Originally published in Us Magazine, The News International.
As the thirteen-year-old caught up with his father, there was no hint of unbecoming sensations to blot his being. Cognisant of the dreams of his father, he had consented freely to the divine will. While they were on the way, Devil intervened thrice, only to be snubbed by the father. He lay down. As his father mustered strength to slide the knife against his precious son’s throat, God declared their success in their test of love; and they were instead presented with a lamb to carry on the sacrifice…
Lights, camera, Eid!
The ‘bari’ or ‘Bakra’ Eid, as it is romantically nick-named in South-Asia, witnesses the typical fervour and pomp of any religious festivity. For the male members of the family, the day begins with hurrying to go to the mosques to say the Eid prayers. The female members (just sisters, really) are way more stubborn to bid farewell to their sweet-slumbers, and take more time to get up. With the prayers said and done, there’s a sea of human frame-works hugging on to each other and jovially wishing happiness. The issue of Eidi invariably arises. Some get it; others are sternly told that Eidi is exclusively a Choti-Eid treat. (They lie!). Anyhow, all those who are celebrating then dress up. The girls (if they’ve woken up) and the boys (if they’ve been kind enough not to go back to sleep after the prayers and sacrifice) proudly flaunt all those over-embroidered, over-done clothes that would have posed questions on their sanity had it been a normal day. But since it is Eid, the show adds to the colour of the festival, and there is no harm in putting up a fancy dress show if it’s all in good faith! Throughout the day, people can be easily spotted posing in front of their cameras to get some decent pictures. For, you see, what good is an Eid if it doesn’t give you some cool pictures to put up as your DPs on Facebook? All in all, the day of Eid with its giggles, meet-ups and bantering passes in much of a jiffy, much like the same way you’d want the night before your papers to pass. However, since it’s Eid, all ways of celebrating (even sleeping) deserve to be over-looked. It’s Eid, pals, everyone’s got a right to be happy.
I’ve been trying to convince my four-year-old nephew for the last ten minutes that violet and indigo are actual colours of the rainbow, but there’s no way his wits allow him to believe that things as weird sounding as these could belong to the same league of colours as the good, old red, blue and green. Finally, with the aid of a video off Youtube, I showed him the actual colours. But my UK-returned nephew is not willing to lose his ground. Therefore, we’ve now assented that the Pakistani rainbows have these colours (I win!) and the British rainbows do not (He wins!).
Eager to conclude this ‘colourful’ subject, I change the topic, ‘You know what? Eid’s coming!’
‘What’s Eid?’ he asks.
‘Let’s see.’ I reply. ‘Eid’s a festival when you wear new clothes, meet people, eat, get presents …’
He doesn’t look very excited.
‘In fact …’ I press on. ‘Eid is very much like Christmas. You know what Christmas is?’
He lightens up. ‘A holiday!’
‘A holiday!’ I laugh.
The ‘healthiest’ of them all…
What’s Holi without colours? What’s Thanksgiving without turkey? (A big, fat, properly-cooked one at that!). And what really is Bakra Eid without the bakras? Weeks before the big day, you can start feeling the Eid in the air. And it’s not some philosophical metaphor I’m using here: it’s simply the cattle. When you have goats in every street, ferociously competing to be the next American Idol with their incessant bleats, you sure as heck can feel the Eid. (The smells account for a separate cover!). Maveshi-bazars, bakra-mandis are set up, and people throng in to get a good piece at a good price. The gait, weight and rate of the animal are judiciously thought upon. Some may tell you the practice’s quite like finding a suitable match for marriage, only with a lot more options. Some families prefer collectively getting a big animal (cow, buffalo) instead of separate, smaller ones. But this doesn’t gel well with the children of the family, as something tells me you cannot exactly treat a buffalo like a goat, and a buffalo has a lot more serious temper issues. There are also some special-editions; only last year a certain person had named his cows as ‘Sheela’ and ‘Munni’ that were priced at millions. The only worse part is he gathered quite some buyers! Anyway, it’s fun to see people bonding with their animals. They decorate them, take them for walks, feed them well, and finally, give them up for God. This is what Eid’s about, to sacrifice something dear for the love of the Creator as an emblem to our love for him; only if you take it that way too!
I stand still, clinging to the opened gate of my grandfather’s house in Lahore, overlooking the narrow street in front. If it’s Eid, and if it’s Lahore, you bet the festivities magnify. Only this time, they haven’t. My grandmother’s just passed away; no one amongst us is celebrating. I’m nine, and it’s true that I’m not missing her as much as others are. This makes me feel guilty, but it’s also true that I do not remember her as much as others do. And perhaps, deep inside I cannot fully understand the concept of death – it’s the first death in my immediate family for me to witness. So here I am, standing by the gate. Simply, quietly, standing!
Just then a girl, draped in the quintessential Eid fervour, bright colours and glistening jewellery, runs across the street. She looks at me and continuing her race, merrily chirps, ‘Assalam-o-Alaikum, Eid Mubarak!’
I take a while to react. I’m just about to reciprocate the wish, but I am unable to; which is just as well.
This, after all, is not Eid as I know it…
Unlike the other Eid where the most favoured dish is the sheer khurma, which helps the paunchy uncles increase their diameters substantially, this Eid is all about meat. While the vegetarians, those on slimming-diets, and those partial-to-chickens sink in their state of despair, others are happily devouring the fresh meat-pieces with all their ten fingers (Example in question: yours truly!). Barbecue parties follow, and many cannot resist the scrumptious aroma typical of a hot tikka. However, as much as the festival requires us to give a damn about weight issues and celebrate, it is a call to give and share with others. The Islamic law demands that meat be segregated into three parts: one for the family, other for relatives and the third part for the poor. There is no joy in celebrating without sharing. During the days of Eid, neat, little packets of meat are seen doing the rounds, making it an inclusive festive.
As we wait for the school-bus to arrive – my sister my mother and me – I’m reminded of how much I hate school. Especially after Eid holidays! I complain to my mother about this, and she, being the mother that she is, comforts me. Gosh, I hate school even more now. It takes me away from my mother! Just then, we spot an old man in the plot across the road, collecting something from the garbage pile. My mother tells me to go to him and ask if he needs any sacrificial meat. I comply, and ask, ‘Uncle, do you need any meat?’
He looks straight at me for a while and his eyes swell up – I do not understand why.
He nods meekly.
I bring him the meat and he smiles – I suddenly understand what Eid is!
It’s just that when the bus arrives, I still hate going to school.
Let there be Eid…
A lot of things change with times, and the same is true for the celebrations. The elder generation’s musings over Eid would have us believe we belong to different planets. (My mother and her siblings got two-rupees each for Eidi, and they not only ate enough with this money, but also spent extravagantly on all the Eid offerings: jhoolas, swings, local circus, some shopping. The punch: they still saved about 25 paisas after this merry splendour!) This is natural. However, not even a festival as big as Eid gives us the license to forget civic responsibilities and ethics. You may have a thing for Jalebi Bais, but the person next to you might feel nausea if such music is played on Eid – so please lower down the volume on your car stereo. If you sacrifice in street, make sure you flood the place with water afterwards. And I don’t intend to be all-preachy and boring, but do try to ensure that your festivities aren’t trouble for the rest. That said, have a blast!
As I return from the Eid prayers, I waste no time in dialling the unnecessarily long number that’s up on my speed-dial these days. No one picks up. I try again, and hear the voice – of my parents. They’ve been off to Saudi Arabia to perform the fifth pillar of our religion: pilgrimage to Mecca. It is my first Eid without my mother, and my first Eid in Abbottabad without my father.
I talk to them over the phone, tell them I’m missing them, and inquire about how they are doing.
It sucks, you know. I’d give up anything to spend the Eid with my parents – there’s no Eid without them.
It doesn’t suck at all, you know. To be able to spend Eid withstanding the fact that there’s no better way for your parents to spend their Eid! To realise they’d have sacrificed the same way God made Prophet Abraham did. That they’d have stoned the evil the same way he did. What better way can there be of living an Eid with the comfort of your parents reviving the same tradition of sacrifice, and love?
‘Eid Mubarak!’ they wish me over the phone.
‘Eid Mubarak!’ I repeat.
This has to be the best Eid possible!
It’s the 9 am bulletin: ‘Aj puray mulk mein Eid-ul-Adha mazhabi josh-o-jazbay aur ehteram kay sath manaey jaegi. Hamari taraf se tamam Ummat-e-Muslima ko Eid Mubarak!’