SPIRIT OF EID PRESENT: I feel a bit like Scrooge
this year. My sons are not with me; my husband is travelling
and may not be in Rome either; and the Bangladeshi community
relevant to my social life (those in international agencies
and diplomatic services and not the FOB immigrant workers
thronging the streets of Roma) has shrunk to an all time
low, because of retirement and because many are travelling.
how I view Eid today is quite different from how I did so
years ago. Today if I were asked what Eid means to me I'd
honestly say: nothing much. It's just another day. After
all, I live in a non-Muslim, overwhelmingly Italian physical
environment where Ramzan passes almost secretly, and Eid,
unless it falls on a weekend is just another working day.
Over the years, I have single-handedly kept alive the cultural
aspects of my family's Bangali-Muslim identity in a determined
battle against an indifferent environment where integrating
with the existing world is easier than creating one's own.
Once, I made an effort for the sake of my children, and
was the shaping cultural force in the community. Now, the
reasons are gone. I can afford to let many things including
Eid pass us by. Except for the token phone calls of 'Eid
Mubarak' and a get-together dinner, which is no different
from other dinner parties, there is nothing special about
OF EID PAST: I, who was the creator in my family of the
Great Illusion of Eid, have now started to rethink this
day. I am used to remembering the Eids of my childhood in
Dhaka and in Pakistan as memorable ones, but some days I
wonder if it was really all that fun or were we always straining
to make a rather pointless day into something enjoyable?
I can easily cast a nostalgic spell on myself and convince
my memories to evoke a magic that may or may not have been
actually present. I personally always found the actual day
of Eid boring, a tremendous anti-climax. Am I the only one?
debunking it, let me be clear eyed about Eid. What did I
like about it specially? I cannot pinpoint it today. I enjoyed
mostly the anticipation of Eid starting with the thrill
of locating the crescent in the sky, then staying up with
friends on 'Chand Raat' with freshly applied 'mehendi' drying
on our palms. But I also recall that I actually hated the
smell of henna paste, as much as I disliked 'attar,' preferring
bottled French perfume to it but willing to suffer it all
just to enjoy the 'traditions' of Eid. I simply followed
the footsteps of society and never thought of creating my
dressing up (I still do!) but hated being all dressed up
with nowhere to go on Eid morning, when wearing our new
glass bangles and first high heels, I and my sisters had
to bear the onslaught of official visitors and the families
of the under-privileged staff descending on my father. For
them we had to set up a separate table of refreshments,
while we the pouting Cinderellas helped sullenly in the
short-staffed kitchen with endless supply of tea and replenishments,
and not one good-looking bachelor among my father's colleagues
for the efforts!
was when we got away to visit our friends in our fineries.
But really, wasn't it dull hanging with the same old friends
after each had showed off her glad-rags, unless a good-looking
elder brother or cousin were around to make it worthwhile?
Seldom were we allowed to go to a film together or to go
and spend our eidee money. We were lectured to
share it with the beggars, but who listened? Then came the
worst bit: interminable family visits, specially into the
bowels of Old Dhaka or wherever relatives hid all year long
till we uncovered them on these visits of marathon eating
of the same old zarda and shemai and (if
lucky) dahi-baras or kababs which saved us from
the unimaginative and pre-dominantly sweet based Eid refreshments.
This was followed by the rich dinner at an elderly relative's
home or back in our own home with guests. But really, was
that all Eid amounted to?
even as I recount all this, I know that it must have amounted
to something because in spite of the debunking, there was
an undeniable, indefinable magic to the most boring proceedings.
Today, I realise that the magic was in the participation
of large numbers of like-minded people in a community festival.
It was in the bonding. And this is what we lack in Rome.
The Eid prayer is there, of course, and in the giving of
charity, but Eid should not be just about piety but fun
sense, no amount of recreating the traditions of the old
world will bring the magic of Eid (if it really existed)
back for us here. In fact, the old ways of celebrating Eid
just doesn't work here. What is the point of getting new
clothes in an age when we buy clothes and dress up for parties
all the time? So new clothes, movie treats, gifts and eidee-pocket
money, the consumption of rich traditional foods, and getting
together for dinner parties is plain boring. We have to
reinvent Eid celebrations to suit the changing times and
circumstances. Today, with only myself to think of, I don't
know whether I want to make an effort.
OF EIDS TO COME: So when my friend, busy with her own life
and without a maid, calls and asks in a desultory way "Are
we doing anything for Eid?" implying if, as usual,
I have any bright ideas. I state that I am tuned out of
the whole Eid thing. She sighs, "Yes, with the kids
gone, it seems so pointless. Pity, though, since Eid falls
on a weekend this time." Too bad, I think to myself
with a shrug that would do Scrooge proud.
husband calls from the wilds of Ethiopia to say he is arriving
a week earlier. I allow a smile and flirt with the idea
of making his favourite Shahi Tukras for Eid, then shrug
younger son calls from U.S, apparently to grumble about
Bush's re-election but then he asks, "What are you
guys doing for Eid?" I am about to say "Nothing"
when he continues, "I bet you are throwing one of your
'be kind to everyone on Eid' dinners? Thank God I don't
have to help you wrap those endless gifts for any youngsters
who may be coming," He laughs, continuing, "But
admit, that time when I did the choosing for the little
boys presents it was the best wasn't it?" Frankly,
I have forgotten that time. But he remembered! "And
what are you cooking? Not piles of that saffrony stuff…."
"Shemaiyer Jorda? No, everyone is on a diet
so no point making what you called…." "Sweet
spaghetti," He chuckles, adding, "Actually, it
wasn't that bad." "I may make some of your favourite
halwa in your honour," I find myself saying.
"Well, freeze some for me. And make your famous leg
of lamb." For whom? I don't ask.
later, my elder son calls from Amsterdam. I ask him if he
can come for Eid. He is not sure but asks, "Is Papa
going to the Mosque for prayers or will he use our absence
as excuse to give it a miss?" He cackles knowing his
father all too well. He seems to know his mother pretty
well too, for he continues, "Though I can just imagine
you bundling him off first thing in the morning with the
other Uncles, claw marks on the floor. Hey! I don't blame
Papa. I remember, what a mess that crowded place was. Why
can't we Muslims do anything calmly? If I came for Eid,
I would…." I hold my breath wondering if he ends
it saying: I would never go there. "…I would
wear armour and stick out my elbows stiflly as I walked
through that crowd." He then relates his favourite
memory of the Eid Namaz at the Rome Mosque (the largest
in Europe) about his father getting his toe stubbed and
shouting 'Jesus Christ!' to the stony eyed Muslim assembly!
We laugh. "Is it bad in Amsterdam, too?" I ask.
"Less people here, and in the cold the feet of the
faithful don't stink as much. By the way, what is the address
of that charity to which you guys send money for Eid?"
I ask why he needs it. "I'm mailing them something
too, this year for Eid." Before Scrooge can wipe away
a tear, junior pipes up, "By the way, tell your husband
not to be so miserly about the eidi he sends me.
Charity begins you know where."
A great load has lifted from my shoulders. Somewhere along
the way, I have succeeded in passing on the burden of Eid
with all its imperfections and boring traditions to another
generation. Eid is as safe with my children as it was in
my childhood. It will be analysed and changed, but it will
not be forgotten. I take out a leg of lamb to thaw and dial
my friend's number. I don't know what we are doing for Eid
yet. But whatever happens we are definitely celebrating
it, in our own boring way.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004