I am not sure how other Muslims are faring in this month of fasting, but I have surely gained weight and have only managed a couple of winks of peaceful sleep every night.
With temperatures in the high 30s even in the cool, garden city of Bangalore, nutritionists and doctors warn that people should drink enough water to keep themselves hydrated, while fasting.
I try to drink three glasses of water just before I hear the call to prayer by the “muezzin” of a nearby mosque, but just one half-liter glass and it sloshes around in my tummy and when bending down to pray, I can feel the water trying to find its own level, somewhere inside.
The weight gain is because my wife orders delicacies like ‘haleem’, ‘biryani’ and sweets such as ‘firni’ and banana ‘halwa’ for my iftar, the evening meal when the day-long fast is broken.
Firni is a heavenly sweet made from rice and dried fruits and scented with cardamom. It comes in very tiny cool earthen containers and I tend to eat a couple of the tiny pots. The banana ‘halwa’ is incredibly sticky and if you are wearing partial dentures, just say no to this sweet.
For a few minutes you cannot speak to anyone as it sticks to your palate while you try to push it away with the tip of the tongue. It gets awkward when inviting guests and you going about with your mouth like Mr Bean.
I know, I know, Ramadan is a time of fasting, reflection and piety, not eating like a starved gourmand, but after more than 13 hours of no food, I cannot control myself.
The other problem is that all my working life I had worked in Muslim countries and fasting there was easy; the working hours were shorter and the office was air-conditioned like the facilities manager was secretly trying to freeze us to death, while everybody was fasting, regardless of their colour, creed and appetite.
My colleagues on the editorial desk and in reporting, were kids from some town in Ohio or Wisconsin, and this was their first time out of America, and they were fascinated by the idea of not eating during the daytime.
“My girlfriend says I am looking much better, slimmer and full of energy,” one smart aleck would say cheerfully, while I sat there staring at the copy as typewritten words slowly swam out of the page.
Meanwhile, my Pakistani colleague, a heavy smoker, would give out a low moan from time to time.
One Brit editor said his hands start shaking at five pm, but that the experience had been overall healthy. He also tried to sell fasting to his Irish wife.
My first Ramadan in Mississauga, a small town in Ontario, Canada, was agonising. While I was trudging on the streets, everyone around me would be eating or drinking with absolutely no regard to my sentiments or to my growling stomach. Jellied doughnuts, huge take-away tankards of heavenly smelling coffee, people peeling shiny yellow bananas or crunching on juicy red apples.
Here in Bangalore, I told our cook, Bassama, that I was fasting and she was impressed. “Is it for didi’s long and healthy life,” she asked puzzled (‘didi’ being my wife). In the North of India, women fast and pray for the long life of their husbands.
I said, “No way. It is for my own salvation and health.” Then she got worried about her job. “How many days will you fast,” she asked. “Can I put ginger and garlic in your food.”
I remember people in one Gulf state trying to rush home from work to eat Iftar with their families that the police posted warnings on TV because the crazy rush caused so many pileups, sending motorists to hospital, and the police had to take dates to the injured guys.
For some lovely Ramadan (Ramzan) food in Bangalore, you have to travel to “Mosque Street” in Fraser Town. More about street foods next week.
Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi