Ramadan: The Night Rides

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.

Author: sepoy

what is the vertiginous chapati saying to me?

18 thoughts on “Ramadan: The Night Rides”

  1. Enjoyed the post! Thanks!!
    Jo main sar b sajda kabhi hua, to zameen se aane lagi sadaa
    tera dil to hai sanam aashna, tujhe kyaa milegaa namaaz mein.

    Ramzaan Mubaarak!!!

  2. Sepoy Sb., did you grow up saying Ramadan, or Ramazan? Or was it only after Gen. Diya-ul-Haq that you switched to Ramadan and Allah Hafiz?

  3. We south east Asians are so alike!!
    Reading your description, I can imagine the exact same scenes in Bhopal (a small town in the center of India, famous in the world for ghastly chemical disaster reasons only) where I grew up. I mean, it wasn’t too different in Bhopal, except for the fact that our night watchman never would have seen a carbine, let alone carry it.

  4. Am laughing at “Unexplained weight gain on certain people.” This is so true of fasts. As the Marathi saying goes, ekaadashii, duppaT khaashii (fasting day, eat double).

  5. Lovely, charged post. Bravo. The nightwatchman’s cry recalls to me the bands of Ramazan drummers in Turkey, who wake the whole city reliably at three am, Kemalist or otherwise.

    In the meantime, the Atlantic Avenue iftar scene is proving seductive.

  6. Re: “Jagtay Raho was the ever-contradictory yell uttered at regular intervals by the night watchman in our neighborhood. …”

    Interesting: it’s also the title of one of my favorite Hindi films ever (Raj Kapoor produced but did not direct)…

    Beautiful post sepoy…

  7. Amardeep: As Iqbal said:

    Nah woh Ishq mein rahin garmiyan, nah woh husn mein rahin shokhian
    Nah woh Ghaznavi mein tarap rahi nah wo kham hai zulf-i Ayaz mein

    No longer remains that heat of passion, no longer is that coquettish in the Beloved
    No longer does Ghaznavi writhe, no longer remains that curl in Ayaz’s locks.

  8. You’re making me hungry with all that talk of yoghurt and kulchas…

    Somewhat unrelatedly, am I right in guessing the fasting days are over for you?

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