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Monday, June 18, 2018

The Roza story and two friends…

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A government school in Allahabad, a northern town of the state of Uttar Pradesh, in the early sixties, was vibrant with multiple academic, literary and sports activities excelling in almost every sphere, bringing laurels to this institution time and again.

Being a 'sarkari' school, it had allowed children from all walks of life, mostly non-elitist, to come where the students co-existed with practically no divide between the rich and the poor, caste or creed or religious differences. Communal amity reigned supreme.

Shamshul and Shantanu were friends and class fellows and confidantes of each other. The school did not have any formal mid day meal system yet during the lunch intervals, the class monitor would distribute one item to each student be it fried grams, a samosa or a biscuit coated with sugar granules.

Shantanu's favorite pick was invariably the biscuit. Once during the month of Ramzan (Ramadan), whenever he pulled out of the queue after receiving his share, Shamshul would, without fail, quietly bring out a biscuit from his share and hand over to his bosom pal. When asked why he was partaking his precious biscuit, he would come up with the reply that he never ate because of the ongoing Roza.

One could see his parched lips, bereft of any moist, due to days of fasting but his eyes always sparkled due to his immense sense of satisfaction by smilingly giving away his biscuit saying that as his friend liked it so much that he drew great pleasure by such a gesture. Friend Shantanu was always overwhelmed by this small but heartwarming gesture.

Time flew away with memories intact and Shamshul's act was entrenched within the hearts of his friend who 48 years after they parted ways, recorded this memory through a blog which was read by many.

A diehard fan of his blogs, a Tamil High caste Brahmin, got the incident compiled and printed along with his other writings and often shared the 'Roza' happening with his friends and well wishers though Shamshul and Shantanu were oblivious of each other's whereabouts.

As recent as five years ago, the fan when settled in Singapore lived through a communal tension prevailing in this otherwise peaceful and progressive country.

The government and he were closely involved with various community activities in Singapore and once he had a chance to attend a Hari Raya (Eid) get together at the Local Community Club near his apartment. The members of the community were to share how Eid was celebrated in communities from countries they came from. 

The Tamil Brahmin took this opportunity and sought permission to read the Roza narrative from the compilation of the blogs. The short piece of narrative written straight from the heart touched the audience and he was being showered with praises as if he were the writer.

The audience was stunned and could not believe that this was a true incident, such profound was the impact.The sharing was a simple act but demonstrated camaraderie and love that would cut across religion and unite people.

Today, Shamshul and Shantanu have located each other and, as they are nearing to enter the seventieth year of their lives, have become friends through Facebook. Shamshul, however, does not recall the incident though the real story was based on this extraordinary gesture.

That's his magnanimity.  The simple story of 'Roza' keeps reappearing in thoughts and becomes more pronounced during the month of Ramzan when the society is fraught with perils of communal discord. And, this month is no exception.

The writer, a retired police officer, is a columnist of The Asian Age

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