In a nation where the citizens stand tense and in fear polarised by those with secret motives, our Delhi-based columnist Mahima, in a weekly column, brings you the story of a young girl, who has moved beyond religion. Meet journalist Neelima, who is breaking the barriers of faith and celebrating the spirit of Ramzan by observing all Rozas for three years now. A Different Truths exclusive.
I saw her the first time at my former office. Tiny, slim frame, with very short hair, she was introduced to us as our new teammate. For few seconds, I could not take my eyes off her. She was the reflection of my youth, as a tomboy, who took on life by the horns or was there something about the aura? I could not decide then.
But only a few days later, I knew she was different. In my head, she was my ‘Tiny Ninja’, who had a patient ear to people around her be it work or personal issues. She not only remarkably balanced life and work with élan, but broke usual stereotypes. She embraced life with an open mind and arms. Was a slice of me out and calling me to be the same old me? I would wonder. To me she was stand-alone in the crowd of newcomers I would face every year.
Few years down the line, destiny took its own turn and she found her calling at a new place. We would hardly ping each other on messages, but I would always enjoy her social media updates. And then one of these as featured below, this year struck a chord…
Yes, after I read the above post, a sense of joy erupted. Yes, I was right, she was different from others. In layman’s language, a Hindu was keeping Rozas in the Holy month of Ramzan. I had found my calling. I messaged her that I wished to take her interview. Work had kept us away, but a common joy had united us again, the joy to be a secular Indian in the true sense of the word.
So here I present you Neelima, my ‘Tiny Ninja’, a journalist in Mumbai and her journey through Ramzan in her own words.
Neelima: The first year happened pretty much out of the blue. It was a bad year in terms of work (which happens to be most of my life). I wasn’t facing any big problems. I had a roof over my head, health and happiness, friends and a well-paying job. But sometimes, that is just not enough or not what you’re looking for. I used to go to work knowing that most of it were quite easy. Nothing seemed exciting enough and I wanted to find something that was more than mildly challenging. And then, Ramzan came around. It seemed like something I could do. But to not eat and drink for over 12 hours? I wasn’t sure. Crazier people than me have tried and decided to never take that road again. Hunger has great power in it. It’s a mood-alterer. There is no dearth of stories where the mighty succumbed to it. And that’s what it is. If you can tolerate it and come out with a smile on your face, some positivity, and most importantly composure I think it’s fantastic. To conquer hunger is of course to control that urge to eat and channelise that energy towards something productive.
Neelima: I am someone who has trouble maintaining discipline when it comes to eating and drinking. I can go days without a drop of water (I do drink sodas though). So, for me, Ramzan is a great opportunity. I once studied in a Muslim school in the Middle East. My fascination for some things in Islam comes from there. I learned some great things about the importance of rituals there. And when life presented the need and opportunity with a fixed agenda to help my mind and body, I just took it.
Neelima: Ramzan 2017 is my third year. It’s not the toughest thing in the world but I won’t lie to you, it’s not become any easier. Every year has its challenges. The people around you, the general environment and how the forces of the universe come together for you to do what you want to, have incredible anthropological learnings for all of us.
Neelima: I was born a Hindu and my family does have questions about my choice of adopting practices from another religion. But my mother knows now and it makes her curious. She says it’s her maternal instinct that makes it tough for her. “I can’t eat knowing that you’re starving,” is what I’ve heard many times. But it has gotten better with time. Now, she wants to know why I do it. She has found comfort in the fact that Roza leads me to a peaceful place in my own heart.
Neelima: I have missed a day, this year and my first year. I feel quite bad about it but I also give myself credit for all the other days that have gone well – when I did not lose my temper, was more or less tolerant and was hopeful about life, my immediate environment and the world which needs the peace and tolerance I’m looking for, now more than ever.
Neelima: The day partially starts when I wake up to eat at 4 am. Unfortunately, it’s not when I pray. This is just to eat and take a few minutes to chalk out the day. I then go back to bed (because if not, it would be a terribly long day). I wake up again post 7 am and take on the day. At work, there almost always is someone offering food or snacks. But that’s not the tough part. I’m awkward about reminding people that I’m fasting. It’s not something I can explain in under a minute. And curious folks usually have follow-up questions. “Why?” is still the one that I struggle to keep short and sweet.
My Eid routine in Delhi used to be Nizamuddin (my sukoon ghar in Delhi) in the morning and Jama Masjid in the afternoon. I’d spend time praying and also ended up learning a thing or two from someone giving sermons sitting over there.
Neelima: It was a challenge and that was the point. I did not need too much motivation to keep going because I began to see myself change. My mood got better, I was more in control of my thoughts and to be honest, not eating is not a deal-breaker for me because I’m not much of a foodie. But this is one month in the year when I eat very healthy. I’ve tried to do it many times in the other months too. But I guess the universe has its ways of making you do things.
Neelima: My Iftar usually starts with a glass of water or milk. Then I have a snack like a sandwich or poha or a samosa (what’s Ramzan without samosas?) I usually try not to eat out because one part of the exercise is to watch what you eat when the seasons are changing. So I make myself a bowl of rice, a cup of dal/curry and top it with some yogurt. I’m not very fond of sweets but I do let myself a rasgulla or ice-cream or a fruit. I’ve never managed to eat so well. Before sunrise though, I eat lighter and take a lot of liquids.
Neelima: Absolutely. It’s not about the challenge anymore but an exercise of generally feeling and doing good. It’s a great time to introspect, the good things about life that I tend to take for granted. Sometimes it’s as simple as having pure drinking water around in the times of Dengue and Zika.
Neelima: My folks? Well, let’s see. They’re religious and believe in a conventional way of living. They do not like being adventurous about edgy subjects like God, discipline and societal definitions of people. In short, they’re nothing like me. But we do have one thing in common. We all have a great amount of respect for conventional wisdom. They apply it to almost every aspect of life and I like to customise.
Neelima: Well lecturing is easy so I’ll keep it short and to the extent that I had succeeded in applying. The part of this country that uses religion to incite people and cause harm other living things is pretty clear with its agenda. It’s politics which is meant to serve their interests. The sooner people realise this, the earlier we can start healing from the hate that is already entrenched.
Neelima: Friends, (not just Romans) and Countrymen, a little kindness to (every)one/thing around us, even those who do not understand our ways, is what makes us human. Let’s stop treating compassion as a weakness.
Neelima closes the interview with her inimitable and impeccable style, Different Truths of the modern times.
© Mahima Sharma
Photos courtesy Neelima
#FireOnIce #RozaBeyondReligion #SpecialEid #Interview #CompassionAndKindness #DifferentTruths
A science graduate from Delhi University and MA in Mass Communication, Mahima began her career with E-Lexicon PR & Mutual PR and Hindustan Times. Soon, ANI (a collaboration with Reuters) got her aboard, where she spread her wings in TV, Print & Digital Journalism. In 2010 Rajdeep Sardesai’s flagship primetime show gave her, a dream job at CNN-IBN. From May 2017, she is a freelance journalist. She is a poet and a Sufi at heart.