Monday, 28 April 2014

Season to Indulge

What I like about the fasting month, is the amount of indulgence that it promises.  Let's be honest, compared to the other months of the year, the Ramadan month is one of excess, where demand shoots up and prices sky rocket as people consume more meat, more rice, more delicacies and more of everything as if the world's coming to an end.  This is the month when companies and households have to dig deep into their pockets and fork out an extra month of salary to give to each and everyone of their employees, staff, the neighbourhood security, the rubbish collectors and newspaper delivery boys to help pay for the additional expenses.

Not only that, the beginning of this month is invariably marked by an excessive display of emotions and drama as various religious experts come to loggerheads on which day this holy month is actually supposed to start as they try to make sightings of the appearance of the elusive new moon, convinced it seems  that the slightest mistake in calculation would result in the reduction of their heavenly rewards, much to the amusement and bemusement of the public and the Netizens.

It is also the time for verbal superfluity as we are inundated with a deluge of messages mass broadcast via every available electronic devices from people known and unknown asking for forgiveness for wrongs done whether deliberate or not, and words that may have hurt whether intentional or not, in a language so 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 later on at a much larger scale towards the end of the fasting month, creating a bonanza for the telecom providers.

But this is also a good month to earn divine merits and excel in good behaviour. Those who wish to ensure a favored place in the afterlife can use this holy month to devote themselves to extra prayers, reading the Koran, restraining their tempers, feeding the orphans, giving alms to the poor and taking a break from their porn browsing.  As one of the biggest surfers of web porn, it would be interesting to see if there is a marked reduction in accessing porn in Indonesia during this month.  However, keeping one's mind pure shouldn't be too difficult as all the TV stations compete in serving righteous programming, while the thugs are quite ready to put you back on the strait and narrow should you find yourself succumbing to the devil's temptations of alcohol and massage parlours.

This is also the season when shopping malls go all out to entice the faithful to part with their hard-earned money so they would succumb to the wordly desire for conspicious consumption, whether in the shape of fine clothes or restaurants and eating places that offer a smorgasbord of irresistible foods to soothe and delight the deprived palates.
Businesses make the most money at this time of the year as new clothings and footwear are a must to celebrate the end of the fasting month, the Idul Fitri.

For the millions who make a modest living in the city, 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 for the folk at home, not only to share their wealth and also to show that they have made something of themselves in the big city.

While for the better-off, the breaking of the fast moment, at sundown, is an opportunity to eat out with families and friends, hang out and entertain clients over food in ways they can't do during normal days.  That is to say, with a lof of people, a lot of food and for a lot of days.  I know a friend whose social calendar is full for the month as every evening is taken up with a breaking of the fast event somewhere.  Because on a fasting day, every evening's 'buka puasa' is a feast that is looked forward to with great anticipation.

But let's get back to the sweet indulgence of the fasting month.  Yes, it is the time for picky eaters like me to let down my hair and really revel in the cornucopia of sweets, puddings and all types of desserts that are cloying, sticky and preferably drowned in a pool of liquid palm sugar and a generous swirl of coconut milk.  Come sundown, regardless whether I'm fasting or not, my sweet tooth become vampiric fangs and I join the hunt with the more devout devotees for a glass or bowl of 'tajil', the dessert consumed to break the fast as a sugar kick before moving on to the main meal.

My favorites are the 'cendol', the green jelly drink with slices of jack fruit served in a tall glass of palm syrup and coconut milk; 'bubur sumsum,' a sort of white pudding that you spoon in dollops and serve with palm syrup and coconut milk; the 'candil', sweet potato balls swimming in a bowl of, you've guessed it, liquid palm sugar and served with a spoonfull of what else if not coconut milk; black glutinous rice and mung bean porridge plus a whole bunch of desserts whose tastes are made the more divine with a good helping of palm syrup and coconut milk.. Never mind the afterlife, a bowl of any one of these sweets, puts me in heaven already.

(Desi Anwar:  First Published in The Jakarta Globe)

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