The good old Eid charm
Eid – the excitement of Chand Raat, new clothes, bangles, mehndi, Eid namaaz, sweet dishes, guests galore, calling on relatives and friends and piling up Eidi. My father greeting the steady procession of guests who come bearing cakes and fruits and fixed smiles. I don’t know their names, but they appear every Eid to fawn over Abba and Ammi. Ammi, in her elegant shalwar kameezes which never seem to crease, always generous and welcoming to acquaintances, relatives and friends alike. The wonderful trolley awaiting to be devoured, dressed up with lace napkins, gleaming cutlery and tempting goodies. My siblings and I looking for a moment between guests, when we could pounce on the trolley and pile our plates high with yummy snacks to relish in a secret corner, instead of looking like gluttons in front of disdainful guests. Of course, we lived in dread of getting nabbed by Ammi whose one look of censure was enough to make us cringe.
Over the years, the flow of those unknown guests on Eid slowed down and then there was just a trickle. Abba was amused when I asked him once what became of those bearers of fancy cakes and fruits who used to turn up early every Eid, year after year. He replied, “This is what happens after you retire. All those hangers on and sycophants don’t want to waste their time here any longer. Now they must be bowing in front of other officers. Such is the way of the world!”
On Bakra Eid, the mandatory bakra was brought with great fanfare and soon we got used to the constant bleating from the garden. Suddenly, on Eid day he was gone from his customary spot outside, and everything seemed to go quiet. On one such Eid, I told my mother that I wanted to see the sacrifice which was considered so essential. I skipped over to where the animal was leashed and played with him until the Qasai (butcher) came over. Inexplicably, my heart started sinking and I kept asking for more time for him, until our cook shook his head and told me to step away. I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten the horror of what happened next, as the bakra was forced to lie down and it’s throat stretched, ready for the butcher’s knife, his screams of agony as the blood spurted all over the floor, and me clapping my hands over my ears, closing my eyes and running helter skelter inside. On that Eid, I did not touch meat.
An Eid ritual which was meticulously followed every year were the Eid calls. With my father at the wheel, my siblings and I would pile into the back seat of the car and set off on our Eid rounds. My brothers would sit in the back seats like emperors and squash my sister and I in the middle. Our protests were always muffled with the brothers haughtily pointing to their stiffly starched white shalwar kameezes, which apparently needed a lot of space. Of course, the boys were supported in their stance by an irate Ammi in the front seat. Still arguing and glowering, off we would go, packed like sardines, calling on relatives and friends alike. Naturally, we had favourite houses, which were defined by generous Eidi, interesting children, friendly hosts and delicious food as opposed to stingy Eidi, indifferent hosts, snooty children and unappetizing food.
In contrast, Eid in Europe seems to just an exercise in going through the motions… greeting guests dressed to kill, air kissing, small talk, hollow compliments, meaningless jokes, meaningful looks, dreary critiques of Pakistan, obsequious bowing and scraping, and overeating just to have the courage to sit through this futile exercise. How I wish I could be in Karachi this Eid amidst all the wonderful, feisty, warm people there who truly know how to celebrate the essence of this festival.
The Eid Milan family get togethers, the camaraderie, the corny jokes, the whispered gossip, the thorny issues, the jabbed elbows, the unfailing advice and the warm embraces are all now part and parcel of my storehouse of wry memories. There seem to be less relatives and friends now in Karachi as the Grim Reaper has wielded his scythe with ease. Caught up in the rat race of life, I did not notice until recently that my parents have now started walking so slowly and painfully, bending with difficulty, and have become more vulnerable to illness. My parents are going to be alone at home this Eid, like many others in the recent past, because their children are far away, in the search for better opportunities. I plan to come back one day, but will my parents still be there, waiting with open arms and loving hearts?
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