She-1 sits crouched in one corner of the overlooking balcony drinking her cup of prized tea hidden away from the little monsters prowling her hearth in an anticipation of catching her red-handed through her drink gambit. The crime in question is not observing Ramadan fast for close to a week now. She-2 has shut herself inside her room devouring the stolen banana before the little monsters find out about her little secret. Little monsters in question are the children of the joint family who do not understand why girls do not keep fast for almost a week during Ramadan. Who should explain to these children the science of menstruation and awkwardness when they open their big mouth before a gathering of men of the family? The embarrassment that follows for the women is another story.

We know you are eating… we know you are eating,” they chime through barren corridors of a hibernating afternoon of Ramadan when most of the family is dozing to avoid thirst and hunger or praying in silence. The men of the family would skirt glances and pretend that they have not heard the names of their nieces and sisters-in-law as the little monsters go name calling from pillar to post, with laughter and a lot of malice. Thus is the week-long drill for every Muslim girl in the South East Asia side of the globe, trying to hide behind her embarrassment on having been caught as a monkey with the stolen banana. How to eat, while putting an act of fasting? No girls want the men to know her dates. But these menstruating girls also become tasters of the evening iftar before the food is laid out for their observing kin. “Nikhat, can you tell me if the salt is right in fritters?” Nikhat’s fasting mother would ask her daughter after making the first helping of the dish, and Nikhat would quickly scan her right and left for the fear of the prowling enemy before gulping down the food, lest she be caught in the act.

My 12-year-old son becomes Sherlock Holmes during my one week. He follows me everywhere I go. Every time I taste lemonade before iftar in the kitchen, I find him standing at the rear end, screaming in a chastising voice: “You have broken your fast, Mama. Allah Ta’ala’s curse will be on you,” says the mother of the boy.

This is not the end of opera yet. There are investigations carried out at every other fasting hour and milestones.

Why is Nikhat not up during sehari, Mama. Why is she not fasting?” points out one fasting Sherlock Holmes during the wee hours of the morning when the whole family gets up to eat before sunrise, to fill up for until sunset, when they break their fast. “She is not feeling too well,” the embarrassed matriarch explains, skirting the truth without lying during the holy month, as the grown-up men pretend that they have not heard a thing. And the little monster would smirk a grin at Nikhat for the rest of the week, knowing all too well, and still too little for their age. Thus is a week of Ramadan in a Muslim girl’s month that comes as a double-edged sword — the fear of being found out being the one end of it, and not-being-holy enough for a week during a pious month being the other end of the spectrum. For some, it gives a relief from the rigors of fasting during the month, and still for the questioning kinds, it becomes a site of contestation. “Why should women not fast when they chum?” asks a feminist friend of mine. Not convinced with my biological logic (“Well, it does not suit a bleeding woman to not eat and drink.”), this feminist would go on to keep fast during her cycles (just to prove a point!) and fall sick out of nausea. Experiment complete. Point explained. Ramadan Mubarak!

-Heena Khan
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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