Ramadan: The Night Rides

Posted by sepoy on September 02, 2008 · 3 mins read

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.


The Pakistani Spectator | September 12, 2007

That is a very cool feeling when time comes near the Iftaar. When I think of rozaas, the great facination is the Pakoras and the fruit Chaat. The tiring day ends with the refreshing food.

akbar | September 13, 2007

Lahore sweet Lahore is till the same in Ramadan,I was there in 2004 in ramadan and on EID.

Amardeep | September 13, 2007

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?

sepoy | September 13, 2007

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.

gerry | September 14, 2007

Elegant post. Thanks.

Ramadan Mubarak < Iqag Notes | September 16, 2007

[...] to the bright side, Chapati Mystery has one of the sweetest Proustian Ramadan descriptions I’ve read in a while. Ramadanish also promises to shed some soft light on what’s sweet about life in Ramadan. [...]

Ramadan | DesiPundit | September 17, 2007

[...] Sepoy remembers the Ramadans of his childhood. [...]

Qalandar | September 17, 2007

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...

elizabeth | September 17, 2007

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.

shiromoney | September 18, 2007

beautifully done, holmes. made my decidedly non-fasting morning.

ramadan scraps | August 27, 2008

missed all those yoghurt and kulchas…

desiknitter | September 03, 2008

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).

Feroz Louis | October 04, 2008

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.

Archive Remix I: Bike Rides | March 27, 2011

[...] It wasn't until 9th grade that I got what I considered a man's bicycle —a 20+ inch Sohrab. My best friend and I would ride all evening, from one friend's house to another, going to our tutor's house and taking our sweet time in getting back. As the span of my bicycle trips increased, so did my sense of self and of the world around me. It is to that combination of boyhood and freedom to explore I return when I read about bike rides. [...]

Tariq Mufti | August 01, 2011

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?

sepoy | August 01, 2011

I grew up in Doha so I used to say Ramadan. And I still say Khuda Hafiz.

Salman | August 02, 2011

That should be Zoha.

Parul | August 12, 2011

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!!!