From Doha to Delhi, the fasting continues
Up to a half hour before, the city is full of frenzied cars in a mad rush to get home and seated in time to break the fast. But in the few minutes right before the timeless words are belted out from loudspeakers, the streets suddenly turn silent – almost as if the whole city collectively takes a deep breath before getting confirmation that the sun has, indeed, set and that another day of fasting is done. And then, if you’re lucky and in the right part of Doha, you hear the cannon-shot, and suddenly everything becomes festive and there are fruits and sweets and water, precious water, in abundance.
It’s nothing quite like the iftars I’ve had elsewhere. In the US, more often than not, I had to rely on a smartphone to tell me when to break my fast. In Delhi, the confirmation usually comes from a call to someone in a nearby village with a loud, prominent mosque – since the rest of the busy capital continues bustling along. In plenty of other places, a quick drink of water and a bite of a biscuit had to suffice, because there was always work to be done.
Not so in Doha, where – since I began fasting at the age of 14 (9 years ago) – taking your first bite has to be a celebration. It’s what attracted me, an atheist, to the tradition. I may be a non-believer, but I remain endlessly fascinated by the pomp and circumstance of religion, particularly when it becomes an occasion for a community to come together. I don’t think I can remember ever being alone while breaking my fast in Doha, something that cannot be said of the places I’ve moved to in the five years since I left home.
To be honest, it’s a lot easier to keep the fast in Qatar. Everyone is doing it, the shortened timings make it all much more convenient and you can always find an iftar party or two to get invited to. The other reason I started observing the Ramadan tradition was to test my own will-power, which has been given a much tougher workout in my avatar as a reporter having to traipse the hot, humid, un-air-conditioned portions of New Delhi over the past few years. Observing the fast in a place where not everyone is doing it also brings a very different sense of achievement.
But I wouldn’t even have considered the idea if I hadn’t grown up in Doha; if I hadn’t known the joy of biting into a particularly sweet date after 12 hours of making mental menus of all I intend to eat between dusk and dawn. And I certainly wouldn’t have done it if it had been a purely solitary experience, something Doha – by its very nature – does not permit.
It’s quite possible that the small window of silence, between the pre-iftar rush and the actual azaan no longer exists; Qatar has grown tremendously in numbers since I left and rumours of Doha’s traffic jams even make their way to Delhi’s suburbs (no lightweights in the traffic department). But – whether it’s still there or a relic of the past – that brief moment of anticipation, of relief, of reflection, will always be how I remember Doha in this holy, festive month, best.
– Rohan Venkat