It’s likely he had noticed me watching on while five children, three boys and two girls, stopped him for chocolates in what I believe is a regular occurrence in the kindly man’s day.
I had seen him before at the gate of an old masjid watching the faithful walk in through the entrance in twos and threes as the call to prayer went out to the neighbourhood at roughly five in the evening.
It is Ramadan time, and the Muslims of Bijapur, having prepared dishes through the day in anticipation of breaking the Ramadan fast at sundown, look forward to the second call that will issue forth from the loudspeaker at around seven in the evening, announcing Iftar at about the same time that sodium vapour street lights begin to glow in the predominantly Muslim locality.
I had taken up a corner to make way for bulky bearded men in spotless white Salwar Kameez and equally white muslim prayer caps returning from the Masjid at half past five, the prayers having lasted a little under half hour. Most of them would not return to the mosque upon the second call announcing the breaking of the Ramadan fast, instead staying home to break the fast with their families.
The old man walked hunched, his hands folded behind the back in the manner of old men from the generation before who’ve lived all their lives in the neighbourhood, deriving their assurance, and authority from being in nodding familiarity with all its residents, including strangers like me passing through.
His blue Kameez (Kurta) worn over a colourful, chequered ankle length lungi reached below his knees and was held down in the forceful winds blowing through the city by pockets weighted down with what I would later learn were chocolates he carried along so he could distribute to poor children in the holy month of Ramadan (Ramazan).
“Many (children) do not have sufficient to eat,” he said. I nodded. He continued, “I carry chocolates with me so I have something to give them when they surround me. Chocolate dena padta hai. Khatey hai. Saat bajey khulta hai.”
“Some (children) will come to the masjid and carry back a little Iftar food distributed after prayers. They will eat it along with whatever their parents have prepared back home with whatever they can afford,” he said. I nodded again.
I remembered having seen children from poor families holding dishes covered with cloth run towards the masjid, laughing as they raced each other in response to the Muzzein’s call announcing Iftaar at sundown. Soon they would emerge from the mosque, their plates still covered with cloth but this time holding some eatables distributed in the mosque.
On one occasion, much to her chagrin and horror of her friends, a young muslim girl was near tears after her plate was knocked down in the melee, scattering its meagre contents into the mud. Embarrassed, she had quickly gathered the plate and whatever she could salvage from the earth and stumbled along holding back her tears.
“Aatt baje, Bijapur ka ek laakh masjid mein badee namaz hoti hai. Sabh masjid mein. Tab bari kitaab pada jaata hai, Musalmanon ka special kitab,” he explained, circling his hand, index finger raised, over his head to indicate ‘one lakh’ masjids.
(At Eight in the night, in all of Bijapur’s one lakh masjids, a big prayer takes place when the Big Book is read, muslim’s special book.)
By ‘badee namaz’ he was likely referring to the Tarawih, the night-time prayers unique to the month of Ramazan. While Bijapur has numerous masjids, one lakh would’ve been one too many.
When the muzzein ‘talks’ to the neighbourhood around the mosque, walking alone through an empty lane is no different from walking with an invisible companion.
Soon dusk wraps its blanket closer, and tighter. The glow from sodium vapour lamps appear to grow stronger, lengthening shadows further down the lane. The loudspeakers have fallen silent. And so have I.
Note: The Muslim holy month of Ramadan concludes tomorrow, followed by Id-ul-Fitr the day after, Monday.