Humans of Iftar


Humans of Iftar

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

It is a universally agreed upon fact that the favourite part of any religious abstinence is religious gluttony, and nothing spells gluttony like iftar. This is a substantial meal shared among large social circles during Ramzan, with a spread as elaborate as a 16th-century jousting tournament. There’s meat of every kind and every kind of meat. All creatures great and small are roasted, fried, stewed, and served up to the hungry faithful.

The feast after the fast is often hosted by the well heeled in air-conditioned homes, where the table overflows, the sherbet is poured, and the conversation glows. My iftar throwdown is usually at my friend Serious Salim’s house. Serious Salim is a staunch Muslim; he’s famous all over Saudi Arabia for his legendary observance of sharia, and perhaps for putting out the most interesting table at iftar.

Of the cast of characters at Serious Salim’s house, he’s the only guy who actually deserves to be there because he has fasted rigorously all day, swallowing not a drop of water or saliva. He is really looking forward to this meal, which he will share with his brethren. All he wants to do is eat a couple of dates, drink some water, say “Bismillah”, and tuck in, but the farce playing out before him will afford him no such peace.

Here’s a Richard Attenborough-esque observation of the Humans of Iftar, who populate the table of every Serious Salim.

Mauji Moin

Seated to Salim’s right is Moin, or Mauji Moin, as he’s known in the family. Moin is unorthodox and free-spirited. His parents adopted liberalism in order to fit in better, and it worked like a charm. He is a blue-eyed boy with Arabian features and a Western outlook; his Tinder bio probably reads, “Sheikh in the streets, quake in the sheets.” He’s not the token Muslim friend everyone deserves; he’s the one we need. FYI, he’s not fasting because he’s currently in the midst of #gains, which means he ate half a Subway sandwich this afternoon to save space for iftar. Also, he’s on a no-carbs-only-kebabs diet.

Moin’s my bro. We hang out together, smoke weed, and I’ve introduced him to the wonders of bacon. I’m seated right next to him, and thanks to my culinary overzealousness, I know every dish and eating custom there is to know, like not touching the communal thaal with my left hand, eating only with my right, kicking off iftar with some dates and water, and making sure I don’t get food in my moustache or beard.

Blogger Bastard

Sitting opposite me, as I eye the galoutis over the seekhs, is my nemesis, who makes his presence known with the sound of his shutter. Meet Blogger Bastard. He’s here with a DSLR to shoot out-of-focus images for his blog, which has been around for the past five years. He’s making animated conversation about the best food joints in town, which coincidentally reads like one of those listicles that start with “10 Places To Eat…” and he’s done a fantastic job memorising it. He momentarily gains the spotlight when he breaks into a rime about nihari, one dish everyone hoped would make an appearance at this meal but didn’t. He’s drowned out by the arrival of sweets and goes back to shooting images of old Muslim men with greying beards putting malpua in their mouths.

As annoying as he appears, I try to remember that he has worked hard to be here. He began bombarding his Muslim friends with text messages just before Ramzan to snag an invitation to an iftar party, even if he last spoke to them a year ago. Who invited him is unclear, what is clear though is that he really needs to stick to accounting or lawyering, and leave the creative culinary cluster-fuckery to the pros.

Only Chicken Man

Bastard Blogger’s plus one is Only Chicken Man. A man, whose idea of living dangerously, is eating chicken lollipops from the gnarliest Chinesewallah in the city, once in six months. His favourite ice-cream flavour is vanilla and his favourite sex position is missionary. He goes to La Senza looking for pastel granny panties, and comes to an iftar but eats only chicken.

Chicken Man lives in a deluded world, where everything’s made of chicken, and repeatedly asks for confirmation of the same. Pass him a mutton seekh and he is like, “Par yeh chicken hai naa?” Tell him to try some khiri and he’ll once again ask, “Yeh chicken hai naa?” Ask him to eat a quail, he responds with, “No, I eat only chicken.” To complete the “Boy in the Plastic Bubble” experience, he’s secretly carrying Eno to soothe the stomachs of a thousand faithful. He’s worried about two things – getting a stomach infection and if the eggs in the malpua he just ate came from a chicken.

Not-Too-Spicy Sachin

Right next to Only Chicken Man is Not-Too-Spicy Sachin. He’s a Maharashtrian Brahmin, who likes to walk on the wild side by eating “non-veg”. He wears the bones of a thousand chickens like a badge of honour. But unfortunately, due to years of being fed a staple diet of varan bhaat with copious amounts of ghee, his tolerance for spice lies between that of an infant and a firang.

Not-Too-Spicy Sachin finds everything too spicy. He refuses to listen to reason and stick to shammi kebabs, which are decidedly milder. Instead he’s gorging on fiery red boti kebab, which looks fucking angry. He commits the cardinal sin of dipping it twice in the hara chutney and finds himself in a quandary. Sweating beads and chugging sherbet throughout, he silently offers a supplication to the gods and his ancestors, promising never to touch meat ever again. That is until it’s Christmas, and he calls you asking if you’ve made any sorpotel. Some people never learn.

Token Firang

Completing the circle is the Token Firang, with complexion a shade whiter than the malai kebabs doing the rounds. After watching too much of Anthony Bourdain, he’s there out of sheer culinary curiosity. For us, he’s like a hamster in a cage surrounded by sadistic kids, waiting to be fucked with. Everyone eggs him on to taste different foods in a cacophony of chutiyapa. “Eat this, it is best”, “This kebab is made with spices hand-pounded by virgins”, “The guy who invented this tikka, was murdered for the recipe”… the food fables don’t stop and his amazement only grows.

He’s in equal parts thrilled like a kid in a candy shop and scared like this could be his last supper. He’s sitting at the table with wet wipes and a bottle of Evian. (Bisleri is what us natives drink; the last time he drank it, it gave him serious gastric distress. So it’s either Evian or death by dehydration for Token Firang.) Physically, all the sights, sounds, and aromas are driving him crazy; his fight or flight response is in overdrive, and his heart rate is jacked. Mentally, he keeps asking himself, “What would Bourdain do?”

On that note, he decides to eat the most dangerous-looking thing on the table, a pile of gurda-kapoora-kaleji takatak, with enough oil to make Enron envious and a spice level that is off the charts. This proves to be his undoing, Bourdain be damned. He’s in physical pain – everything from his throat to his tummy is now on fire. Plus Blogger Bastard adds fuel by telling him that gurda-kapoora-kaleji is actually a melange of kidneys, testicles, and liver. That’s it! He feels a churning in his belly and the gag reflex he’s been fighting, so he beats a hasty retreat, making a mental note to mention this spice affliction in his “Finding Myself In India” blog.

Taking their cue from Token Firang, Blogger Bastard and Only Chicken Man leave, followed by Not-Too-Spicy Sachin because he’s finally understood why his parents warned him about eating non-veg. His rectal discomfort shows on his sweaty, pudgy face, and he dreads to think of the next morning. Moin tapped out before dessert and is probably tapping the bong among other things. (Note to self: Meet up with Moin for a post-meal toke.)

That leaves just Salim and me. We both stare at each other and make a silent pact to clear out the kebabs on the thaal, but that is until I bite into a soft piece of khiri and marvel aloud at its textural similarity to pork fatback. (My social filters are broken.) That seals the deal, Salim leaves, the thaal is cleared, and just like it began, iftar is over.