With the sighting of the Ramazan moon, iftari comes to mind, with the maxim being, if it isn’t fried then it isn’t iftari. Freshly fried pakoras and samosas, fruit chat and dahi phulkee, dates and jalebis, Rooh Afza and nimbo paani all come to mind. Regardless of where I am, a whiff of Rooh Afza, a chunky samosa, a sip of lemonade or a bite of freshly sliced and chilled mangoes is enough to transport me back to Lahore.
It has been thirty years since Ramazan last fell in the summers. I was still at school, and remember those long summer holidays and summer rozas vividly, when load shedding was a new entrant on the scene and when life was still simple, when PTV’s transmission came on in the evenings, and when Nazia Zoheb, Fifty Fifty, Alif Noon and Neelam Ghar ruled the airwaves playing to packed audiences. It is one of those obligatory rites of passage, a way to identify a fellow tribesman, that if someone lived in Pakistan in the 80s and were out of their diapers by then, and lolling about watching TV, chances are they will know what the phrase, “this water cooler is now yours” means. To everyone else, it won’t mean much.
Those were the summers, when all the cousins squashed into one room to play dark room by night (no health and safety issues back then), and pitho gol garam by day. To the uninitiated, pithoo, or seven tiles is a wonderful game that first involved ceremoniously smashing a flower pot only to lovingly restore it. When enough children like us, were left to their own devices to figure out how to entertain ourselves, we ended up playing endlessly from dawn to dusk inventing new games, playing old ones and then telling de rigeur ghost stories by night, about the witch with the inverted feet, who dressed as a jilted bride, waited by the highway to hitch a ride from unsuspecting lonely travellers. Even today my blood curdles as it did back then, to faintly, even remotely think of that story. Night and sweet slumber couldn’t come soon enough and all of us would crash onto the reams of mattresses, laid out in rows, everyone jostling for the prime spot that lay in the swing path of the AC’s cool breeze.
Now, of course, if one were to leave enough children to entertain themselves, they would probably all be speaking to people they have never met, on the other side of the world, with devices that connect them to the world at large by first disconnecting them from their immediate surroundings. Why cherish a moment and remember all its’ details, when one can Instagram it instead, using plenty of hash tags and emojis. Hashtags have changed the way we chronicle events. They have reduced moments to acronyms and phrases that seem most confusing to the uninitiated but that make perfect sense to their users, like OOTD, on point, about last night, throwback to, etc.. If everything is on point, and everything is a throwback to, then how does one differentiate one moment from the next? But apparently, I really wouldn’t know much, as my nearly teen daughter has told me that in fact, Facebook is for older people and Instagram is now the social media of choice. I humbly deferred to her opinion, especially since I use neither and also, I suspect, according to her, I fall into the older people category.
Back then, my new Eid jora was the high point in the fashion calendar, that was marked by two Eids and one birthday. But fast forward thirty years, and suddenly, there are many competing high points in the fashion calendar. The start of the Lawn season being one, the beginning of the Eid collections being another, wedding season being a third, just to name a few. And now, even before Ramazan begins, the Eid collections are primed and ready to be rolled out, volume after volume, until buying an “Eid ka jora” becomes an exercise of great complexity. It has to be unique, whilst being subtly traceable to a Limited Edition Collection of a Couturier of high repute. It has to tick all the boxes, in terms of trends, yet somehow showcase one’s originality and flair. It has to be unique yet somehow blend in. One often wonders, does the wearer lend their own persona and flair to the outfit or will the outfit define its wearer. Eid is now a much more complicated affair.
But even though, so much has changed, in the interim thirty years, some things have also remained constant. The humble Rooh Afza that has sold out in local super markets is still very much the same with its ubiquitious packaging, the sweet rose aroma and heavy, sugary fragrance. Unmoved by the changing times, its almost refreshingly reassuring to find Rooh Afza still a staple at the iftari table, not just in Pakistan but in Pakistani homes the world over. It is almost an institution in itself.
I wonder what my children will remember of their summer rozas. There are now so many competing distractions, with smatterings of uninterrupted streams of information being poured out on social media that one wonders if it isn’t just all a bit too much.
Perhaps we should just unplug all the devices, and go outdoors and play oonch neech or baraf paani or kona kona and see where that takes us.