For the food sellers of Delhi, Ramadan is a lifesaver

Ayub with his stock of sewai, meeting the needs of those eat it compulsively every day during Ramadan Photograph:( WION )

WION Delhi, India Jun 23, 2017, 06.21 AM (IST) Zeba Khan

This is a very different kind of a Ramadan story. 
It is not one that goes around debunking myths of Ramadan, nor does it subscribe you to any type of dos and don'ts of fasting. It even steers clear of the overused path of showcasing mouth-watering Ramadan food that you can open your fast with or try out at dawn for suhoor ( a meal eaten at dawn, before starting with the fast). 
But it does have food pictures. After all, what is Ramadan without a bright spectacle of korma, nihari, biryani and kebab infused in the aroma of garam masala or a sight of freshly prepared kulfi falooda, malai jalebi and silver coated phirni with extra almonds in a kulhad (earthen cup)! 

It is obvious that the elaborate menu has your attention but this story focuses on sellers and not what’s sold. 
Sher Bahadur from Dhampur in District Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh is one such seller who talks about his love for Ramadan and how it has changed his life for the better. Belonging to a family of confectioners, Sher Bahadur believes that it’s in his blood to make sweets. So every year, in the month of Ramadan, he makes the best kind of dry, raw sewai
“Our family has always been in the trade of making sweets, we are famous for our ‘mithai’ and ‘batasha’ back home. Here in Batla House (a popular Muslim neighbourhood) in Delhi, my cousin brother and I sell at least 12 types of uncooked sewai: Lachha feni, Benarasi feni, Benarasi kemami, Zafrani sewai, Rasgolla Feni, Khajla and more”, he says.  

There are more than 15 varieties of sewai in the market, with some of them specially made for Ramadan (WION)


Sher Bahadur is 45 years old, married with a wife and six kids who stay in Dhampur. A small-time trader, he doesn’t have the money to keep a family of eight in Delhi but there’s hope for him, as every Ramadan, he is able to save a considerable amount to buy his own property in the capital. 
“Ramadan is a blessing for my family. I have been selling sewai in Ramadan since 20 years now and every year, this month, our profit simply doubles or even triples sometimes. I eagerly wait for Ramadan to earn more as I have been saving up extra money to buy my own house here (Delhi)”, he adds. 

I eagerly wait for Ramadan to earn more as I have been saving up extra money to buy my own house in Delhi.

 For 11 months of the year, Sher Bahadur works as a labourer in Delhi, earning enough to survive in the city and saving up the rest for his family. 
Not wanting to rely on the money earned from the confectionary shop in Dhampur, which is shared by his siblings and their children, he comes to Delhi off and on to make some extra money for his kids. 
Co-sharing a rented shop in Batla House, Sher Bahadur works with his 40-year-old cousin brother Mohammed Raees to make some quick money in Ramadan. On speaking with Raees about his dependence on Ramadan for livelihood, he joyfully responds, “The contrast in our income between regular months and Ramadan is incredible. From Rs. 11,000 a month, it shoots up to anywhere between Rs. 35,000- 40,000. We make the most of this time and keep our shop open 24/7. 

Sher Bahadur (R) and Mohammed Raees (L) sitting in their shop of sewai which they specially procure for Ramadan (WION)


“In Ramadan, we shut it only for two hours after ‘fajr’, the morning prayers. People buy from us at all odd times, after ‘iftaar’ in the evening, before ‘suhoor’ at dawn, so we can’t afford to close it. We divide the time of manning the shop and subsequently the profits.”

Sher Bahadur and Mohammed Raees are no exceptions. There are many like them who leave their routine jobs to sell items specific to the holy month of Ramadan. They all look forward to Ramadan earnings in order to build their future and of their children. 

A khujoor (dates) seller smiles after a profitable day at work during Ramadan (WION)



Faqaar makes a lot of profit selling dates in Ramadan (WION)


Faqaar from Bhalswa village in the outskirts of Delhi comes to Nizamuddin, another popular Muslim neighbourhood, in the month of Ramadan to sell dates. The sweet savoury is ubiquitous in every Muslim household during this time and he uses this as an opportunity to earn quick money. 

He says, “I have recently gotten married and have a lot of responsibilities. The profits I earn during Ramadan are incomparable to what I earn in the rest of the months. It’s been 7-8 years since I have been selling ‘khujoor’ (dates) and I come here to Nizamuddin every year because there is always a good demand. People break their fasts with dates and for most, it’s an essential part of their Ramadan routine.”
He adds, “On regular days I sell men’s clothes which don't amount to a lot of money but during Ramadan I earn Rs. 1000-2000 daily selling dates. 'Ye barqat ka maheena hai'. (It is an auspicious and blessed month).”

On regular days I sell men’s clothes which don't amount to a lot of money but during Ramadan I earn Rs. 1000-2000 daily selling dates. 'Ye barqat ka maheena hai'.

For 30-years-old Ayub, who sells ‘Feni’ (a type of raw sewai) outside Jama Masjid in Old Delhi, Ramadan is a month of a complete shift. He says, “I have been selling feni from a young age. My father would sell a cart of biryani every day that my mother made at home on regular days but he would stop selling it during Ramadan and switch to feni. I have learnt it from him. I source the sewai from different pockets in Delhi, from wherever it’s cheaper and come to Old Delhi to sell it. People from all over the city come here to buy. I have been able to marry off my elder sister with savings accumulated over the years due to Ramadan.”

Ayub with his stock of sewai, meeting the needs of those eat it compulsively every day during Ramadan (WION)


Khujoor and Sewai sellers aren't the only ones who wait for Ramadan every year. Even regular fruit sellers like Abdul Basheer from Nizamuddin eagerly wait for the month to start. He says, “Who doesn’t like more money? I have been living in Delhi for 15 years and come from a village in East Delhi. Ramadan is good for business. In normal days, I earn about Rs 1000 daily--it doubles during Ramadan as everybody who is fasting eats fruit chaat. So there is a constant surge in demand for fruits.”

Abdul Basheer with his cart of fruits in Nizamuddin for Ramadan (WION)


Abdul, like the rest of them, gets employed in other areas of work during the rest of the months. He does plumbing in cooperative societies and leaves every other work to sell fruits during Ramadan. For him doing business in Nizamuddin during Ramadan is an experience in itself. He says, “People from different backgrounds and cultures come here to pay respect at the Dargah. Doing business with them opens horizons and makes you familiar with a different set of living styles.”

This trend, is, however, not just limited to the Delhi but is popular around all major metro cities during Ramadan, offering a new lease of life for many who are stuck in jobs that don’t pay enough. 
Ramadan or Ramazan as many call it is the Islamic holy month of fasting where more than a billion people every year for almost 30 days, don’t eat or drink during the day from dawn to sunrise. It is kept with an intention to get closer to God while avoiding any other distraction of physical pleasure, food et al. 
Billions of Muslims around the world are today celebrating 'Jamat ul Vida', which is the last Friday of Ramadan. It is believed that whatever prayer is made today gets accepted by God.


Story highlights

Some have dreams of building a house, while some want to save for a better and secure future, Ramadan is a lot more than just a fasting month for lower-income class Muslims who sell Ramadan items like sewai, khujoor and more