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   The new moon must have been sighted last night... (February 21, 1996)

The new moon must have been sighted last night. Today is Id, the Muslim New Year. The men have gathered at various mosques and said their morning congregational prayers, thousands of bodies falling to their knees and touching their forheads to the earth in an ethureal ballet while mullahs recite from the Koran in sonorous but nasal rones. At the Anjuman-e-Islam, that lovely minaretted school oposite VT, now lost in a confusion of traffic, film hoardings, unauthorised constructions and foot overbridges, the diplomats from the Arab and Islamic countries have joined the more distinguished local Muslims in prayers.

M.G. Husain has already has his Id nasta for his friends from the Grant Road days. But in other houses, vermecelli is being prepared in milk and almounds, the oil of the fried vermecelli floating on top of the milk. Later in the day, there will be more suubstantial and meaty food.

Id, of course, marks the end of the Ramazan, a month of fasting and atonement. Though much of this, I believe, in Islam as in most other religion, is more a matter of custom and ritual than actual atonement. Throughout Ramazan the nights are filled with streets of food and everybody from the President of India to Muslim ministers organises Iftar parties. Still, I suppose, there is something in sustaining a ritual. It makes you feel more fulfilled.

The significant part is that young children observe the Ramazan fast. It is their introduction to a religion which is not among the easiest on its followers. It pre-scribes fasts and pryers, a pilgrimage to Mecca, a code of conduct that brooks that no questions, and some quite unreasonable acts of charity and piety.

India, of course, has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, and it is amazing how well it has absorbed it. There are cities that are essential Muslim, Hyderabad and Lucknow are the two prime examples. And, nearer home, Aurangabad has its own Muslim culture that no changing of the name of the city would alter.

You can feel and smell a Muslim city. And you can hear it in the spoken language of its rickshaw-wallas and kakabjis. Agra, for instance, and parts of Calcutta, and old Delhi, around the Jamma Masjid. There are very few places in the world that are more Muslim than this part of old Delhi. It is a cultural pocket and it should be preserved, cleaned up, beuatified and preserved.

Bombayís Mohamedali Road is an area worth exploring. In Memonwada, there is a mosque with a large pond, cool and serene, and, outside, a turkish bath constructed at the turn of the century and stil operating, and a shop selling Baghdada chai. On the opposite side of the road is the Chor Bazar, more fascinating than the Egyptian Market in Istanbul, and on the main road itself shops selling, ladiesí burkhas, copies of the Koran, prayer beads, and meat achars from Hyderabad.

It is one of Mumbaiís inner cities. And today is its new year.

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