From Houston to Karachi

Published: April 8, 2014
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Eid in Karachi is more memorable than it used to be in Houston. The entire process seems lacklustre and sterile in retrospect as compared to selecting, developing an attachment to, and then sacrificing the animal in Karachi. PHOTO: REUTERS

Eid in Karachi is more memorable than it used to be in Houston. The entire process seems lacklustre and sterile in retrospect as compared to selecting, developing an attachment to, and then sacrificing the animal in Karachi. PHOTO: AFP Eid in Karachi is more memorable than it used to be in Houston. The entire process seems lacklustre and sterile in retrospect as compared to selecting, developing an attachment to, and then sacrificing the animal in Karachi. PHOTO: REUTERS

As happens quite frequently now, my mind and heart tend to gravitate towards the next writing mission for the Karachi-Houston diaries.

In fact, just the other day I thought to myself,

“Perhaps you should take a break from writing a new entry. It is, afterall, a break from work too.”

But as always, the muse intervened,

“Write comparatively about festivities in Karachi and Houston.”

And as always, the muse won.

I have found ritual celebrations interesting to observe. Bari Eid (Eidul Azha) with its sacrifice of animals and meat consumption is a case in point. The ritual is not about the day itself; family members, males for the most part, enthusiastically promote touring the animal bazaar a few days prior to Eid.

As Eid approached, one day a cousin of mine said excitedly,

“We’ve got to pick the choicest goat!”

That seemed to be a valid aspiration – for him. On further discussion, I learnt from him the factors that mattered most in purchasing the ‘choicest goat’. Price, of course, was a major consideration but as important were other factors such as the sub-species, number of animals the neighbours were buying, voice of the ill-fated animal, number of equally ill-fated siblings of the animal present in the bazaar, the city or more likely, the village of the animal’s origin (akin to human ethnicity perhaps), colour of its fur, size of its testicles, its age, physique, pedigree of parents and so forth.

However, there was one characteristic that intrigued me the most and made me feel deprived at being unable to select and purchase goats in real time over the past 15 years that I had been living in Houston. And this was the number of front teeth visible when the goat’s upper lip was raised slightly. Apparently the two-toothed goat tasted better than the three-toothed one.

I was told that this feature was most important in the selection process. In all these years I had obviously not learned this crucial discriminating potential that vouched for the quality of the meat. I made a mental note to myself so that next time I went to the market, I would not make the mistake of compromising on goat meat for my family, irrespective of the customary pomp.

My children had already had their fill after day one of the Bari Eid celebration in Karachi. There had been some entertainment value in hearing and observing the sacrificial animals in the playground that the children might have otherwise considered playing in. Even though some of the animals had been resplendently decked up as brides and paraded around in the playground prior to appearing on people’s plates, the novelty of observing the festivity in Karachi lost its appeal for the children as quickly as it had phased itself in.

Although the children’s excitement was short-lived, I think Eid in Karachi is more memorable than it used to be in Houston. All we do there is pay for the meat at a butcher’s store; the entire process seems lacklustre and sterile in retrospect as compared to selecting, developing an attachment to, and then sacrificing the animal in Karachi – notwithstanding the goriness of the process, of course.

We had naively assumed that by week 12 of relocation from Houston to Karachi, we would be relaxed and settling in our new home. That it happened to coincide with a ritualistic holiday was perhaps not all that surprising since it was going to provide something to ramble about later on. The lack of any ‘R and R’ in the hectic schedule replete with visits of and to family members – often the same ones on multiple occasions during those three days – and meat gourmandising that accompanies the event, was also not that surprising.

It was only after observing and participating in the ritual in Karachi after a long time that I realised that the most popular sacrificial animal is still the bakra (goat in Urdu) and the process of sacrificing it is still considered a baraka (blessing in Arabic). An interchanging of two letters is all that it takes – truly uncanny or perhaps, absolutely predictable! 

Asad I. Mian

Asad I. Mian

The author is an ER physician and a writer/blogger/innovator whenever he's off. He is also an Associate Professor at the Aga Khan University. Other than the Biloongra series of bilingual books for children, he has written An Itinerant Observer, published in the US. He can be reached on Twitter @amian74 and his blog (anitinerantobserver.blogspot.com).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.