A Tale of Two Ramzans


Lahore, 2019

It’s sehri time. Abdullah and I are already up. He’s watching a movie or a series on his laptop, and I’m reading something on mine. I go to wake Ammi, hoping she had gotten some sleep, but just as I enter her room, I see the light of her phone screen illuminating her face. As always, she hadn’t slept, fearing she won’t wake up in time to get sehri prepared. Abdullah then wakes up Umar Bhai, our trusted house help, and opens the kitchen door so he can enter and start preparing the food.

All of us, barring Ammi, usually have roti or parathay with either anday, aam, or daal, and a small helping of dahi so that we don’t feel thirsty during the fast. We let Abu sleep, but we also can’t let him sleep too long since he has to take his medicines. Once his Sehri is ready, I try to wake him up gently (which is something I look most forward to everyday since never does Abu not wake up cranky. Abdullah, Ammi and I always find it very amusing). We all sit down together and start eating. I remind Ammi to take her medicines too. We talk about things, national politics, and whatnot. We turn on the TV to make sure we don’t miss the call for Fajr. The moment the countdown clock on TV starts showing one minute to Fajr, Abdullah, in his characteristic fashion, starts chugging down an entire jug of water. He always waits till its one or two minutes from azaan to drink liters over liters of water. He’s 19 but is yet to realize that he isn’t a camel who can store water for the rest of the day. He stops just a second before the sirens start blaring from the mosques of the neighborhood and azaan begins, amid Ammi and I shouting for him to stop and Abu shaking his head.

We offer Fajr and sometimes we sit talking for an hour after namaz before falling asleep.



New York City, 2020

This is my first ever Ramzan away from home, and that too all the way in New York; the epicenter of the pandemic. I haven’t been able to fix my sleeping schedule so I’m already awake when I realize its time I make my sehri. The apartment is silent. I go to the kitchen, make myself a small bowl of oatmeal with milk, grab a banana from the fridge, and keep some yoghurt and water on the side. I eat in my favorite corner of the small apartment lounge, and keep checking my phone for Fajr time; no sirens here to keep me alert. In a few minutes, it is Fajr but utter silence. No sound of the azaan. I switch of the lights in the lounge and move to my room for offering namaaz, wondering if Ammi and Abu took their medicines during their sehri. I wonder if Abu still woke up with the funny face he makes every time we try to wake him up. I imagine my family of three sitting at home, each with a tray infront of them. 

I have never missed them more. 



Lahore, 2019

We are an hour away from iftari. Ammi is fervently engaged in ibadat, but she quickly wraps it up to go to the kitchen and prepare food with Umar Bhai. I follow and ask if she needs any help. She tells me she doesn’t and asks me to clean up her room where we we will have iftari. I go and tidy up everything in her room. And then I go back to the kitchen, Abdullah follows me on the pretense of asking Ammi if she needs any help but we all know he is there to see how many spring rolls are being fried. Ammi’s dupatta is beginning to soak, Lahore’s summers aren’t kind to anyone, holy month or not. I plead with her to keep the iftari simple and tell her that there is no need to make a feast everyday. Kia zaroorat hai spring rolls, pakoray, samosay bananay ki? I don’t want her to stay in the kitchen too long. She doesn’t listen to me, as usual, and sends everything to her room in our beautiful wooden food trolley. She prepares a plate separately for all of us: Abu, Abdullah, me, Umar Bhai, and last of all, herself. Each person gets dates, pakoras, samosas, spring rolls, fruit chaat, dahi bhalay, rooh afza or mango squash. Each gets a portion according to what they like best. So my plate has the most aloo samosas, and Abdullah’s the most spring rolls. I turn on the TV and Ammi Abu debate which channels shows iftari timings most accurately. “Geo bas nahi sahi batata, hamesha pehle roza khulwa deta hai.” So we land on some obscure local channel and wait for the countdown clock to strike the time for Maghrib. All of us do a collective dua before opening our fast, recite the iftar dua together and then proceed to eat. I am full already but salan is yet to be served. We offer namaaz together.

We rest for a bit, and later Abdullah and I bicker over taraweeh. And then both of us stay up the whole night till sehri again.



New York City, 2020

I woke up at 3PM, offer zuhr, email a few professors, reply to unanswered messages, and then notice that it’s 7PM. I decide to make aloo chanay and fix myself a sandwich. I clearly started too late. I fumble here and there with the ingredients, making a bit of a mess. And I think of my Ammi and how easily she seems to balance the entire world on her fingertips, how carefully and gently she weaves three lives into the fabric of a home. How does she do all of this and so much more? I also think of Abdullah and if he’s still having those fried spring rolls.

My flatmate joins me in preparing her iftari and I check my phone again to see what the time is. No obscure, local Urdu channel to surf through for the countdown clock. We’re already three minutes past iftari so we scramble to grab dates before we eat together in the lounge. But I cannot be more happier to have found a pack of dates a few days ago, as if the unfamiliarity of recreating an experience anchored in home, family and Lahore in a foreign, troubled land could be dispelled by the sweetness of a single bite.


– Hafsa Khawaja

8 comments on “A Tale of Two Ramzans

  1. S. Ayub says:

    Coming to your blog after two years or so. Didn’t know you’ve flown elsewhere and things have changed so much in life.

    I enjoyed reading this tale so much! Such an amusing (yet melancholic) way to express simple things. I hope life is treating you well and I wish you good health and long life.

    • Thank you for visiting my blog again, I am very glad you enjoyed reading this! And I wholly appreciate your thoughtfulness, I too wish you the best of health and life (especially) now and ahead.

  2. Asif Saleem says:

    Having lived these experiences i can feel that little twinge of delicious pain one encounters whilst reading this.
    Reminded me of “it was the best of times….”

  3. Zafar says:

    Interesting. Though this is almost exactly what happens in each home, but penning it down so vividly is real good. Could see ammi preparing the iftaar. And the non-azaan iftaar is quite upsetting. and just not the same as an iftaar is supposed to be. First reader of your blog. Tops. Keep your pen flowing.

  4. Hissan Ur Rehman says:

    Amazing writing skills! So relatable.

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