It is believed that the holy month of Ramazan is a period when the devil or his disciples are put in chains. This belief stems from the fact that abstinence from all things sinful is the key to fasting. As children, we were taught that lying was an act that compromised or ‘broke’ this hallowed ritual; we were also taught that fasting was a symbol of ‘sabr’ or patience. Alas, none of these elements are discernible in the vast majority of us or the leadership that runs the country.

Take lying for example, “There will be no loadshedding during sehar and iftar”, announced our worthy Prime Minister and this rhetoric found an echo in statements of the honourable Minister for Power. Comfortable in this knowledge, we sat down to iftar, but were plunged into darkness halfway through it. It is since then that we have been subjected to what can best be termed as a cruel joke, wherein the power comes and goes for short and extended periods during the better part of the day and night.

It is said that one can judge the character of an individual by watching him or her eat. This yardstick is also valid at the collective level and one has to simply stand aside to watch fellow citizens assault the buffet, as soon as they see the dish covers being lifted.

An example of this uncivilised and disgusting spectacle, featuring the PPP jiyalas, was witnessed recently, during an iftar-cum-dinner event, where the Governor Punjab and Mr Jehangir Badar were also present. The PPP riff raff (and this is the only way to describe them) did not wait for the evening call to prayer that announces the ‘breaking of the fast’, but pounced upon the food prematurely, in a demonstration that could put animals to shame.

A similar scene was witnessed during a pre-Ramazan event organised by the PML-N. In this case, the rush of ‘starved’ countrymen made a mess of the arrangements that included bringing down the marquis on top of the food.

It is in the month of Ramazan that people become overly irritable, short-tempered and edgy. Why this happens is beyond my comprehension, as the holy month teaches us forbearance. This morning my progress to work was marred by the sight of a large knot of spectators encircling two individuals, who for all practical purposes were out to kill each other. It turned out that the combatants were wagon drivers, who had tried to outdo one another in reaching a pick up point. This race had started an argument, which soon snowballed into a fist fight.

I attended a nightmarish iftari last year. As the sirens sounded and the call for prayer rang out from the mosque nearby, all hell broke loose. There was a mob-like rush to the food stations, followed by a loud clanging noise and a rush of loud invective. There right before my eyes stood a knot of livid guests spattered with the contents of a ‘saag gosht’ dish that lay overturned on the grass. As waiters rushed to clear the mess, one of them accidently nudged an affected guest, who promptly grabbed the unfortunate creature and commenced to thrash him blaming him for the entire incident. It was with some effort that the poor man was rescued from his tormentor and order restored.

Another phenomenon that I have oft tried to comprehend is the change in working hours in government offices during the month of Ramazan. I am trying to come to grips with the fact that a day of fasting is actually the equivalent of skipping the afternoon meal and not having one’s daily intake of caffeine and nicotine. With office temperatures regulated to comfortable levels by air conditioning what is it that induces people to shorten working hours to almost a half day schedule and, that too, when more work is required of us to rid us of the morass we are in.

It was a day ago that I found myself confronted with an unbelievable situation, which indicated that, perhaps, there were still a few good men left, to salvage the tattered remains of our national character. This hope was kindled by a non-descript fruit seller near a suburban Islamabad locality known as Taramari Chowk. Having been invited to share iftar with some close friends of the family, I stopped the car at the spot to buy some fruit for my hosts. Expecting inflated prices, I was pleasantly surprised to see that what was being charged was actually less than normal. My journalistic curiosity having been aroused, I began questioning the young man, only to realise that greatness is not necessarily the virtue of the powerful, but may be an attribute gifted to the lowly.

In a nutshell, what this unique individual said was this: “If the month of fasting was meant to gain favour in the presence of the Creator, then it was incumbent upon all humans to abstain from acts that wrought misery on their fellow beings. By selling my fruit at lower rates, I am not only currying divine favour, but also making a reasonable profit.” I was humbled in the man’s presence and could only walk away deep in thought at what a poor and, perhaps, illiterate fruit vendor had just uttered.

To me, the month of Ramazan represents all that is best in Islam. But as I look around me, I find that somewhere along the road we appear to have transformed the blessed essence of this month of months into displays of frayed tempers, profiteering and gluttonous orgies. My interaction with the fruit seller, however, has worked like a tonic and I look forward to the day when the true meaning of fasting dawns on the teeming millions that inhabit this country.

n    The writer is a freelance columnist.