The holy month of Ramadan is signified by dawn to dusk fasting and each passing day generates a feeling of inner satisfaction, accomplishment and rising excitement in the knowledge that at the end of it all, we celebrate Eid ul Fitr. Abstinence during this month is not confined to food and drink, but includes all things considered undesirable, three out of which are anger, greed and slothfulness. Regretfully enough, degeneration in our national character is reflected in our behavior, which manifests these undesirables.
Let us take anger first. People, who under normal circumstances are tolerant, develop a hair trigger tendency to fly into rage when fasting. This is particularly evident in how vehicle drivers interact with one another, shop keepers deal with customers or how government functionaries handle public. Ugly brawls by the dozen break out on the roads on the slightest pretext or even at perceived provocations. Salesmen, who would otherwise spar merrily with customers over the price of an article, become rude and public service officials spare no effort to ‘insult’ needy and persistent citizens.
In countries like Australia, which do not have an Islamic dispensation, the prices of consumables show a voluntary drop during Ramadan. The trend in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is in the opposite direction. Prices are jacked up to make a quick profit in a shameful display of greed.
Try as I might, I have never come to terms with the fact that work in offices, particularly government ones, slows to a slothful pace during the thirty days of fasting. Logically speaking, the absence of a lunch break and multiple stops for tea should actually increase output rather than reduce it.
A recent experience in a government office afforded an opportunity to witness anger, greed and slothfulness in all its ‘glory’ rolled into one. I found the official fast asleep with his feet up on the table and committed the cardinal sin of tentatively shaking him awake so that I could complete a legal process. I was blown away by the reaction, which began with an angry accusation that I had disturbed his much deserved rest since he was fasting. This was followed by tossing my papers across the room with the words that ‘sahibs’ like me did not observe the sanctity of the month and that I should return and get my work done on the following day. I throttled down the rage that boiled up inside me, picked up the papers and retreated out of the room. As I walked down the dark and smelly corridor, I was accosted by one of the underlings that inhabit such places with the words, “Sir jee, Quaid e Azam chalao, te kam chalao”. This insulting reference to our founding father prompted me to tell the person ‘where he and his office could go’.
It was just yesterday that chaos erupted on a rural Islamabad road as two wagon drivers launched themselves at each other in a free for all. In a stupid display of not minding my own business, I stopped my car and getting down affected an intervention taking advantage of my senior citizen status and white hair. I was lucky that lack of food and water had perhaps lowered stamina and I was able to untangle the two contestants. My luck held out as I delivered a short and hopefully effective sermon on Ramadan, the necessity of showing tolerance and reservation of their vigorous tempers for the enemies of Pakistan, before putting them back on their respective routes.
It was on the second day of the current Holy Month that I saw a pair of policemen carrying out a very unorthodox search at a temporary check post in suburban Islamabad. The person being searched was an unfortunate motorbike rider, who was standing totally resigned to his fate, while a cop searched him with both hands in the side pockets of his ‘kurta’. I deliberately slowed down at the spot just in time to see the hands retrieve something from the unorthodox frisking of the victim and with lightning speed secure it into his own.
I was once asked by a Malaysian friend as to why did the Pakistani nation go into the ‘sloth’ mode during the month of fasting. I mumbled a cosmetic excuse, while deep inside I felt a rush of shame for an observation that was true.