The holy month is underway and assorted diners have adjusted their schedules to stay shut while the sun shines. Well, in Pakistan they have. But in Toronto, it is food galore as usual.
It is unfortunate that we never notice the small things that we are accustomed to ‘at home’. Only when the comfort of small luxuries is taken away from us do we go all sentimental of what we had. Like the luxury of reduced work hours during Ramzan which I sorely miss. Lenient work days, when one could pack and head home by late afternoon to sleep off the few hours till iftar preparations; the roza-conducive environment where there would be no ‘food talk’ indulged in by colleagues at work (well, at least by most of them) and everyone was geared towards no work during the day and endless eating after sunset.
Rozas were so much easier back home and the zombie-like camaraderie helped pass the month. Here, I have to brave the smell of hot food arising from the adjacent cubicle, avoid coffee breaks and grit my teeth through lunch meetings. I end up dreaming the day away with visions of my mother’s freshly made prawn toasts, dahi barey and assorted pakoray not to mention the fried khajoor that are a must at my Dad’s iftar table.
Apart from these food related luxuries, there were many other general things that were never an issue. Like where to give zakat or where to find the poor to feed in lieu of rozas lost or whom to give sadqa to when the time arose. There were numerous needy souls who could benefit from our purging of the soul.
But when one resides in a nation where the social security looks after the less fortunate and where giving food to strangers could be considered an offense, these small things become big challenges. It was extremely painful when the first time I had to throw out perfectly good leftover food from the night before and there was no one in the kitchen who could take it home to feed their family. Does this mean that I was lamenting the absence of a poor class? I’m not sure. But it definitely made me very cognisant of extravagant proportions while cooking and reducing portion quantities according to what I thought would be consumed.
Interestingly though, many charity organisations here have designed programs according to the ‘giving’ needs of the Muslim populace. Every Ramzan, Muslim based charities have special projects catering to the zakat and fitra contributions which are tailored for the donors to help people in their country of origin or deserving Muslims in other areas. IDRF (International Development and Relief Foundation) is one such NGO which specially launches a fitra project each year through which it sends food and other basic provisions to the Palestinians in Gaza. In keeping with the fitra mandate, the provisions reach the beneficiaries for Eid in war torn communities so that the essence of spreading joy amongst fellow Muslims at Eid is followed. Last year, the organisation also launched a special qurbani project through which it arranged to slaughter animals according to the Muslim tradition and feed poverty-stricken communities in strife-ridden areas like Somalia where any kind of food is scarce. With projects in multiple countries around the world, donors have a choice of directing donations to the country of their choice which include Pakistan, India and Bangladesh among others. And to boot, they get a tax receipt for their contribution which gives them some cash back from the government for their philanthropic effort. I’m not quite sure though if one is eligible for getting a monetary return on zakat.
Planned giving is neatly systemised here and it is quite remarkable at how some of the more affluent Pakistani residents arrange for a monthly allowance to get deducted — anywhere between $100 to $2000 and up — for projects like water well construction in Dadu or girls’ education in India. In times of natural disasters like the 2005 earthquake and the 2010/11 floods in Pakistan, single donors have given as much as a million dollars overnight for immediate relief.
But however many systems we create in the West to adjust to our cultural/religious lifestyle, the sight of ravenous rozedars buying samosas and fruit chaat just before iftar is unique only to my cherished homeland. The grouchy drivers rushing home before sunset, the nihari and fry qeema from Burns road at sehri, the all night revelry on chand raat, can never be replaced with any orderly routine.