Eid and its essence: Are we squeezing the soul out of our festivals?

An elderly man carrying a child on his shoulders after offering Eid Namaz at Dargah, Hazratbal Srinagar.[FPK Photo/Mohammad Syeed Shawl]

There are moments in life when the ground beneath your feet shakes, then come the moments when you wish the sky would rather crash down upon you… and then comes the moment your domestic help announces that she wants to spend Eid with her family.

It is one of the terrifying moments that probably inspired Ekta Kapoor’s classic triple reaction replay “nahi!, nahii!!, nahii!!!”.

Much as you would happily give an arm and a leg in exchange for her to stay, you know that it is only right for you to relent.

You watch her leave, her eyes sparkling with the joy of the impending vacation, her cheeks glowing with the happiness of not having to see her employers’ face for the next few days; pretty much your state when you leave office early on Friday evenings.

Having always had the privilege of having someone else take over the command of the kitchen, my role on Eid days was always confined to the drawing room, where I was expected to entertain the guests and make sure they were attended to.

This time, I had the added responsibility of managing the preparations that went on behind the curtain. How hard could it be, I shrugged to myself as I greeted our first guest of the day.

Turned out hard it was; herculean is the word!

Like every other meaningful custom made into a hollow social obligation, Eid too worst hits the middle class. My whole day was spent oscillating between the guest room and the kitchen, arranging the delicacies on the serving trays, parading them in front of the guests and dumping the used crockery in the sink, stopping only for brief moments to force the guests to eat, ignoring the possibility of their pleas about feeling too full to eat being genuine (we Kashmiris don’t consider ourselves to be good hosts until we threaten to lay down our lungs and liver and other vital organs in exchange for every morsel that goes into our guests’ mouth).

Hell broke loose when a new guest came before the previous one had left, and while one’s timeline suggested that it was time to serve him tea, the other was still at the bottom of the ladder, at “Rani” juice stage!

So I found myself constantly juggling between cups and saucers, forks and knives, glasses and juice cans!

And finally, when the guests left, a sink full of dishes awaited me. As I took care of the dish-load, my heart went out to anyone and everyone who, at that moment, was caught in the same whirlpool of obligations as me.

I found their condition piteous not only because  it was a day of celebration and they had as much of a right as anyone else to celebrate but also because it made no sense at all!

So, there I was, soaked in sweat, doing dishes in my super-expensive Pakistani designer, Eid special, limited collection wear that I couldn’t even afford to wipe my brow upon. And then it hit me: how far we had come from the sweet, simple and meaningful Eids of my childhood when Eid used to start early with the setting in of the uncertainty of whether the budget for new clothes would be passed or not, followed by constant badgering and well-timed sulks until finally the parents relented and made the trade-off between luxury and practicality, and bought home clothes clearly meant for a 3 year elder, obese version of their kids; clothes that would wear off before the kid fit into them!

These impeccably dressed, pouting teenagers playing the “my Eid selfie is better than yours” in this world of instant gratification and Instagram validations will never know the sense of accomplishment and pride we felt while wearing those dorky clothes because unlike them, we never dressed to impress!

In fact, the bigger the size, the more the pride because the newer it felt to our middle class brain!

Today, however, not only are new clothes a given but it is also important that they match the #SanaSafeena #MariaB benchmark because, you know, #EidSelfie!

And it doesn’t stop at clothes; from the bakery we buy to the food we cook, everything has been intoxicated by our persistent struggle of mixing up with the elite and our fear of being judged for our middle-class choices.

The highlight of my childhood Eids used to be sleeping in excitement and waking up early to unpack the Eid special bakery and plate it in neat, equidistant rows on the breakfast table; bakery that, unlike the rest of the days, was exclusively for our own selves and not the guests!

The taste of the mandatory pineapple pastry from Sufi kandur’s bakery shop still lingers on my mind, and no uptown cheesecakes or glossy marble pastries have ever come close. Because it was never about taste! It was about the honest struggle of making one day different from the rest; about breaking free from the routine and putting in meticulous efforts just to make your family happy even if it required pushing the monthly budget to an extent where you had to survive on razma daal for the rest of the month! Today it’s about everything but that!

I tried complaining about how unnecessarily enervating and illogical all of this was but was met with a disgusted scorn from my mother which, after years of experiencing that look, I can now easily translate to “yelli na hael‘e aasi kami karnas” (This tends to happen when one isn’t accustomed to any sort of work), followed by a sigh that stood for the age old concern –“khabar pagah kya karakh tche” (I wonder how you will manage things in the future).

So, not only was I supposed to carry forward this practice, I was also expected to feel guilty about speaking against the system or feeling tired while following it!

As the footfall of guests decreased, I considered visiting my relatives to catch up with my cousins but then better sense prevailed! I knew the drill too well by now and did not have the least intention of putting someone through what I had been through, or to go through what I had to put others through!

So I just lay there, evaluating the nerve-wracking day that had been my Eid, praying to God for no more guests, thinking of how the culture had corrupted me in just one day!

A day that started with me looking forward to catching up with my relatives ended up with me loathing their arrival! But am I to be blamed? Have we not created around us a society where we are expected to feel happy about things that it is not in human nature to feel happy about?

Have we not laid the foundation of an inevitably fake life? Which woman in the world, especially after fasting for 30 straight days, will find happiness in guests coming over for “eiz salaam” when the one minute exchange of greetings is preceded by a week of extensive shopping for super-expensive stuff, an hour of getting all dolled up, and succeeded by a day of backbreaking cooking, arranging, serving, pleading and then washing, with no time left to live up to or even think about the real purpose of the festival?

And what celebration will a man find in going over to a relative’s place where not only is he compelled to eat when he is already full and has to argue his lungs out so as to convince the other person of the self-explanatory fact that he cannot afford to overeat, but also has to shell out exorbitant amount of money on pretext of Eidi!

I can go on and on but the bottom-line here is that the parties on both sides of the dastarkhan abhor the ridiculous regimen we have made of our Eids.

Yet, Eid after Eid, we continue to do the same things!

We focus on the cuisine and the crockery; the dresses and the makeup; the furnishing and upholstery but rarely, if ever, on strengthening our relations or living up to the concept of the festival!

We are so deeply engrossed in formalities that we conveniently let the whole purpose of Eid slip by!

The fact that everyone seems to have found comfort in this discomforting practice does not, in any way, justify it.

We need to take a pause, align our priorities, end the pretend play and realise that it is simply a day meant to bring in happiness, and not a minified version of our Big Fake Indian weddings!


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