Young Indian children sit with bowls of porridge (nombu kanji) as they prepare to break the fast with the Iftar meal during the Islamic month of Ramadan at The Wallajah Big Mosque in Chennai last July.
Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images
As I hurry home battling the rush hour traffic in the evening, I see a queue in front of the gates of the local mosque. Men in white skull caps, women clad in saris and burkas, young children with school bags on their backs — all are waiting with containers in their hands for a share of the nombu kanji. Mosques in the south Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala distribute the kanji, a lightly spiced rice and lentil porridge, before the sunset prayers during the fasting month of Ramadan, which starts Friday evening.
During her pre-Ramadan shopping, Shahida Khalique from Tiruppur, a town in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, buys extra rice, lentils, spices and other items for making nombu kanji. She distributes the additional provisions among four women who work for her.
“I give them enough ingredients to make the nombu kanji for 15 days,” she says. “On the days I add meat to my kanji, I give them a portion so that they, too, can cook their kanji with meat that day.” Her sister-in-law, who employs the same set of women, provides the supplies for the next 15 days.
The most obvious feature of Ramadan is abstention from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, the idea being to create an intimate experience of thirst and hunger for 30 days in a row. But this Muslim holy month is also a time to emphasize the spirit of giving and sharing, to practice as much charity as possible. The nombu kanji provides one way of offering help to the needy – ensuring nourishment for those who might not have enough to fill their stomach after a long day’s fast. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Iftar is the meal families eat together at sunset to break the fast.