“Iftar-e-saum ki jise kuchh dast gaah ho, uss shakhs ko zaroor hai rozaa rakhaa karey
Jis paas rozaa khol ke khaane ko kuchh naa ho, rozaa agar naa khaaye to naachaar kya karey”
[One who has the means to break the (Ramzan) fast, that person must surely (keep the) fast
The one who has nothing to break the fast with, other than being constrained to “eat the fast” what option does that forlorn person have]
– Mirza Assadullah Khan “Ghalib”
Ghalib’s pecuniary difficulties are well documented. This sher might well reflect both his own struggles as well as empathy for others in a similar predicament. “Eating a fast” is a local expression in India and Pakistan to indicate the complete absence of any sustenance, leaving a destitute to eat nought.
As I walk from Union Station to my office and back each day I see a growing number of “street” persons. I also notice that they usually have food provided to them by a lot of caring souls who offer sandwiches, fruit, coffee or even money. In adverse weather conditions they are also offered shelter, clothing and nourishment by specialist agencies and volunteers.
While restrictive, choices are available to such homeless people here in this city. But this notion of choice is only possible once the basic necessities are provided. This is usually not the case in a number of developing or poorer countries. A farmer in India whose crops have failed several years in succession will not have this basic choice and either starves or commits suicide, unable to support his family. A child in Rwanda or fleeing the war zone of Syria may be forced to fast, because no sustenance is at hand. A sheikh in a Middle Eastern country may fast for an entire month out of a sense of piety or to fulfill social or religious obligations, while a worker in his labor camp stays hungry to save and transfer money to desperate family members “back home”. There is a fundamental difference in the causes behind these actions and in some cases do not offer the luxury of choice.
Ghalib reminds us to avoid judging because what we might perceive may not be the truth, for there is a difference between fasting by choice or staying hungry because there is no other option. Perhaps it was Kabir sahib who pointed this out a little differently by stating, “Jaake pair na phathi beevayi, so kyaa jaane peer paraayee” [Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches].
It is perfectly acceptable to follow practices or indulge in rituals that provide comfort or a sense of well-being. On the other hand, one must not judge those that are unable or unwilling to do so for whatever reason.
Ghalib was also known for his wit. Once, when asked how many days had he fasted during Ramzan, he is reported to have replied “ek naa rakhaa” (I did not keep one).
Steve Martin, the famous actor and humorist was being particularly “empathetic” when he stated as only he could, “Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you’ll be a mile away and have his shoes.”