Between twenty-nine and thirty

Moons ago such moon-sighting missions might have excited people, but now it sounds plain non-sense. As the world simplifies the complicated, we pull off a miracle by doing the reverse. How long?
Between twenty-nine and thirty

I once called a man who we intended to invite as the chief guest on a function. All I needed was his consent before we could formally send him an invitation. I asked him whether he will be available for the event or not. Two possibilities which required no Newtonian genius to guess. 'Yes I am available' or 'no I am not'. Saying 'yes' would book the slot for him, saying `no' would make us look for an alternative. A straight question deserved a straight response. But to my ill fortune, I had to suffer the torture of his long, unwinding tale of intellectual contributions (which unfortunately were too remarkable to be captured in two minutes).

The CV he could read as his presidential address on the occasion, he unloaded on me on the phone itself. It was like a boxer punching on his bag. In how many seminars I was invited as a chief guest, how many scholars have benefited from my illuminating lectures, how many journals have carried my articles, how many anthologies published my research work peer-reviewed by God knows how many celebrated board of researchers from how many countries how far and how wide.

Each line hammered me on the head as I kept waiting for a hot short word – `yes' or `no'. As he was dropping names of those who were on the panel with him, counting organizers and sponsors of the conferences and conventions he was invited to, I was curling with pain, suffocation and disgust. Since the choice of the chief guest was fixed, so I couldn't change the chair to my liking.

I could suggest another name only after this man declines the request. After making many unsuccessful attempts to interrupt him and extract a clear reply to my request, I finally – enforcing all fake humility and respect I could – asked. `Sir, shall we now have the honour to host you as a chief guest and – to my utter relief – he finally replied `YES'. A short word he delivered after a long pain and a longer labour. (That day I discovered why labour is pain).  

When Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, Chairman Rooyat-e-Hilal committee of Pakistan was making the moon-sighting announcement on the eve of Eid, I recalled this horror story. Glued in front of the television, we were waiting like fools for a simple announcement which could be made even simpler by running a line at the bottom of the screen.

The moon suspense started building after Iftar as Eid day was to be decided.  `Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow' was the question to answer which a meeting was going on and on and on for hours. Ijlas Jari Hai was the caption that crawled throughout the evening hours. The guest of my story had made me alone wait for a one-word answer, but here was a man alongwith his team of scholars holding millions as hostage. The question was unasked but simple. Was the moon sighted or not.

The answer was `yes' or `no'. But that is how we think, they think it differently. They wait the whole year for this spotlight to focus on them. Can't get this attention, this importance every day, let it get as longer as it can. As the Chairman was mentioning the name of his fellow clerics and experts who have contributed to this moon-sighting mission, I was recalling the phone conversation with my chief guest.

The names my guest mentioned were fortunately shorter than the ones Mufti mentioned here. Each name buried under titles and degrees read longer than a line. Not just the name of the persons involved in the mission, Mufti made us suffer the names of the places, zones, regions, offices and office-bearers. As if all of them together had rescued a moon for us somewhere from the seventh sky.

Even though the date was decided by the government of Pakistan irrespective of the convention of Rooyat-e-Hilal Committee, but without the formal announcement of the Chairman, it couldn't be formalized. Longer the meeting, longer the wait and longer the room for suspense. With a heart-bursting anticipation, I was waiting for the final yes and finally the eagle landed. Yes, moon was sighted. Yes, tomorrow is Eid.

It's pathetic. What more we need to degenerate? Every year twice (on the eve of Ramzan and Shawal, these words of Mir Ghulam Rasool Nazki  revisit me.)

Lukav Kaerr Zooni Peth Khaes Khaes Golakh Loor

Malan Chune Vine Andaan Tareekhekuy Nyaay

`Golakh Loor' is untranslatable. We only know what it means, why then share it with our non-Kashmiri readers as it's typical of us only. We have suffered Golakh Loor on all counts – social, religious and political. Let it be our code for being caned by fate. Anyways what the poet means here can be decently (but loosely) captured like this. `As the world goes beyond moon, our clerics are still trapped in a date-jam of twenty-nine and thirty'.

I recall it whenever our moon-sighting missions exhaust all their resources and energies to let us know whether we have to keep fast or break fast. Their whole existence hangs on two vital events without which they feel they are finished. Their expedition begins with the arrival of Ramzan and ends with its departure.

Both times clerics meet as if they are to decide the course of the planet. When the world sinks in the corona scare, we at least supply some badly needed laughter in the form of this moon-sighting spectacle. This is a medieval practice in the modern form – an award-winning mockery we deserve laurels for. 

In an age when even age can be predicted, when (lunar or solar) calendars can be fixed for centuries, when weather charts chalk out our course of action, when babies are manufactured on demand, when future precedes the present, we are still stuck (as Nazki says) `in a date-jam of twenty nine or thirty'.

The practice must end. Wonder why we need religious scholars to sight a mere moon? And where are clerics needed in astronomy or metrology. Fix the calendar and let people celebrate festivals with peace. We can reserve this suspense for some other occasions.

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