It’s the time of the year when Muslim communities across the world give up eating and drinking during the daylight hours and spend most of their time immersed in the remembrance of god and generally trying to be a better version of themselves. Truth be told, one has never bought this learning to resist one’s impulses and I’m happy to let you in on a secret : a significant part of the day also goes towards putting together a smorgasbord of tingling fruits chaats, pakode, chhole, and sharbats for Iftaar.
But keeping a 17-hour long fast in this freakishly debilitating heat, you’d agree, is not easy. In spite of the many challenges, the month of Ramzan remains a period of deep contentment even if, very disturbingly, good old Roohafza is being rapidly replaced by Tang and one has to contend with new abominable additions like Macaroni chaat to the dastarkhwaan.
It’s also the time when well-meaning folks in the press rediscover this annual affair for the nth time and publish old stories pulled from what one imagines to be a huge conveyor belt winding through the newsroom. Here we are in 2016 and the only stories we are going to get, if past trends are anything to go by, are the stories we got last year and the year before that. And these stories, to put it very bluntly, smell no better than the mouth of a careless rozedaar.
Dump the clichesSo, in the larger interest of everyone involved one thought it would be a good idea to identify such hackneyed stories and since Ramzan is all about self-improvement perhaps point towards some new lines of inquiry that could be explored. Is it Ramadan or Ramzan? Important as this discussion might be, I think it’s about time we put it to rest if we don’t have anything new or of consequence to add. To merely demonstrate that one is clued into the debate means note. If you think it’s the former, dear editors, writers, and readers, then let us hear you also call potato chips, botato shibs.
There’s no such thing as too many food stories – more the merrier. But how many food stories can one take when they're written with the assumption that food could exist in a contextual vacuum? A restaurant review in a newspaper is more likely to have more details than a typical Ramzan food story. If you can’t genuinely take interest in the people and cultures that make all the delicious food possible, perhaps you have no business writing about it.
Spare the readers the Iftaar-hopping stories, especially the ones hosted by netas and sarkari Musalmans, the cream of the society that has no agenda other than to better its lot. Nobody is really interested in who attended or skipped whose Iftaar party, seriously.
We don't care about parties
Will Prime Minister Narendra Modi host an Iftaar party this year? Let this one remain on the conveyor belt and see if it comes back to us next year again, all right?
The list is long but you get the drift. Also, while we are at it a few tips on the approach. Dump the fixer, the native informant. Move past the gatekeepers of the neighbourhood, the self-appointed arbiters of culture, and the community elite – they’ll tell you what they’ve told hundreds of journalists over the years. Instead explore on your own, spend time, take interest, observe, ask questions, meet women and children, critically appraise what's been written, and then go on to write what you really feel. Drop the lenses held so long that you need to balance them on someone else's shoulders. Go close.
Go close and try to figure out why you have to go to certain parts of the city to observe and experience the culture of Ramzan. Why is your neighbourhood denied the bounties of this month of fasting and feasting? Why isn’t your equal opportunity workplace big on celebrating Ramzan and Eid. Ask why you see and hear so little of Ramzan in the popular discourse, a part of which you help make/facilitate? Let this month be about resisting our impulses to settle for easy answers and strive to imbue our work with reason and compassion.
Faiz Ullah is an assistant professor at the School of Media and Cultural Studies of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai.