What I like about the fasting month is the indulgence it promises. Compared to the rest of the year, Ramadan is a time of excess, where demand surges and prices skyrocket as people consume more meat, rice, delicacies and everything else, as if the world’s coming to an end. This is the month when companies and households fork out an extra month of salary for their employees, the neighborhood security, the rubbish collectors and newspaper delivery kids to help pay for additional expenses.
Not only that, the beginning of the month is marked by excessive displays of emotion as religious experts come to loggerheads over which day the month is supposed to start as they try to see the new moon, convinced the slightest miscalculation will result in the reduction of their heavenly rewards, much to the amusement — and bemusement — of the public.
It is also the time for verbal superfluity as we are inundated with messages via every available electronic device asking for forgiveness for wrongs done, whether deliberate or not, and words that may have hurt, whether intentional or not, in language florid and poetic, though with as much sincerity as a cut-and-pasted text could muster. This exercise in asking for forgiveness will be repeated on a larger scale toward the end of the fasting month, creating a bonanza for telecom providers.
This is a good month to earn divine merits and excel in good behavior. Those seeking a favored place in the afterlife can use Ramadan for extra prayers, reading the Koran, restraining their tempers, feeding orphans, giving alms to the poor and taking a break from their porn browsing.
With Indonesia one of the world’s most prolific consumers of web porn, it will be interesting to see if there is a marked reduction this month. But keeping one’s mind pure shouldn’t be too difficult given TV stations broadcast righteous programming, while thugs are ready to set you straight should you succumb to the devil’s temptations of alcohol and massage parlors.
This is also the season when malls entice the faithful to part with their money, so they succumb to the desire to buy, whether it be fine clothes or restaurants offering foods to delight deprived palates.
Businesses make plenty of money at this time of year as new clothing and footwear are a must to celebrate the end of the fasting month, Idul Fitri.
For the millions who make a modest living, the fasting month is when they prepare themselves to make their annual trip back to their home villages, blowing their savings on new motorbikes or train tickets, bearing gifts and money, not only to share their wealth but also to show that they have made something of themselves in the big city.
For the better-off, the breaking of the fast at sundown is a chance to eat out with family and friends and entertain in ways they can’t do at other times of the year: with a lot of people, a lot of food and for a lot of days. I know a friend whose calendar is full for the month as every evening is taken up with a breaking of the fast event. On a fasting day, every buka puasa is a feast looked forward to eagerly.
But let’s get back to the sweet indulgence of the fasting month. It is the time for picky eaters like me to revel in the sweets, puddings and desserts that are cloying, sticky and preferably drowned in a pool of liquid palm sugar and a generous swirl of coconut milk. Come sundown, my sweet tooth becomes a vampiric fang and I hunt for tajil , the dessert consumed to break the fast as a sugar kick.
My favorites are cendol , the green jelly drink with slices of jack fruit served with palm syrup and coconut milk; bubur sumsum , a white pudding served with palm syrup and coconut milk; candil , sweet-potato balls swimming in, you guessed it, liquid palm sugar and served with coconut milk; black glutinous rice and mung bean porridge, plus other desserts made more divine with palm syrup and coconut milk. Never mind the afterlife, a bowl of any one of these sweets puts me in heaven already.