|It may be because many rich people live in this
city. For ostentatious observation of festivals, excess money is
required. The rich merchant class of Chittagong, therefore are
ideally suited. As money reigns, religion also becomes a matter of
competition. During Kurbani, every locality finds a group of rich
people who contest for buying the biggest/costliest cow. And in
Ramadan, the contest is about who gives away the biggest amount of
But Ramadan is a month of austerity, even then austerity can
wear a festive look, and exactly so in Chittagong. The Ramadan
culture consists of fasting which includes letting your friends
know that even your minor son insists on waking up at Sehri and
keeping the (fasting), praying that includes the discussion among
friends about which mosque one goes to for the Taraabi prayer, and
exchanging banters between friends on the sanctions enforced in
the private lives or the enforced withdrawal of the sanctions.
In the street the Ramadan culture constitutes in having all the
restaurants shut down at daytime, handbills and one-page calendars
announcing the Iftar-Sehri timings as well as the piety of this
holy month being delivered free, and the shopkeepers and
businessmen talking confidently that they speak nothing but the
Ramadan is a month of freedom too. Freedom from food and rest.
At work, one can work from morning till Iftar time not having to
bother about breakfast, pre-lunch snacks, lunch itself, and the
inevitable tea. If one is a workaholic, he can forgo his siesta
too, because one doesn't sleep well on an empty stomach. For
people mindful about body fitness, Ramadan is probably the best
At home, Ramadan is made felt to you by a certain ritual of
piety; silence everywhere except for the TV which your children
have understood as needed to be continually put on as replacement
for their frequent invasions into the kitchen which also remains
silent until the early hours of the afternoon, when suddenly
seized by a frenzied action for the preparation of Iftar.
Your wife then wakes up from her long afternoon slumber, lazily
holding an unfinished novel in her hand and walking heavily to the
kitchen to give necessary instructions to the housemaid. Your
starving nose tickles.
To me, on the earthly plane, Ramadan is basically an agreement
between husband and wife. The husband fasts and buys the grocery,
and the wife fasts too, but she prepares the Iftar.
Ramadan Iftar can be very simple, just dunking a bela or gole
or rose biscuit in a glass of sherbet, or it can be very elaborate
-- a ten-course meal, starting from sherbet to cholabhaja (fried
grams) generously mixed with muri (puffed rice), added with the
fried things like piyanju (round fried pieces of paste lentils),
beguni (fried slices of egg-plant), marichycha (fried chilies),
then dishes of sweet, that is all kinds of pie, then a serving of
fruits like bananas, apples, grapes, and papayas and pineapples,
and guavas or mangoes depending on the season, and then in the
final round, luchi or puri or parata with beef or chicken, and
then of course a bowl of haleem (cooked chicken/beef/mutton in
dense gravy of lentils) to be finally rounded up with hot juicy
jilapi (a very delicious sweet of flour, tortuously coil-shaped,
soaked in steaming sugar juice) and a tubful of curd, and then the
hot tea is served. After all these, some fasters are yet hungry
enough to wait for the night meal.
I mentioned bela and gole and rose biscuits, and of them the
first two are typical cookies only baked locally in Chittagong.
Bela is round shaped like the moon, baked
from flour and sugar and nothing else. Once bela used to be of
very big size, four inches in diameter, but with the rise in
prices of things it is getting both costlier in
price and smaller in size.
Now a bela biscuit of the size of one taka coin should surprise
you. Gole biscuit, also made of the same ingredients, has nothing
gole or round about it. The naming of the biscuit as such is
surprising, because it is shaped like the letter R with the inside
filled up. The rose biscuit, shaped exactly like the letter D, is
baked all over Bangladesh, so does not need a separate mention.
After fasting for the whole day, the bela or gole-soaked
sherbet provides a real relief. They puff up occupying the whole
space inside the glass, and you drink up the sherbet slowly along
with the well-soaked soft good things of the biscuit travelling
feelingly through your mouth. Chittagonians are not well known for
their cuisine sense.
They eat bare parata with sugar sprinkled on it, they breakfast
with bela and tea, and, as one of my friend's mother from another
district surprised me by saying, they sprinkle ground dry fish
over pilau. The average Chittagonian Muslim diet goes by the
basics, rice and one curry and beef. It is reflected in their
Iftar too. Presence of beef in the Iftar menu is as mandatory as
the presence of chilies and pepper.
But then my Hindu friends are also fond of Iftar, so my wife
preserves a special dish of chicken or mutton when I invite them.
Once or twice we had some European friends in the house during the
Ramadan month, they also relished Iftar. Iftar perhaps is a great
bonding force. Over the years Iftar has turned into a great social
and political culture. Nationwide Iftar party is thrown at the
highest level for greater political amicability.
In Chittagong, it is more felt. Because Chittagong is a city of
very rich people who don't mind spending. So by the later half,
the Ramadan month turns into a kind of Iftar festival. Iftar
invitations are too many, and so are return invitations. There are
at least five invitations from the in-law side, and at least
another five from the
friends, and then there are ten or so from the social or
political groups. The invitations often clash. No problem. You
know how to go about it.