While we have often heard people saying that Mumbai is the city that never sleeps, it will not be wrong to say that it is only because of people like Mohammed Farooq Qureshi Sheikh who have been keeping the city on a move.
Sheikh aka Taj Bhai as he is popularly known, has made it a custom for the last 18 years every Ramadan to remind the Mumbaikars to wake up for sehar (the meal eaten before commencing the fast for the day).
Sheikh begins his trek at three in the morning and charts a seven kilometre march from Shafai Masjid in Dongri to Dawoodbhoy Fazalbhoy High School in Chinch Bunder.
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The 56-year-old 'sehariwala' completes his work by quarter past four, about 15 minutes before sunrise, to have his meal before the fasting begins.
Sheikh is among the few practitioners of the dying Ramadan tradition, which believes in waking people up for sehar. This is a tradition that dates back to a time when people did not have access to clocks and needed someone to inform them about the time.
Sheikh during wake-up call. Image Source: Dawn.com
The practice is popularly known as Musaharaty in Egypt and those carrying it out are called El Musaharaty. In Kashmir, the people who sustain the tradition are known as Sehar Khans.
Unfortunately, Sehar Khan or the El Musaharaty, is becoming increasingly extinct as people hugely rely on their mobile phones or alarm clocks to tell them time.
Sheikh started with his Ramadan walks when he was in his mid-30s. His wife passed away when he was 22 and their son died soon after he was born.
Talking to Sroll.in, he revealed, "In the beginning, I would walk up to the last floor in each building and call out to people. Now, I am too old to do that so I have this megaphone."
Saif Sathi, who has grown up seeing Taj Bhai completing his twilight walks feels, "There are so many people who don't have anyone to wake them up."
Sathi added, "People who sleep on the streets, for one thing. Even the local mosque has no one to wake them up. My family, too, relies on his call to awaken."
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Sheikh believes there are still 'sehariwallas' dwelling in the "poorer areas of the city" like in slums in Kurla or Nala Sopara since not everyone there might have a phone.
But in the main city, he claims that he might be the sole practitioner of the tradition.
Apart from giving these wake-up calls, last year, when monsoon was late in arriving, Sheikh began going to the Kasaiwada area in Kurla, asking people to pray for rain. He did the same this year as well, when the monsoon arrived late.
At times, when asked by local municipal councillors, he even announces government schemes.
Sheikh plans to continue this unique profession as long as he is "hale and hearty."