Everyone fasts during the night. But restricting food during the day is called fasting. Experts say that this practice plays an important role in not only reducing the risk of some cancers, it also helps prevent many health problems like high cholesterol and heart disease. It also prohibits gluttony and cures obesity.

The ancient Greeks recommended it to heal the body. The Hindus limit it to either one vegetarian meal, or partake only certain fruits and foods for a set number of days. In the Bible there are references of fasting as the natural, inevitable response to a grievous sacred moment in life, such as death, sin and tragedy.

In a collective context- the ‘Fast unto Death’ is an effective method of conflict resolution. An abstinence until demands are met politically or socially. Like what Mahatma Gandhi did for our nation. Like what Sonam Wangchu is doing for Ladakh.

In Muslim households, during Ramzan, families wake up in the wee hours for their morning meal, then abstain from food from dawn to sunset. They do this, not because they are owls, or vampires or early bird fitness fanatics, but because they believe that this holy month will lead to a greater consciousness and strengthen their personal relationship with the Almighty.

Even scientists have joined in the bandwagon, by advocating a diet known as ‘intermittent fasting’. This ‘modified fast’ comes in a number of forms that require not eating for a stipulated time period.

Just like fast foods, you have ‘fast books’ like ‘Eat Stop Eat’ and ‘The Fast Diet’ and even documentaries like ‘Eat, Fast and Live Longer’. But guess what? We ‘fasters’ can always slow down because we have a choice. We have the freedom to decide when to start and when to end. But what about those who are forced to fast unto death, while the world silently watches on?

Ever since Gaza was sieged and relentlessly bombarded, the living conditions of the Palestinians is unspeakable. The whole strip is now overcrowded and unsanitary. Smoke is everywhere and flies spread widely, transmitting diseases.

When relief trucks trickle into the strip, people clamber over each other to grab aid.Fathers are forced to cut down trees to get firewood and walk for hours in the cold searching for food, risking exposure to further strikes.

Mothers walk on the mud-caked streets begging for food. They pick grass, boil it with polluted water and lie to their kids, serving it as ‘mulukheya’ (a jute mallow soup typically eaten around the Middle East). Both parents go hungry for days so that their children can drink the ‘soup’.

Children are weak, have constant diarrhoea and their faces are yellow. They cry and fight over stale bread. When they look up hopefully to the skies, they don’t know if what comes from above will be food or just another bomb.

As famine looms ahead, they wake up every morning screaming for food, and their mothers give them dirty water and put them back to sleep so that they can go back to dreaming. Sometimes fairytale fantasies of sumptuous feasts are the only distraction from the aching hunger gnawing in tiny hungry bellies.

In a constant forage for food, the people of Gaza do not know what ‘intermittent’ fasting is. Unlike us, where our ‘breakfast’ is assured with all the delicacies one can think of, what these ‘rozedaars’ break their fasts with is grass and weeds.

No, it’s not what you think. They don’t get high from smoking or vaping Marijuana, Pot or Ganja. The grass that they cook is the one which grows in our green lawns. And their ‘weed’ is that undesirable, troublesome and a valueless plant that grows profusely where it’s not wanted. Apart from this greenery, their diet also includes animal food like hay, straw and other feed fit for cattle, goats and sheep.

Gaza is now literally a gas chamber where people are gasping for breath and dying a slow death. What started as a war is now unfolding into a full blown humanitarian catastrophe. With the clock ticking, the entire strip is spiraling toward a full-scale famine.

As the stench of genocide increases day by day, children in Gaza are now dying not due to bombs alone. But because of starvation, malnutrition and diseases.

After complete neighbourhoods have turned to ash and rubble; after entire families have been displaced or fully erased; after the medical system is totally wrecked and a surge of deadly diseases loom ahead, starvation and dehydration are now the major threats to their survival.

The severe shortage of basic food supplies in the besieged Gaza Strip is now exacerbated by restrictions on stopping truck aids entering through the border crossings. Israel has done what no one did before. It is using food as a weapon to destroy Palestine.

Back to fasting. Personally, I feel that apart from the religious beliefs, all these forms of ‘time-restricted eating’ is actually a boot camp preparation for us. To make a bigger difference in the new social context we’re embedded in.

Whenever I have fasted, I have cultivated a greater sense of perseverance. In an ‘out-of-control’ world, I have learnt the importance of self-control. But. To know hunger on a physical and psychological level is the most powerful way; perhaps the only way to understand how much of an impact you can make by even feeding just one hungry family.

We all hunger for love and for fame. But to become a member of an empathetic world, we also need to be aware of the real taste of hunger- that intense, discomforting physical sensation that one feels when your stomach is devoid of Oliver Twist’s “Food! Glorious Food”.

Fasting is not an end unto itself, but a means of focusing our minds, bodies and hearts for a reason. A reason to better yourself- mentally, physically and emotionally. A spring cleaning of the soul. If you blindly follow the herd, it is merely a ritual. But if you follow your heart it becomes spiritual.

Nargis Natarajan is a writer, author and novelist residing in Bhubaneswar. Views expressed are the writer’s own.