It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since I went feasting along Mosque Road during Ramadan (or Ramzan). This year, I decided to go deeper into the city, to an area most frequented by Muslims: Shivajinagar.
If you ever decide to let go of bigger brands and labels and hunt for bargains, then OPH Road and thereabouts is the place to be. Located behind Russell Market, it’s thriving with shops selling affordable brocades, footwear, ready-mades, utensils, and of course, local flavours of food. During the month of Ramzan, the place really comes to life with people putting their best wares on display.
I went one evening with the intention of opening my fast in Shivajinagar, and the minute I entered the area, I was hit by the sounds of sizzling griddles and honking vehicles superimposed over the continuous buzz of shuffling, conversing people. The energy of the crowds brought a smile that never left my face till I moved out of the area. One can’t help it – the sense of camaraderie despite the swarms of humans is quite infectious. I was struck by the many people out shopping at a time when they usually stay at home and wait for Iftaar time (the time to open fast). But then I realized that the looming Taj Hotel (fondly referred to as Shivajinagar Taj, and not even a distant cousin of the five star chain of hotels) and the many food stalls would take care of their hunger pangs.
I started with a tour of the area, sounding out stalls with the most potential for varied eats and sweet meats. Fairly sceptical about being told to buzz off none too politely when I got the camera out, I was quite surprised when people were more than welcoming. “Aao aao ma! Eyy, hatt baa! Ino photu lerin! Konsa newspaper medam? Eyy newspaper mein photo aata re!” (“Come, come! Move out of the way, she’s taking photos! Which newspaper madam? Our picture will come in the newspaper!”), followed by instructions on which angles I should explore to get the best shot. Their eagerness touched me; I had to keep telling them that I wasn’t from any newspaper, but was taking pictures for the Internet. Everywhere I turned, there were people beckoning, asking me to take their photographs.
The sky was pretty cloudy and looked like it was going to rain. It did soon enough, sending shop owners scrambling for tarpaulins and rexines to cover their stores before covering themselves. It took all of a minute for them to figure out shelters. People immediately resumed shopping in the rain, now even more in a hurry because Iftaar was just minutes away.
As if disappointed by how little the drizzle had affected everyone, the sky unleashed a torrent.
People ran for cover. I ran too, shielding my camera as best I could. So many of us were stranded in pockets around OPH Road, wondering what we would do when the siren for Iftaar went off. Almost on cue, the wail of the siren filled every nook and corner of Shivajinagar. Shoppers, shop owners, beggars, policemen, Muslims, non-Muslims – everyone dug into their purses, plastic bags or carts simultaneously to open fasts with dates, water, or morsels of food.
I panicked. I wasn’t carrying anything to eat and would be drenched to the bone if I tried to get to one of the stalls. I couldn’t take that chance while carrying my camera. I looked around in desperation, spotted a cart selling dates and quickly asked them for one to open my fast. He was confused at first – nothing about my attire indicated that I was a Muslim, leave alone a Muslim who was fasting. Comprehension dawned soon enough and he reached out his hand, offering a bunch of dates instead of just one, saying, “Ye lo, jaldi jaldi!” (“Here, take this quick!”) Grateful, I said my prayers and bit into a delectably sweet and juicy date.
The scene was surreal. People stuck together in the rain, sharing food, partaking in the ritual of Iftaar as one. Religion wasn’t what was uniting all of us; it was food.
As I looked around at all the people busy eating and sharing whatever they had, I thought to myself, God must be looking down at all of us, smiling and nodding his head thinking, these are the moments I exist for.
Getting there: Don’t make the mistake of taking your own vehicle, unless you’re feeling masochistic. Take an auto and ask him to go to OPH Road. If that doesn’t work, try Russell Market.
Go if: You love local food, are a meat eater, feel like you want to be surrounded by tons of energy coming from tons of people, want to experience Iftaar in the midst of the Muslim community.