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Thursday, August 26, 2010

For this Hindu man, fasting is an expression of solidarity

It was Ramadan when Sreekumar Unnithan, a sound engineer by profession, arrived in Kuwait three years ago. At a recording studio in Hawally where he worked, the staff were observing fasts and Sreekumar, a Hindu, followed track. In his place of residence during that time, he followed the same practice with the other two roommates who were Muslims. "I felt that it was awkward to eat right in front of them," he said.

Sreekumar was highly appreciative of the two Muslim friends who had let him put up a framed picture of the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi on the wall, where he regularly burned incense. Now that those roommates are gone and two new ones, also Muslim, have taken their place, Sreekumar continues with the practice.

"Fasting is a value-enriched meal," Sreekumar said, philosophizing on the sense of oneness at both the concrete and abstract levels. "Practically, you feel one with the brothers who are sleeping next to you, or working a mouse-click away, and conceptually it all leads one to think about wholeness." Even when he started working, he explained, fasting wasn't a challenge for him. "It doesn't require genius to respect another culture or religion and I follow the custom of fasting out of my respect for people whether at work or at home, and it's good for your body too. It's not a 'While-in-Rome,-do-as-Romans-do' policy. I'm drawn towards the harmony between us and the spiritual strength behind and beyond fasting," he said.
Sreekumar is happy to hear the Maghreb prayer calls. The food, he says, tastes much better when hungry. "We break the fast with the dates offered to us by the Harris (watchman) from the next building. They grow in his courtyard. And it's a joy to eat together," he added.

At his workplace, at the Kuwait Scientific Center, where he's employed as an audio-visual technician, Sreekumar has an added advantage of working on the evening shift this Ramadan. "We had Quraish (a custom whereby people dine together on the night before the holy month of Ramadan begins) at the Scientific Center where we shared food and gifts. This only demonstrates to me how the meaning of sharing expands."
Sreekumar draws a parallel in the ritual he shares with his roommates. "I perform a sashtang (a prayer in which Hindus prostrate themselves, face-down on the ground), which I thought, in the beginning, that my roommates would find a funny practice. But once they saw me do it, they began respecting it. Only then did it strike me that they also prostrate themselves when they perform a 'sajda.'"

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