant mood. Far from treating the fasting and change in schedule as an obligation, most people seem to welcome it. My colleagues avidly discuss their experiences, what they eat at Sohour (dawn meal) and Iftar, their techniques for coping with hunger. I almost feel a wee twinge of guilt, stealing away behind the cane partition to have my lunch.

‘Ramadan Kareem’ is how people greet each other during this time. So, to all of you who drop by and leave comments, Ramadan Kareem.

P.S. The 1st post and the 1st blog-versary post.

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