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Eid ul-Fitr: Ramadan's Sweet Ending

This is a sweet time of year for Muslims. Literally. Eid ul-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, a month of sunrise-to-sunset fasting. In Pakistan, the country from which my parents emigrated, it is called the "festival of sweets."

I will celebrate the holiday, one of the biggest on the Muslim calendar, with my parents and their friends, whom I affectionately call aunties and uncles, in my hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.

Soon after the new moon is sighted — expected this year at the end of the week — I'll be sampling an endless supply of homemade, sweet things.

Mehr Auntie's jalebis — gooey, pretzel-shaped candies made of fried sugar — will stick to each other on a long, silver tray. Warm kheer (rice pudding) will float in a tall pot on top of my mother's stove. A tower of mithai (flour and milk cakes), including Nighat Auntie's signature kala kand (a solid cake of ricotta cheese, milk and heavy cream), will sit on her kitchen table.

All this sweetness, however, comes with a price: the aunties' recurring question, "Why aren't you married, Shomial?"

When I was in high school, they asked me what my SAT score was. When I was in college, they asked me what my major was. And then after college, after my first job and after graduate school, the question was always the same, and it was always about marriage.

Every Eid, I try, usually unsuccessfully, to deflect the question.

I can predict how it will go this year. The beginning of the day won't be a problem. Eid prayer will be at the local mosque. The prayer hall will be filled with the sound of chanting and Arabic verses. In pastel-colored outfits, the aunties will stand together while they pray.

After the service ends, I'll hug the aunties, wishing them an Eid Mubarak, or "Holiday Blessings." The aunties will be distracted, scanning the room, figuring out whom they must hug and who's wearing the best outfit.

The most they'll say to me when they give me an Eid hug is either "You're so healthy (fat)" or "You're so weak (skinny)."

The questions will begin once the parties begin. The best and the grandest party will be at Mehr Auntie's, where more than 300 people party and eat.

Someone will fry fresh pooris (flatbread) outside. Aunties and uncles everywhere will sip chai (black tea with milk and sugar). The caterer will constantly refill the silver burners with fresh naan (a puffy, white-flour flatbread). And there will be lots of desserts.

One year, Mehr Auntie had mithai shipped from a South Asian sweet shop in Chicago. Another time, there was pink and blue cotton candy. Every year, there are certain standard desserts including chum chum (pink cylindrical cakes covered with nuts) and black forest cake from a local bakery.

Invariably, I'll be juggling a plate of food and chai for two uncles, when I get the first question. There'll be an auntie in line for food, and she'll want to know why I'm not married. Or an auntie will point at me and say, "You're next, Shomial."

My usual answers are evasive, yet polite: "It'll happen when the time is right" or "I haven't found the right guy." This Eid, I think I'll try a new reply.

My mother told me that if someone predicts a girl will get married soon, her parent has a traditional response: "Allah should quickly reward you with butter and brown sugar in your mouth."

It seems a sweet way to end the fast and end the questions.

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Shomial Ahmad