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   Being an agnostic, if not an unbeilever... (April 17, 1990)

Being an agnostic, if not an unbeilever, I think of the Ramazan as I do about most religiuos practices: All right for those who believe in them, but actually of no consequence to humanity. However, I do find the custom of iftar, the traditional breaking of the end of the fasting, to be a very warm and comforting practice.

I attended one iftar ceremony with my late, lost and much-lamented friend, Imtiaz Kapadia. He took me to a hall in one of the backlanes of Agripada, one evening, around sunset. It was an all-mala congregation. The men were already on their knees, bodies facing Mecca, foreheads being rubbed in the carpet.

The whole room was carpeted. I removed my shoes, carefully placed them apart from the footwear of others, and stood at one end of the room, feeling embarrased and looking foolish. Though I have done much of this, I think it is wrong to visit cathedrals, temples, mosques, as a tourist. You don't gape at other people's places of worship and take picutes of the worshippers.

I have done a lot of this (gaping, not taking pictures), mosques in Istanbul, temples in Badri-Kedar, monasteries in Thimbu, cathedrals in Cologne. And alwsays I have felt like an interloper.

Still, there I was, in Agripada, watching men pray, the final act of a day of fasting and denial, before breaking bread. I could not join them; that would have been absurd, besides being physically impossible, since my bones have, gone too siff to bend and flex, and I could not just stand there and observe them from a height.

The rest of the evening was much more pleasant. We all sat down to eat, on the floor, in small circles. First the dates, the symbolic fruits of a religion born in the desert, then the kababa, the whgite meats, chicken wrapped in silver foil, a variety of Salnas and rotis, fini in clay pots. With a banquet like that at the end of it, a person can to through a day of fasting. But that is not a worthy, the poor fast as much as the rich.

Actually, the gathering was not particularly rich. Mostly, they were small traders. A man sitting next to me, sold attar, going from shop to shop in the Muslim localities of Bombay. His person was his shop, as he demonstrated by taking out phials of attar from various pockets of his sherwani. Finally, at the end of the evening, he presented me with one of them.

I have still got it, somewhere in the house. I will have to search for it, but it will be there. What is not there is my friend, Imtiaz Kapadia. Shortly after that Ramazan, he died. We buried him in the cemetery along Queen's Road. All the fasting and all the prayers did not preserve him.

 
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