By M Bilal Lakhani
May 30, 2018
Ramazan is a strange month. Chain-smokers who can’t go without lighting up every 15 minutes suddenly manage 15 hours without a cigarette. I struggle to rein in my diet all year round but suddenly discover the willpower to go without a sip of water on these long summer days. Perhaps the strangest feat of them all, our hard-earned wealth is shared with complete strangers to help them, without expecting anything in return.
Ramazan is a strange month indeed. When an insatiable body learns how to fast. When the hardest of hearts, begins to crack. Traffic cops living on petty bribes everyday suddenly shy away from accepting their ‘Chai, Pani’ allowance. What madness causes one to accept bribes all year round but suddenly grow a conscience overnight for 30 days?
As the hard shell of our heart cracks under the weight of self-denial, the joy of kindness emerges. What causes us to feed Iftar to the needy first, when you haven’t eaten all day personally? What causes us to give up the few hours we have to eat and sleep at night, and head to the mosque you only visit on Friday otherwise? Ramazan is a strange month indeed. There’s magic to this month of mercy. This is the magic of a second chance. A second chance to live life on terms that are kind, thoughtful and disciplined.
The scripted lives of the brightest minds in Pakistan are often a mad dash to meet other people’s expectations. First, it’s your parents who want you to get a job at a multinational company so they can show you off to their friends and family. Next, there’s the girlfriend who wants you to settle down quickly so you can send a Rishta because other weird guys are already beginning to send Rishtas and she can’t keep saying no to her mother without sharing a half-decent reason. Then there’s the ultra-possessive boyfriend who wants you to take care of his mother after you get married, while he pursues his dream career even though you studied exactly the same courses at IBA or LUMS and you, in fact, used to tutor him before exams.
In Pakistani society, we often outsource our personal happiness to circumstances outside our control, like meeting social expectations, making family and friends happy, as well as experiencing external markers of success at every life stage (graduating from a top university, finding a great job at an MNC, having a fairy tale wedding, etc). We tick every check box that life has to offer and still wonder why durable happiness eludes us.
When our uneasy arrangement for outsourcing happiness falls apart and turns into a midlife or quarter-life crisis, we try to search for quick-fix solutions to overcome the emptiness; from 40-year-old former playboys turning to religion as a cure all to bored housewives shopping away their husband’s earnings to make up for the lack of attention they receive from them and the children — we manage to find distractions that help muddle the core of our problems.
Ramazan offers an alternative to living life on auto-pilot. Ramazan is the gift of intentional living. If we can go hungry all day without making excuses, what else can we do in life, if we put our heart and mind into it? No matter how your year went, Ramazan is the chance for a new beginning. It shows us what we’re capable of doing. It shows us what the best version of ourselves could look like.
How can you benefit from Ramazan, if you’re not fasting? Or what if you’re fasting but unable to benefit from the ability to invent a better version of yourself? Fake it till you make it. Even if your heart isn’t in it yet, become the best version of yourself. Start by being kind to others. And then, by being kind to yourself. Finding it hard to start being kind?
Go out and feed the hungry. Do it personally or join the Robin Hood Army, who has served over 11,000 Iftar meals this Ramazan alone. Pakistan is a food surplus country. But millions go hungry to bed at night. The Robin Hood Army collects excess — not leftover — food from restaurants and Shaadis, distributing them with dignity to those who need it the most. Hearts have a strange way of melting, when we’re thanked for our kindness with an unforgettable smile.