“You have to accept gifts from God without questions. Just like a job, family and wealth, accept illness and bad times with equal humility and gratitude. Eid Mubarak everyone!” Holding a large box full of sweets and with his graceful smile, Aboobakar started talking to our team. The end of the fasting period is a happy day in restaurants as our colleagues start eating normally with us.
As our Muslim brothers get ready for a disciplined lifestyle with fasting and praying, the holy month of Ramadan brings in rapid changes to restaurant life. It’s hard for others to look at them while having their food as you cannot offer food to fasting people. Imagine the complexity in the catering business—people who have to cook and serve for a living but are not allowed to be tempted by it while on a fast.
Normally, dawn-to-dusk fasting ends at a busy time in the restaurant. But it’s a great occasion. It’s the only time to eat so much of fruits and snacks as they break the fast. Kitchens make corner tables with special food and its fascinating to watch boys slip down in a hurry for their first bite and come back to work with more vigour.
This year’s fasting has been silent and a sad affair as Aboobakar’s illness story broke out. He went through a painful six months and eventually chose semiretirement for his third operation. His situation is uncertain and gloomy, yet he arrived at the restaurant on Ramadan day with his children to thank us and share his feelings about work. Every word he uttered tasted better than the sweets he brought for us.
Our relationship started 16 years ago. From being a dishwasher, Abooka (as he’s lovingly called) rose to become an all-rounder in our kitchen. He is the first person we meet every morning and the last person to say goodbye. Holding his emotions tight, he talked about his experiences and showered us with gratitude and affection.
While listening to him we gently looked at his kids who were equally positive. I asked his daughter about her sense of confidence and smile. She replied with tremendous energy, “Talking to doctors, understanding the problem and knowing our dad’s profoundness make us feel very confident about his recovery. We are not worried.”
People come and go in organisations. Not many observe small details that make a job worthwhile and convince one to continue for long. We met some one who treasured each day’s experience, stood with us in good and bad times and continue to do it for more than a decade. We prayed for his health as we veiled our tears looking at this smiling family.
After our splendid Eid meal, I drove along the ring road outside murky Regents Park. Lost in thoughts, I reached the Central London Mosque. Hundreds of people were joyfully stepping out after the prayers.
Aboobakar’s voice referring to a verse on food from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran kept repeating in my mind. “When you crush an apple with your teeth, say to it in your heart, your seeds shall live in my body, And the buds of your tomorrow shall blossom in my heart, And your fragrance shall be my breath, And together we shall rejoice through all the seasons.”
The author is a London-based restaurateur who owns the Rasa chain of restaurants