By R. V. Smith
June 28, 2015
Like all other festivals, the holy month of Ramzan calls for amity and brotherhood of humankind.
Delhi has always been a cosmopolitan city where, despite discord at times, communal harmony was a remarkable feature. With the month of Ramzan having set in one is reminded of the time when Hindus did not eat, smoke or chew Paan in the presence of Muslim friends and acquaintances. Incidentally, Jews and Armenians at Akbar’s court, and also some Francisis (French) merchants kept the fast on the first and last day of Ramzan. R.K. Mathur, a Kahishta, used to recall that once when he went to Bara Hindu Rao and tried to make a telephone call from a public booth, the young man manning it asked him why he was not fasting and instead eating a Paan. The youngster had mistaken his identity because he was wearing a starched Kurta and pyjamas with a cap on his head and had a beard. Rather than hurt his feelings, he diplomatically replied that he had a tummy upset because of which Roza was not possible. The boy relented and allowed him to make a call only after Mathur Sahib greeted the call receiver with “Om Namo Shivai”.
The same thing happened when Denny went from Christian Colony in Karol Bagh to Ballimaran to buy Biryani at the erstwhile Bismillah Hotel and tasted a mouthful from the packet that had been handed over to him. “Wah Mian Aftari Ka Waqt Aya Nahin Hai Aur Aap Ne Biryani Chaakh Bhi Li” (the time to end the fast has still not come and you have already tasted the biryani) Denny replied that it was just a lapse of memory and, in any case, the smell was so appetizing that he couldn’t resist the temptation of sampling some as per his habit. Just then a friend of his, Munne Mian, who was passing by greeted him with “Good evening Denny Sahib, how is your father, the Padri Sahib of Baptist Church?” The shopkeeper’s eyes widened as it dawned on him that he had made a faux pa. Denny accepted his apology with a smile.
It is a well known fact, that in earlier times, both high caste Hindu women and those from the sweeper community would congregate on the steps of the Jama Masjid so that the Namazis coming out after Maghrib (sunset) prayers during Ramzan could bless their children by breathing on them. Some Brahmin and Khatri women went so far as to kiss the old Namazis’ hands and place them on the heads of their kids. After that they would visit the shrine of Hare-Bhare Sahib to light Diyas.
Raphael, a news agency operator, who lived in Kutcha Mir Ashiq, would stop the office car in front of the Jama Masjid while returning from night duty in Ramzan days and enjoy nahari at Karim Hotel before going home. Once when he sat down to eat just before dawn a waiter told him that he had come late. “There’s still 15 minutes for sehri time to end,” replied Raphael, looking at his watch. The waiter nodded and he finished his breakfast and strolled to a corner shop, where the Paanwallah asked him to hurry up as it would soon be time for Azaan. Raphael quickly put the proffered Paan in his mouth and made his way home. A group of singers returning after rousing the faithful for the last meal before the Roza embraced him as one of their own who never missed Sehri at Karim’s.
It’s worth noting that in 1901, as per Dr Narayani Gupta, Muslim and Christian shoemakers combined to protest against the Punjabi Muslim leather goods merchants of Ballimaran who, backed by moneylenders, were exploiting them. One of the many instances of inter-communal unity. Would you believe it that some devout Hindu women, used to observe a Ramzan fast from afternoon to sundown? recorded researcher Swapna Liddle. A pious Catholic, Alvina Bua not only kept the 40-day Lent fast but also the Ramzan one. The latter for “sins committed after Easter”.
How many non-Muslims observe the fast now is difficult to tell but many inmates of Tihar Jail join the Muslims incarcerated there in keeping the Roza. The Barawafat Mela, the Tar-ka Mela, Phool Walon-ki Sair and Holi and Id Milan were other occasions when communal harmony manifested itself conspicuously. And by the way, Muslim soldiers stationed at Wazirabad Cantonment in British times used to help their Hindu colleagues in staging Ramlila every year. Lakshman, Vibhishan and Ravana’s roles were sometimes played by them. And once, hold your breath; Sita’s part was enacted by a handsome Muslim sepoy. Ramzan is the right occasion to savour such revelations in Haji Mian’s company when the feasting begins after sundown around the illuminated Jama Masjid.