Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sights, sounds and aromas of Ramadan

Fasting has been enjoined upon the Muslims in Ramadan which is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is a month of intense prayers, devout worship and religious zeal. But another dimension that makes Ramadan such a unique experience in Pakistan is the accompanying profusion of sights, sounds and aromas that permeate the air and enrich the soul in this holy month

The last days of Shaba’an see a heightened sense of anticipation among the faithful. People crowd on rooftops, remain glued to their radio sets or gather around the television for the news of sighting of the Ramadan moon. As soon as the sighting of the thread-like crescent is announced, the air is filled with cries of “Ramadan Mubarak.” People ring up relatives and friends to convey the glad tidings and wish each other “Happy Ramadan”. 

There is much excitement in households as menus for sehri and iftaar are discussed. Then the muezzins call the faithful for Isha prayers and people go forth in large droves for the first of the taraveeh prayers of the month. For those who stay at home, the television networks telecast soul stirring recitation of the Holy Quran, naats and live taraveeh from the Holy Kaaba.

Predawn time again sees a flurry of activities. Harassed mothers bang on doors to wake up kids, alarm clocks are silenced, bathroom doors are banged and wide yawns are stifled as everyone rushes about preparing for sehri. There are groans from those who are not accustomed to waking up this early and stumble about half asleep on their feet. 

There are shrill, ear piercing whistles from guards who double up as signalers to rouse people. In some areas, people pay drum bearers or ‘dholchis’ to go about waking the slumberous. 

After this cacophony of sounds comes the aromas as sehri gets prepared. Fried parathas, curry, porridge, fried eggs and hot toasts, omelets, fresh fruits, yogurt, juices, lassi, tea and water or any other food that suits the palate adorns the dining tables as people eat enough to last them for the day. With the advent of night jobs and 24-hour open restaurants, there is no shortage of traffic even at this semi dark time. 

Roadside canteens, halwa puri stalls and tea vendors do a sterling business. The clamour of cutlery and cooking utensils reach their peak just before the fajr prayers as more sleepy heads join the fray. A siren blares through as the end of sehri time is announced. Forks and spoons are put down and eating and drinking comes to a complete stop. As the first Allahu Akbar rings out, mouths are rinsed and ablution performed as once again people make a beeline for the nearest mosque. 

The first day might pass in a state of drowsiness. But being Pakistanis, we use every occasion as a reason to celebrate and indulge in our favourite pastime____ eating. Office chatters are filled with plans for elaborate iftaar parties.  Families too plan get together as more and more people want to earn the blessings of Allah by providing food for others to break the fast. 

As the day progresses, it is not unusual to find that people and places go through a marked transformation. Shops seem to be emptier and mosques fuller. Cinemas and restaurants have a deserted air about them. Offices and educational institutes close early. 

Most taxi and bus drivers forsake their penchant for vulgar Punjabi songs and put on cassettes of na’ats, durood sharif and recitation of the Holy Quran in deference to this month. There seem to be more beggars on the streets invoking Allah’s name for the sake of alms, zakat or sadaqah. They knock on car windows, follow you around and ring door bells incessantly. 

Around Asr time, the streets come alive again. “Splat”, “sizzle”, “splash,” “crackle.” Vendors start preparing the mouth watering wares that will be used for iftari by millions of people that day. Spicy pakoras, aalo and qeema filled samosas, channa chat, fruit chat, crisp papri, dahi bhalay in yogurt, sweet jalebi, sour tamarind chutney are some of the delicacies that are bought by fasting men crowd. The air is filled with the aroma of ghee, spices and hot food making the stomachs grumble.

Everybody is in a tearing hurry to get home before iftari so that this special occasion can be celebrated with those closest to heart. Frantic travelling causes the inevitable traffic jams on our roads with frantic manoeuvring by volunteers and traffic police to unclog the blocked avenues. Horns blare and tempers fray but for some even this is an opportunity to be hospitable and charitable. 

In such busy junctions, some philanthropic people set up huge iftar dastarkhwaans to help those who are stuck in the jam break their fast. Dates and milk sodas, samosas and jugs of cold Rooh Afza are passed around. Allah’s bounty makes its presence felt and more and more people donate food for the poor, the impoverished and the less privileged.  

At home, women frantically try to get everything prepared before the Maghrib prayer. Food is placed on the table, trays laden with iftaar delicacies are sent around to neighbours and acquaintances. Many people are busy reciting Suras and prayers as this is one of the times when prayers are heard and obliged most by our Creator. 

Dupatta clad women and topi clad men take their place at the dining table and listen for the sound of azaan. With the onrush of consciousness of Allah’s blessings and bounty, there are tears in many eyes as people fervently beg forgiveness for their past sins and pray for more blessings and mercy.

The countdown to iftaar begins on the television which had previously been airing religious sermons and cooking shows. Children are usually most excited at this point and when the dua for breaking the fast is announced, they grab dates wrapped in silver warq, ready to pop it into their mouths as soon as they hear the azaan. People usually partake a little food and slake their thirst and then offer their prayers. After that, the family again sits down for a proper meal, tea and fruits.

As the month progresses, so does the discipline and spiritual zest. Waking up at sehri or going without food and water all day long no longer seems difficult. People make exceptional arrangements for special prayers like Salat-ul-tasbeeh and Itikaaf, the practice of spending the last ten days in mosques for strict prayers and worship without worldly distractions. 

These last ten days also see a sharp increase in shopping for Eid. Shops display colourful clothes, shoes, accessories, glass bangles, mehndi and Eid cards. Everything seems to glitter and shine just like the eyes of young shoppers who throng the markets looking for their special Eid clothes.

Ramadan is the most keenly awaited month in the Muslim calendar. It is a time of reflection, introspection and unbridled religious fervor. It is the month of abstaining from physical desires, reaching for taqwa and attaining piety. It is also a time of greater sense of community spirit, of giving to the poor and asking for blessings from Allah.

It is a time of enjoying family re-unions and iftaar parties. Even though prices of food items spiral up and the expenses of Eid-ul-Fitr loom ahead, everybody enjoys this special month for all its excitement and benedictions.

Ramadan Mubarak!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Summer Activities for Children

Keeping the children entertained during the long, hot, summer afternoons can be quite a challenge. For some parents, summer camps provide a solution to this dilemma, but not everybody can afford or choose to spend thousands of additional rupees just to keep the children occupied. Taking expensive trips which involves hotel rents and airfare is also not always an option. Hyper active children cooped up indoors can be difficult to manage but it is equally vexing to watch your children behave like couch potatoes and waste both time and opportunity.

Sometimes as parents we get so involved in the nitty-gritty of daily routines that we forget to enjoy parenthood with those who make our lives complete. So this summer take out time out of busy schedules and create fond family memories for yourself and your children by enjoying simple things together.

Rediscover the magic:

This summer introduce your children to the magic of classic Hollywood cinema. For each week of the month, select a classic and ask your child to read the book first and then watch the adaptation together. Whether it is the delightful Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” the pretty “Mary Poppins,” or brave Jim in “Treasure Island” select books according to your child’s age and get them enchanted by these timeless characters. Older children might prefer “To Kill a Mockingbird,“A Little Princess” and “The Secret Garden.”  Chuck your household chores for an evening and watch the movies with your children for a perfect Mom and children evening. Don’t forget the popcorns!!

Invest in Puzzle and Activity Books.

Dot–to-dot books, word search puzzles, crossword puzzles, logic problems, mazes, fit-the-word and jigsaw puzzles are great mind boosters and enhance children’s mental capabilities. They are also an ideal way to while away the long summer afternoons when children cannot play outdoors. Be there to piece together a difficult part or help them in their deducing quest. Remember to select books that are age appropriate. Too easy and your child will get bored quickly; too difficult and they’ll give up entirely. 

Help your child start a collection:

Discuss a theme or a topic and help your child become an expert on that specific subject. It could be aeroplanes, boats, birds, coins, dolls, space exploration or any other topic of your child’s interest. Help him collect pictures and information from newspapers, magazines and the internet and compile them in a scrap book or journal. By the end of summer vacations, you’ll be proud of your little resident expert.

Visit historical places together.

Don’t leave it to the tourists to experience the wonderful sights and sounds of your city. This summer make a list of all the historical places and theme parks that are in the vicinity. Remember to include your children’s suggestions and preferences.  Visit the museums, forts, mosques and wildlife parks.  Keep a lookout for advertisements in local newspapers and take them to funfairs, puppet shows, art exhibitions, book fairs and any other activity that they cannot attend during school days.

Help improve their writing skills.

Children normally hate opening their pencil cases if they do not have any homework to do. This causes their writing skills and handwriting to deteriorate during the long layoff. By being creative (read devious!!), you can prevent this from happening. Let your child choose a nice diary or register and ask him to record his daily activities, write book and movie reviews, discuss his favorite television character or write about the trips you are making together. Casually ask him to use a dictionary to help with the spellings. Do not be critical about his work but offer suggestions and praise. This will encourage your children to be more creative, neat and organized and they’ll be improving their writing skills at the same the time.

Get closer to nature:

Children nowadays spend a lot of time indoors glued to television and computer screens. At least once a month, weather permitting, plan an outdoor picnic. Let your kids run around, climb trees, collect leaves, catch butterflies, observe insects, bike or scoot around or simply watch cloud shapes. This could also give them great material for their journals. Take their arts material with you and ask them to draw and paint the natural scenery around them.

Find Apprenticeship for children:

It is never too early for the child to learn the value of hard work and honest living. If you employ a driver, gardener, cook etc. make your child an apprentice for a while or teach your children the basics of these vocations yourself. Give them responsibilities pertinent to their age and make them responsible for that duty. If you or a near relative owns a shop, cafĂ©, boutique etc. older children can learn the tricks of the trade and earn valuable experience early in the life. Just make sure that the environment is child friendly and does not pose any hazard to your child’s well being.

Exercise together:

Children love to imitate their parents. Buy a fitness routine video and exercise with your children. If you have young kids, they’ll love to tumble around while trying to learn the intricacies of yoga or aerobics. Mothers can work out with teenage daughters and build camaraderie for these difficult years while fathers and sons can head for the nearest gym together. If you prefer long walks in the park, ask your kids to join you as well. While weight loss may not be an issue for growing kids, building stamina, getting fit and staying healthy is always great.

Have a great summer!!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Learn something new

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Stop Littering Now!!

“I did not drop it. It’s not my problem.”
“Who cares? I am here for a little while only.”
“No-one’s looking and the trash can is too far away.”
“What are sweepers for anyway?”

Littering is common and the evidence is everywhere around us. Have you been to park recently or a busy market area? Perhaps you have gone to the stadium to watch a Twenty20 match or visited a sick relative in the hospital? 

Do you know what all these places have in common? Lots of people come here for fun, work and entertainment and when they go back home, they leave behind a mountain of smelly trash and dirty rubbish behind them.

Our good and bad habits have a severe impact on our environment. Littering is a terrible habit and yet we do not seem to care. Go to any park and you’ll find apple cores, banana peels, orange rinds and melon skins that are left strewn around. These make the parks and gardens look like rubbish dumps instead of a recreational place where people go for health and refreshment. 

Go to any public place and you’ll find cigarette butts, broken bottles, plastic bags, sweets and chips wrappers, half eaten food and rotten fruits thrown carelessly on the ground, parking areas and sidewalks. What does all this tell us about our civic sense and social values? 

Many people think that it is all right to litter as it is the duty of sweepers to keep the area clean. Some think that since they are visiting for a few hours only, it does not matter what condition they leave the place in. Others feel too lazy to walk up to a trash can to deposit rubbish in it and some just do not think at all while tossing a sticky chewing gum or an empty juice bottle on the roadside.

Everywhere we go, we create a mess and we do it all the time without even thinking about our actions and its consequences. Trash that is left around to accumulate and rot attracts germs, flies, mosquitoes and rodents. Rotten fruits and decaying food stuffs give out toxins and bad odours which are extremely harmful for our health. But worst of all, it gives the entire area an untidy, smelly appearance which reflects badly on us individually and collectively as a nation.

10 things you can do to keep your surroundings clean:

1) The most obvious thing is not to litter and make a conscious habit of keeping your surroundings clean.

2) Politely stop your friends, school-fellows and adults around you if you see them littering. 
3) While travelling in a car or school bus, keep a bag with you to collect waste materials. Do not throw tissue papers or wrappers out of the car window.
4) When you go out for a trip or picnic, make an effort to collect all your trash and dispose it off in a trash can. 
5) Create awareness about dangers of littering by talking to your friends, younger siblings and cousins.
6) Do not make a tossing game of throwing trash in trash cans. If you miss, it leaves the garbage scattered around the bin which looks awful.
7) In school and office, keep a small tin on your desk to collect pencil shavings. Clean your desks regularly and do not wait for school sweepers to collect rubbish. 
8) Ask your art teachers/school authorities if you can have art competitions regarding this theme. Display your posters around the school boundary walls so that passers-by can learn about negative effects of littering.
9) You can form a club or a group (with permission from school and parents) to create art-work/posters and display it at shops, offices and mosques, wherever allowed, to create a mass awareness.
10) If you see an area where there are no trash cans installed or where filth and garbage has accumulated, bring it to the notice of concerned authorities. You can send letters and emails to newspapers regarding this issue. Do not give up before trying. 

If you think nothing will change, then nothing ever will.

Littering shows that people lack national pride and have little interest in preserving their environment and ecosystem. It is a fact that people usually do not feel guilty about littering in areas where garbage is already scattered around. 

So let us keep our roads, shopping areas, parks, schools, zoos, beaches, lakes, rivers and mountainsides in pristine condition so that no-one dares pollute them. 

The power to end littering is in our hands!

Say MaShaAllah Laa Quwata Illa Billah

After Alhamdulillah, the second phrase which I feel we should all start using frequently is MaShaAllah Laa Quwata Illa billah (Surah Kah...