Interestingly enough, religion has been an important part of the last few weeks. I arrived in Hyderabad just as Ramazan was starting, and it was a real eye opener to be in a society where fasting and iftar are part of daily life for a large proportion of people. It’s also quite amazing to see a city come alive at night after it has been dozing in the afternoon – which is exactly how it felt for a few weeks.
On two different nights, I went deep into the Muslim sections of Hyderabad and Bombay (respectively) to catch a glimpse of what the Ramazan and Eid celebrations are all about. On the last Friday of Ramzan, I went to Old City in Hyderabad, near the Charminar, for dinner and to walk around. After biryani and haleem, Molly, Sasha and I took a stroll through the buzzing commercial zone, lined with shops whose outside displays had overrun the windows and taken up residence along the sidewalks and streets.
For Muslims, Eid is a major gift-giving holiday, so the last Friday of Ramzan felt like a week before Christmas in a Western mall. People were milling about, picking up clothes, toys, household items, food – everything. We flowed into the crowd; I pulled out my camera amidst the mayhem, and quickly spotted a young boy sitting crosslegged on a cart. I smiled at him; with a mix of excitement and sheepishness, he smiled back.
A few minutes later, we stopped under an awning to escape the rain. As we got our bearings, I spotted a shopkeeper absentmindedly sitting on his counter, an island of calm amidst the storm of crowds and rain and general insanity:
A week later, it was a similar scene, but in a different city. I had traveled to Mumbai to meet some friends from the US, Ethan and Rhys, who were in town for work, and to see old friends and new who are based in Mumbai these days. That Friday, I went to Mohammad Ali Road with my friend Ajay, who went to medical school nearby. Molly, in town for work, joined us:
If I thought Ramazan in Hyderabad was busy – well, Bombay was a whole new level. The green mosque along Muhammad Ali Road was bursting with lights and activity; all around us, sidewalk vendors sold white headcoverings, shalwar kameez, kurtas – in preparation for the next day’s final Ramazan prayers.
We thought of taking a cab to cover the 2 miles between where we’d parked and where we were going. Impossible. The streets were thronged with people, and as the camera came out, so did the enthusiasm:
Of course, Eid happened to fall the day after Rosh Hashanah this year. So I had the taste of apples and honey fresh in my mouth as I tucked into a plate of roadside kebabs and buttery grilled bread, having fought our way through the masses to get a bite to eat. Later, we found a small sweet shop cooking up fresh, hot jalebis. Molly noticed the calendar first – I immediately understood why it stuck out to her:
It wasn’t just Eid – September 11 marked the beginning of a major Hindu festival, Ganesh Chaturthi:
The significance of September 11, noted on a calendar in Hindi and Arabic and English, marking two major religious festivals that focus on peace and atonement and wisdom and reconciliation. To both of us, the little calendar was a reminder that we are all still one world, and a small thing like a calendar on a wall in the back of a sweet shop has a way of bringing it all home.
It was my first real Eid, and I was sad – in a way – to see Ramzan end. Things got back to normal; the muzzein’s call wasn’t nearly as loud nor as critical as it was when I first arrived. Of course, just as I thought we had returned to normal, Ganesh Chaturthi started in earnest. The madness had only begun.
To be continued…