By Godot May. 28, 2018
I’m a non-believing Muslim and people like me have become part of a subculture, where secrets are guarded with greater ferocity than the Illuminati. We bunk namaaz, and during Ramzan we fake-fast: the first major acts of rebellion for Muslim teens.
Some rays of faint light are trickling into a room, revealing figures sitting on half-broken, plastic Neelkamal stools. Six young men are huddled together in the dingy space, dark enough to hide their identities, but bright enough to give you a sense of the surroundings. Just the kind of space you imagine one is put in before some CIA-type intelligence agency starts an interrogation.
There’s a palpable sense of unease. Suddenly the curtain parts ever so slightly, and an angelic figure we will call Maqsood appears. He is carrying plates of biryani. The light falls on the faces now, to reveal that and everyone’s grinning from ear to ear.
This is how I spend most afternoons during Ramzan. My other “corrupt” Muslim friends and I, hide away from the pious ones in safe havens like these to enjoy our biryani, all the more delicious because of its forbidden nature. Shops like Maqsood’s are commonplace wherever there are Muslim settlements all over India.
Before I go any further, let me make a few things very clear. The intention of this piece is not to hurt anybody’s religious sentiments or to look down upon any practices. I have immense respect for people who keep rozas, which is the vast majority of the Muslim population. It takes another level of courage, discipline, honesty, and self-control to fast for a month, and that too voluntarily and happily.
But we need to talk about a smaller sub-culture which has always existed, is widespread, and comprises people like me.
The question our generation asks is, “Why would Allah (insert any other God name here) be happy if I don’t eat or drink for the whole day? Or why would Ganesha celebrate if I don’t eat meat on Tuesdays?”
In popular culture, images of Ramzan are dominated by lavish iftar spreads full of delicacies which you’d easily trade a kidney for. It is all things bright, beautiful, and bountiful and it’s that time of the year when suddenly every Muslim becomes the epitome of goodness. While most of it is true, and the majority of Muslims who are actually religious love the holy month and wait for it to arrive every year, it misses out on some important details. For example, how can you fast for not one or two, but 30 (or 29) days! No food, no water, no cigarettes, heck not even gulping of one’s own saliva from sunrise to sunset, no cussing, no sexual stuff, basically nothing which a normal human being considers fun. Take karva chauth and navratras, send them to a boot camp in the desert, multiply the effect by a hundred, and you’re still nowhere close. That’s how intense a month of roza is.
Which is where people like me come in, who are a part of a parallel Muslim society, a subculture that has been consistent and maybe is growing in numbers, where secrets are kept and guarded with greater ferocity than the Illuminati or the Priory of Sion. There are communities of like-minded people, friends from the colony who help you get through the day at home, bunking namaaz and taraabi together, cousins around the same age who save each other’s ass and are the enablers inside homes, school friends and other allies.
I was born in an educated, middle-class Muslim household, which is not your stereotypical Muslim family depicted in a film (the mother is always in the middle of namaaz, everyone talks in impeccable Urdu, parents are called Abbujan and Ammijan and men apply surma and always wear a variation of the skull cap). But my folks still follow basic tenets like keeping all the rozas and praying on Fridays. However, I have been a non-believer for years.
At first, it was for convenience, since life becomes rosier and easier as a teenager if you don’t have to fear a God all the time. This later turned into a choice based on logic and reasoning. This is not just my story, but one of many other young Muslims. And all of us have the same fear/issue – coming out in front of the family because everyone is touchy about religion. Faking a roza is then one of the first major acts of rebellion for a Muslim teen. And no matter what people tell you otherwise, the fact is that it happens wherever there are Muslims, except maybe Saudi Arabia because there is a good chance you will get lynched.
A non-fasting Muslim is not all that different from a Christian not observing Lent, or a Gujju not fasting during Navratri. The question our generation asks is, “Why would Allah (insert any other God name here) be happy if I don’t eat or drink for the whole day? Or why would Ganesha celebrate if I don’t eat meat on Tuesdays?” There are simply no answers that will make sense to a hungry kid at lunch break when his friends are eating soggy sandwiches and cold Maggi.
The thing, however, is that once you start faking a roza, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep one honestly. Miraculously, as a child I did not really feel thirsty in the midst of a roza, but once you cross over to the dark side, you’re thirsty every hour or so. So what do you do? You do jugaad. Drinking water while bathing, gulping some while brushing teeth become reflex actions. You try to stay out of home as much as possible, landing an hour before iftar, after rubbing your palms against the lower lip so that they appear dry and parched, showing no hint of food or fluids that have passed by them just hours ago. This practice stays with you until the time you grow up and leave the nest.
Although all this rule-breaking sounds like a cake walk, it’s not the case. You master the art of faking a roza gradually.
For example, if you’re not hungry after a day of fasting at iftar, it immediately raises suspicion. Therefore, you learn to pace your food and fluid intake and eat in the earlier part of the day, so that by evening, you’re reasonably hungry to wolf down the feast. You start exploring areas of the city which are really far away from home, so that no acquaintances or relatives catch you while satiating your hunger. There’s always that fear of a nosy neighbour/uncle/aunt/pious cousin spotting you somewhere and indulging in the dishonourable practice of snitching.
You also have to watch what you eat during the day. A sharp increase in body weight during the month of fasting is not a smart way to hoodwink everyone at home, and I can say this from experience. While you can attribute it to the rich and greasy food which is a part of the iftar spread, trust me, seasoned elders can see through a lie. Being a fake rozedaar is a full-time job.
The only flip side to the whole practice of deceiving, which unsettles me a bit even today, is lying. Not to God but to your parents. Imagine walking into your house after having a cold drink and burgers, and your mother, who has not had a morsel since the crack of dawn, looks at you, smiles and asks, whether the tough day has not beaten you down. She’ll then comfort you and continue preparing the food for the evening in that sweltering kitchen while your father chops apples for the fruit salad. It hurts you inside – like Thanos taking the infinity stone from Vision.
Thankfully, I left home years ago which makes lying easy, but the guilt still lingers on. My parents still think I keep rozas, and when I have my conscientious moments, I feel terrible. I’m still faking my roza at home, but I am more honest in the way that I tell them that I mostly fast on weekends and on some Fridays because of high work pressure. They have made their peace with it and are quite comfortable now. Hopefully, soon I can tell them the complete truth and come clean.
Until then, see you at Maqsood’s.
Godot is in his late 20s and currently lives in Mumbai. When he’s not writing, travelling, eating or producing films, Godot likes to reminisce about the past, wants to alter the present and waits for the real Godot to arrive.