Of Broken Yolks, Rooh Afza Commercials and Darwinist Theme Songs

From Lahore to Rio to Dubai: a short story about Ramzan and ami

In July 2014, the Art Dubai blog team asked me to write about my Ramzan/Ramadan experience in Dubai. It was the first Ramzan after ami passed away, and so it was a moment to pause and reflect on both the act of preparing food and eating it. The short text turned up in some archive spring cleaning today and I decided to air it again.

Martin Johnson Heade, , 1871, oil on mahogany panel, 34.8 cm × 45.6 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

DUBAI — It’s 3:30am and it’s still dark. I focus on frying an egg. The yolk is broken — what a disaster. I lift it up with a spatula, let the excess hot oil drip out, and then quickly put it atop a toasted slice of multigrain bread covered with slices of plump pink salmon. I pick up a bowl of cold sliced mango and my glass of orange juice. I look at my sehri proudly and pat myself on the back for concocting such a delicious, healthy affair. I eat slowly, chewing thoughtfully and waiting for the azaan to break the sitcom playing on Dubai One.

It’s now 7:10pm, and I’m hurriedly putting together a small feast of roasted vegetables and chicken on the dining table. I picked it up from Spinneys. I’m eating alone, but I put together the nice white bowl, my shiny fork, knife and spoon, the fancy glass, some juice, fresh berries. It’s 7:15, one minute before iftari time. Where are the dates? I find the dates. I sit at the table and eat. I look out the window. The garden looks beautiful at dusk.

Much better, I tell myself. Up until two years ago, for sehri, I usually used to shove a boiled egg quickly into my mouth, pushed down with a few gulps of tepid water. That’s when I found myself living in Rio de Janeiro and fasting in the strangest, most beautiful and disconnected-from-home city in the world. Iftaris — opened to The Big Bang Theory (timed to a tee) — would include fruit chaat from the few remaining masala boxes that I had stuffed in my luggage. Sometimes I’d do the oven-baked honey wings my mother taught me. Spiritual and Google Map-wandering lead me to the only mosque in the megalopolis, a small space with a beautiful name Mesquita da Luz (Mosque of Light). There was a moment of free spirited connection. I scored Pakistani black tea as a gift from a sympathizer.

To date, I now associate the most popular Darwinist theme song with satiating my hunger pangs at iftari time.

And before all this — growing up with the generous iftari fare in Pakistan. All the lights on. The TV blaring last minute cooking oil and Rooh-afza ads. Family, come together, eat together, the world is a safe place… The power cuts weren’t so bad then. The rising food prices were beginning to affect the merriment, but it was still a safe moment, for that one hour spent at the table. Eating, talking, laughing. Feeling stuffed to the point of sickness. Reaching for the next pakora. Or the nth cup of tea. Afterwards, we slept till we were nudged awake for meetha parathas at sehri.

This is my second Ramzan in Dubai. It is also my first Ramzan after my mother passed away. So it’s a bit more somber, a bit more reflective. I find myself waking up early, like ami did; putting thought into my sehri spread, like ami did; and taking time to enjoy my food, like ami did. I return home from work thinking about how I would prepare my iftari. It’s an introspective moment. Tomorrow I will break my fast with my co-workers.

Whether alone, or in a crowd, I measure what my meal has to offer, and I savour it. I send a prayer to ami, who took so much pleasure in feeding someone a hearty meal. She would have approved.

Don’t count how much you ate Saira! It’s disrespectful. Learn to enjoy what you have on your plate and offer thanks. And stop chewing with your mouth open.

May 2020 note: Text has been slightly edited/updated.

the s.a. scrapbook for dreams, drafts, some serious stuff | south asian art history, women in art, publishing | sairaansari.com | insta/twitter: @sairaansari_

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