originally posted September 13, 2007
Jagtay Raho was the ever-contradictory yell uttered at regular intervals by the night watchman in our neighborhood. He was a wizened old man, at least I think he was old, who carried a heavy stick and sometimes a M1 Carbine. Jagtay Raho, he would dramatically intone right as he passed by our house. Stay Awake. As far as I could tell, the man served no purpose beside making me furious. Except during Ramadan. That is when he would switch his 3 a.m. cry to Uth Jao. Sahri ka Waqt Hai, Wake Up, it is time to eat before the fast.
In Ramadan, Lahore lit up like one of those trick candles. Bright and shimmery. The usual rhythms of the city reversed themselves. Streets became navigable. Cranky butchers threw in an extra chop. Aunties bargained but with lips muttering silent prayers. There was less noise. More genialness. The blast of the anti-aircraft guns to signal the breaking of the fast. The mounds and mounds of dates. The fried foods and fresh fruits piled on the same table. The 7Up in Milk cold drink. The pakoras. The uncle sneaking a cigarette smoke behind the tree. The unexplained weight gain on certain people. The never-ending taraveeh. Qur’an on a loop on the telly. The fetishization of color. And an ever-growing sense of invincibility in my 14 year old self.
I don’t know about spiritual blessings but Ramadan was solely a time for me to flex my muscles. I could fast – exalted in the complete mastery over my own flesh – all day, and still play a game of cricket or squash, run countless errands, and bike to school and back. All this in the oppressive heat and humidity of July and August. Tough, doesn’t even begin to describe me.
Look Ma, no food.
The glories of keeping full fast – for a whole month – while patiently waiting the last excruciating hours of the sinking sun were too many to describe: One would get trotted out to the company of adults and praised for one’s dedication and stamina; one would get to brag and lord over one’s peers and friends who only managed to fast for 24 or 29 days; one would strain to remember the last Ramadan – was I three, I wonder? – when one didn’t hold an entire month’s fast.
But all that glory paled, at least in my eyes, to the pitch black night bicycle ride to the market. To get fresh yogurt. I mean, not only are you awake when the world is supposed to be asleep. But everyone is awake. Except no cars are on the street. I would zig and zag on my bike all the way to the kulcha and yogurt shop, whizzing through the night mist, thrilled to be out there before the false dawn.
My rosy nostalgia aside, Ramadan Mubarak to all of you gentle readers.