One of the things many look forward to during Ramadan are the bazaars opened all over town. They give you the chance to buy food that may otherwise be difficult to get during non-festive times, unless you go to a specialty restaurant.
At Ramadan bazaars, you can get delicious and affordable local fare in one place. The atmosphere is like a carnival minus the entertainment; it’s just one big food sale.
You’ll also get to meet all sorts of people, both sellers and buyers. While the general mood is that of good-natured trading, sometimes flare-ups and bickering occur, especially when the food cannot be prepared quickly. Long queues create impatient people, some of whom have short fuses.
Just last week, I was near an elderly woman who had come to the bazaar with her two sons. She looked like a normal person — she could’ve been your neighbour, or aunt. Suddenly, she started picking up food within her reach and eating them right there. It wasn’t time to break fast yet but she was eating with abandon. It was as if she didn’t know that she had to pay for the food.
In this country, Muslims eating in public during Ramadan is a punishable offence. The elderly woman could have gotten into trouble for that transgression but, thankfully, nothing happened. Her sons tried to tell her to stop but she became more defiant and continued to eat, saying she was hungry. They tried to take the food away from her but she growled at them.
The crowd stopped to watch what was going on. Everyone was stunned by this. They were confused but also intrigued by the unfolding drama.
Without wanting to draw further attention, the boys flanked their mother — one on each side — and guided her out of the bazaar, but not before paying the shopkeepers. They were apologetic, but embarrassed. They mumbled their apologies, explained their mother was unwell, and drove off in their car.
As I watched them go, I said a quick prayer of thanks that no one had scolded the old woman or done something worse. I was so relieved that the crowd had been tolerant.
I could hear children asking why that adult “tak puasa” (did not fast) and how she could eat in public so openly.
The hodge-podge of answers were quite sympathetic, ranging from “orang tua dah nyanyok” (forgetful old woman) to “she must have Alzheimers”. I didn’t hear any harsh criticism. Instead, many could be heard whispering a quick prayer and “kesian dia”
(I pity her).
Things settled down quickly and it was back to business as usual. It had all happened so fast, barely five minutes, but it made me wonder about how people who have to deal with loved ones who are suffering from dementia cope on a daily basis.
Such people would be exempted from fasting because they are no longer of sound mind. If it were not for her unusual behaviour, no one would’ve known that the old woman was unwell.
People who are mentally unwell or those with dementia can suffer from mood swings. No matter how prepared you think you are for the onslaught of personality or mood change, you can still be caught off-guard. You’ll never know when the person will change from someone you know and love to one who cannot be reasoned with. The shift happens in a blink of an eye.
Dementia can make some nasty and dangerous. They can harm themselves or others. Sometimes, what they say makes sense but it can escalate into something horrible.
I can only imagine what it’s like at home for that woman and her sons. How do they cope? I hope they have sought proper help and treatment.
During this holy month, other acts of worship include charity and kindness. It’s truly a test of the spirit when such things happen. In my little book of memories, everyone at the bazaar scored full marks. Things could have gone so wrong for that woman and her sons, but it didn’t, thank God.
We are nearing the end of Ramadan. May the spirit of Ramadan continue to be filled with blessings and rewards as we strengthen our faith.
[This views expressed here are entirely from the writer’s own experience and observations.]
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