Shimanto Fast Food, by Naeem Mohaiemen
When I try to excavate year zero for these “rules,” I can’t trace it all the way back. A Pakistani man I interviewed remembered Jamaat e Islami activists cutting watering hoses on Karachi university campuses to prevent students drinking water during Ramzan – this started after Ziaul Huq arrived in the 1970s.
Department for promoting virtue and preventing vice.
In Bani Abidi’s Karachi Series 1, six images captured at iftar time commemorate non-Muslims (Christian, Parsi and Hindu) engaged in ironing, folding, sitting, polishing, reading, arranging – carrying out quotidian tasks at that moment when public space is deserted as populations theoretically unite in breaking fast.
Ovais Ahmed Mangalwala satirizes all this in his video “Kaha Suna Muaaf Non Muslims in Ramazan.”
Bani and Mangalwala’s gaze is on Pakistan’s non-Muslim population, and this is perhaps an easier critique to absorb. The audience’s paternalistic conscience may yet accommodate the idea that minority populations, after all, “do not fast” (actually they might, within their own rituals, but not through, or for, Ramzan).
But what of Muslims who do not fast, for whatever reasons they may have: choice, habit, health, hunger, belief, other?
In Bangladesh, social regulations around public displays of fasting came much later (at least in the 1970s it was largely absent). In the last two decades, it has accelerated dramatically. Perhaps pushed along by governments wishing to build “ummah” linkages with the regional destination for migrant labor (“manpower export”). Or driven by a general increase in more literalist interpretations of what is allowed in public space. The zone of tolerance of different ways of being shrinks.
An idea now is granulating steadily – that during Ramzan, there can be no other permissible activity besides fasting. No one in the nation (Muslim, non-Muslim, or other) can claim the right or the space to opt out of collective fasting. Many shops that serve food in the daytime are now required (by who? social pressure? invisible hand?) to erect a curtain around their doors and windows, so that the sight of people eating does not “offend” the rojdar.
Growing up in a family where half of us fasted and the other half did not, I was told that if someone ate near you, your sowab would be doubled. A sweet legend, and a more gentle time.
Today, this moment, is at Dhaka’s Aziz Market, refuge for bookstores and political adda. No adda is complete without tea, at Ramzan or otherwise. But today, food stores have curtains erected; feet protrude, guiltily finishing a quick meal, a rushed smoke.
The furtive store is Shimanto Fast Food.
Shimanto means border.
Naeem Mohaiemen is a writer and artist, exploring histories of utopia-dystopia slippage. [shobak.org]