Ramazan is here and the air is laden with an electric charge. With the sighting of the Ramazan moon there burgeons a sudden urge to reap the most of this auspicious month when Allah promises multiple rewards for each good deed. However, the foremost value Ramazan ushers in is a colossal respect for time — eyes are on the clock as one becomes conscious of a time to wake up for sehri; a time for iftar and time for prayers.
For women these 30 days are more than about fasting and prayers. They have to keep their families appeased with hordes of food — a piping hot sehri to drive away the sleep in the wee hours of the morning and a tantalising array at iftar to appease the growling tummy and soothe the irate tempers and tastes of different family members. Apart from that there are young kids to feed and the motions of everyday chores to keep them on their toes. Add all these responsibilities to the shoulders of a working woman and lo and behold, one needs the powers of a bionic woman.
Planning ahead Shakera is a Human Resource Manager and lives in a joint family of food-lovers. “My office timings in Ramazan are nine to three. Yes, it means coming home two hours earlier than usual but here ensues a non-stop exercise for iftar. I desperately feel like dropping into bed and catching a wink to drive away the exhaustion of the day but there is so much to be done for iftar.”
When quizzed how best a working woman can manage she ponders, “My advice to working women is to pre-plan as much as possible. I freeze different types of kebabs and chutneys before Ramazan. I make and freeze samosas and rolls over the weekends. I also believe in investing in frozen parathas, sausages and frozen foods — one should embrace anything which promises to make life easier”. But no matter how much you organise, the frying is something which has to be done at the last minute. “So iftar time is always frenzied!”
An organisation-freak, Shakera believes that sehri can be pre-planned too. “My mother-in-law and I cook the sehri qeema or stew after iftar while the men go for Taraweeh. We even make the sehri omlette batter at night and put it in the fridge so that all we need to do is fry it. Planning ahead makes a world of a difference,” she says.
One advantage of a lavish iftar in her household is that the men skip dinner. “That is a blessing! I know families where dinner is yet another session.”
Discussing the menu Marya and her mom are both working and save time by planning the iftar and sehri menu on paper weekly over the weekends. “It makes life so much easier. I mean there are basic items which have to be made daily like pakoras and fruit chaat, but having a schedule stuck on the fridge helps us immensely and we don’t feel flustered if one of us comes home late.”
If you are in a nuclear family and do not have in-laws to answer to then you have only your husband to gratify. But that in itself can be a trying task. Fehmida who is an elementary school teacher says that her husband is extremely finicky about food. “In Ramazan, he becomes a bad-tempered bear — I have learnt to discuss the sehri with him if I don’t want to get into a row with him early in the morning. I also need to have an impressive assortment when the iftar siren blares,” she sighs. Needless to say, for Fehmida, Ramazan is spent treading on egg shells and trying to be one step ahead.
Designating chores Shahida is a full-time housewife yet she feels that during Ramazan she becomes a full-time cook. She lives in a joint family of 13 adults and six growing kids. “We are three bhabhis and each of us gets the responsibility of sehri for ten days in a row. Iftar however is a joint effort. I do the frying, while one bhabhi handles dinner and the other the chaats and rotis.” Added to this is the cooking for the kids regular meals. “Our kitchen never closes,” Shahida jokes. She is just grateful that this year her kids’ schools have closed for Ramazan so she doesn’t have to stress about ushering them to school and can enjoy a long sleep after Fajr prayers before falling into the whirlwind of the rest of the day.
If one doesn’t have enough family members to designate, it is smart to make sure the maids are used efficiently. “I instruct my maid to do all the chopping and assembling during the day,” says Abida, a small-time designer. “My tailoring shop does peak business during Ramazan and I make sure that everything is semi-ready before I leave for my shop at 11am. When I return my baby-sitter maid helps me fry items for iftar.”
Managing sleep time Nisreen is a manager at a sales firm and savours the discipline in routine which Ramazan brings. “I don’t sleep after Fajr and get to recite the Quran and duas. Our office timings are from eight to two so when I come home I can manage to get an hour or two of rest and then I’m rejuvenated enough to start the iftar preparation. It’s all clockwork and such a regimented way of living — I wish we could follow such a perfect schedule throughout the year.”
Nisreen believes that the key to being up, about and efficient during Ramazan is to plan your sleeping time, “It is sleep deprivation that leaves one feeling irritated and cranky.”
Farida who is a mother of one says that she makes sure that everyone in her three-member household is in bed by 11pm. “I know I can’t manage to pray Tahajud at night, but then I need to be fresh for work the next day.” Her philosophy is to do less but with perfection. “My 10-year-old son insists on fasting and I need to make sure he has a sound sleep and a healthy sehri to keep him energetic throughout the day.”
The lower classes are not so privileged. Kulsoom is a maid who goes to dust and clean in three houses. She survives on four hours of sleep daily during Ramazan. “My husband and sons are labourers and they need a proper sehri. I start preparing sehri from 3am and then after Fajr prayers I’m ready to leave for my first house where I have to reach at 7am. One of my mistresses is kind and she lets me sleep for half an hour in the afternoon. When I reach home after changing two buses in the sweltering heat, I start preparing a modest iftaar and dinner.” By Eid, Kulsoom has dark circles and chronic exhaustion!
A healthy lifestyle Seema is a secretary at a law firm and a mother of two teenagers. “I freeze boiled chanas for chaats in packets. I pour them in boiling water whenever I need them and they are as good as fresh. I believe in healthy eating habits so there is minimum fried stuff in our household. It’s more of juices, fruits and salads for iftar and then a proper dinner. It keeps all of us active.” Many like Seema believe that focusing on dinner is smarter and more economical rather than having two excessive meals in quick succession.
But one thing all these women talked about is the limited time they actually get to pray in this auspicious month. “It is a pity; even though one wishes to avail these sacred days in prayer we find all this precious time eaten up by food preparation,” says Shakera shaking her head.
It is these multi-tasking women who, perhaps, have to display the most tolerance and compassion, which is truly the spirit and essence of Ramazan.