It was chand raat, everyone in the Basti—as in the rest of Pakistan—straining their eyes to detect the new moon, which would herald the first day of fasting. It happened to be a cloudless evening. The women were excited, having stocked provisions for the month—atta, chawal, daal and cheeni—in double the normal quantities.
‘There it is, above the pole!’ shouted an old man.
Hafiz, Seema, Muhammad and Aisha were part of the crowd; there was little choice not to join. Children had climbed onto roofs to detect the moon.
‘What pole?’ a young man wanted to know.
‘I mean that pole, don’t you have eyes?’ the old man shot back. ‘Eighty years old, and I’ve never been wrong about the new moon. It’s the Ru’at-e-Hilal committee that gets it wrong every year. The government wants to be in line with the Saudis, so we can have the same start and end dates. Do we have to celebrate Eid according to the dictates of the guardians of the holy places? They don’t have the heart to increase the quota for our hajis, but we want to be their lackeys. By the time they announce the sighting of the moon, it’s already the second day here, anyone can see it, the moon is so big it’s an embarrassment.’
Hafiz sharply drew in his breath, calling attention to himself.
‘Where, where’s the moon?’ Aisha asked.
‘Yes, did you see it, where?’ Seema also wondered.
‘No moon, no moon. I was only thinking.’ It had just occurred to him that the only solution was to run away with Bibi. The plan quickly started crystallizing. Details came to him as though he’d already seen them unfold in a film. Of course! He smacked his head, why hadn’t he thought of it before? Bibi was the sort of person who’d go along with it. She was desperate, she hated Shafiq, she’d see the justice of the proposition. Fate had brought them together. They’d be resisting destiny if they didn’t make the getaway. Later, everything would work out. When Shafiq found out about Bibi’s betrayal, no doubt he’d divorce her. How would Hafiz and Bibi live together before the divorce though? He chose not to dwell on this sticking point. He had no doubt Bibi could be convinced.
‘There, there it is!’ a little boy shouted, jumping up and down on a nearby roof. ‘I see it, it’s in the east.’
‘Of course, the moon comes out in the east, pagal!’ reprimanded an older boy.
But the kid was right. The moon had been sighted. It was so visible the Ru’at-e-Hilal Committee wouldn’t be able to take cover behind the familiar excuse of cloudiness and then declare that the moon had been sighted in some obscure upcountry town like Chicho-ki-malian or Vehari when it suited them.
‘Ramadan Mubarak, Ramadan Mubarak,’ the men exclaimed, hugging each other three times—right, left, right—just as they would at the conclusion of Eid prayers a month later. Hafiz felt Allah had blessed his plan.
For more, read Anis Shivan’s Karachi Raj: