Ramadhan 10 Timezones from Home

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At 3.15 am I wake up to an alarm that makes the friend lying beside me grumble. For suhoor today, I eat a protein bar that tastes like cardboard, a glass of milk, a slice of peach pie, courtesy of one of my housemates for the summer, and three glasses of water.

I go to bed unable to sleep, belly swelled up to the max, lucidly dreaming about suhoor back home.

Papa calls it “daaku” which, according to him, is the gujurati word for thieves. Legend has it that waking up to eat at 4 in the morning was called so because it’s the time of night thieves roam around looking for something to steal. I’m not sure I was ever comfortable with that name, so when I first heard suhoor, I picked it up immediately.

Eating alone at 3.15 am is a ridiculously lonely act, especially for something that is so communally celebrated. Fasting during Ramadhan is the one practice every Muslim I know wholeheartedly commits to, even if they won’t pray, or they drink, or smoke during their fasts. I remember my best friend driving around smoking a cigarette outside her car window, complaining about how hungry she was. Even so, there’s an odd humility in detaching yourself from (some of) your desires and to share that humility with so many others. This entire month is cathartic, even the deathlike trance two hours before iftar, and the way mama finds dates with secret almonds in them because she knows I like surprises.

This is the month where the masjid lights up on Laylatul Qadr, blinking green fairy lights strewn recklessly on the walls, and where I’ll finally blow the dust off the cover of my Qur’an after a year of neglect (don’t tell my mother). I’ll complain about the fatigue so my non-Muslim friends don’t make me do things I don’t want to, because, in Ramadhan, even sleeping is an act of worship. I love every part of this month, except the smell of my own breath halfway through the hot day, the stale rooftop taste like waking up in the desert. I still carry a toothbrush in my backpack.

And, although Ramadhan is supposed to be a time of detachment from worldly desires, it ends up, in an odd way, reinforcing those. Food is so extravagant during the month that Eid pales in comparison. At 3.15 am I think about my mother’s pakodas, her kalimati dipped in sugary syrup, even how milk tastes differently back home. More straight-from-the-cow. Beyond that, it’s a month of noticing. Like how, at 3.15 am back home, my father teases my brother’s tired eyes, and my grandmother stubbornly insists that she’s not too old to fast. I think of all my cousins that fly home for the shorter days and how they make her feel. I think of how she looks at them contentedly from a chair too big for her in the corner of the room, while they sprawl across her massive bed, and how they have always looked at her in awe. I have been away from home for so long that I have forgotten where the lines on her face live. I wonder if my mother has new ones, and who’ll first see them.

At 3.15 am, my first suhoor alone in a house full of sleeping people. I remember that although my family can go a year without noticing one another like that, this month, everyday at 3.15 am, they will finally eat together.

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Fatima Zehra is the Deputy Editor of Kajal Magazine. She owns too many red lipsticks. Bother her on Twitter @zebrazehra and Instagram @fatimazehral.

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