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     Volume 6 Issue 40 | October 12, 2007 |

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Cover Story

The Magic of Chaand Raat

Kajalie Shehreen Islam and Srabonti Narmeen Ali

On the last evening of Ramadan the atmosphere automatically changes as if by magic. The air is filled with the sound of laughter and the tinkling of glass bangles, the strong, sweet smell of jilapi being fried and shemai being cooked. Girls in brightly coloured outfits with henna-filled hands go out in packs to do last-minute shopping. They stay out late looking for deals on new saris or shalwar kameezes. Boys in freshly starched panjabis run around lighting tarabati (sparklers), singing and humming as they do so. The night is filled with a sense of jubilation, symbolising the end of a long month of fasting and sacrifice, and the beginning of fun and celebration.

This evening, better known as Chaand Raat, or 'night of the moon', is a celebration before Eid, where close friends and family gather together for the sighting of the moon. The most exciting part about Chaand Raat is actually seeing the “Chaand” or moon, confirming that Eid will be the next day. Thirty-year-old Saurav remembers going out with friends armed with binoculars to try and sight the moon when he was 11 or 12 and playing loud music and dancing on the streets when he was 14 or 15, but he is not as excited about Eid anymore. Others, however, never feel too old to celebrate sighting the moon.

"We beat spoons on aluminium pots," says 24-year-old Tonni, "and light tarabati and fairy lights. And of course we listen to the 'Ramadan song' -- it wouldn't seem like Eid without it!"

Apart from the celebrations and overall euphoric atmosphere of the city on Chaand Raat, 30-year-old Farida also feels a sense of relief when the moon is sighted.

"Nowadays the traffic is so terrible that you get tired just going out of your house," she says. "Working, fasting, buying Eid clothes for everyone and that, too, in all this traffic takes up a lot of energy. I guess Chaand Raat is like the light at the end of the tunnel for me. It's like the prize you get for all your hard work. It is a night when no one pushes each other at the stores, no one is rude, and everyone is in a good mood. Plus there is always great food wherever you go. It just seems like a completely different type of atmosphere, with everyone celebrating together."

Despite the fact that it is a time for relaxation, there is still a lot of preparation for the next day. Sadia, a working mother, first gets her two-year-old son's clothes ready. Then she makes her special pudding, cleans and decorates the house and, at midnight, goes shopping at the city's big malls.

"Things are sold almost at half price at many places," says Sadia, "and though I shop for others during the month of Ramadan, I do my own shopping -- whether saris, shalwar kameezes or even my husband's panjabi and shoes -- on Chaand Raat. Though a lot of people are out then, the roads are still emptier than they are in the day during Ramadan so that's also nice."

Shiplu also enjoys the empty roads by just going around on a rickshaw, buying last-minute food items for cooking at home, or flowers for decoration. "Some of my friends go out together on four or five bikes and just hang out in the city, eat together. Just foorti!" he says.

Chaand Raat is also an evening where many people bring Eid gifts for their family and friends.

If he goes back to his hometown, radio jockey Neerob literally jumps around with his friends when he hears that it is Eid the following day. If he is in Dhaka and working, however, there is pressure at the station, preparing for special shows the next day. "But of course I still party with my friends at night," he says, "and we plan what we're going to do the next day and I plan what I will wear."

"The nicest thing about Chaand Raat," says Tanisha, 28, "is the fact that that's probably the only night when women can move around comfortably in Dhaka. Along with the relief of Ramadan being over and excitement over Eid, women feel free to shop and go places without being harassed, no matter how late at night it is."

Tanisha herself goes out earlier but usually only window shops. "I mainly eat candyfloss and fresh, hot jilapis The whole atmosphere is just really exciting!" Later, she gets together with her friends who have Chaand Raat parties in their homes. They buy bangles from the churi-wali who is invited over and also apply henna.

The culture and tradition of henna is one that is associated mainly with celebration. Most people associate it with weddings, but it is also extremely common for girls to put on mehndi on the night before Eid. Leaning over each other's hands and artistically drawing designs with the long cones full of mehndi, they exchange stories and talk.

"The best part of Chaand Raat is putting on the mehndi with my cousins," says 16-year old Fatima. "We sleep over at someone's house on Chaand Raat, and stay up all night talking and putting mehndi all over each other's hands and feet. The room is usually a mess by the end of the night because we always have lots of shemai and zarda, and it is very difficult to eat when you have wet mehndi on your hands. If the weather is good, sometimes we do the mehndi on the roof so that we can watch the moon and sing as loudly as we want."

Fatima's cousin, Shaira, is four years older than her and is now allowed to go out with her friends. However, because she does not want to miss the henna ceremony with her cousins, she spends the first part of her evening with friends and then joins her cousins later for the sleepover.

"It's actually really fun because we stay out really late and go shopping for churis and other stuff," says Shaira. "But I actually love coming home to all my cousins and doing mehndi with them, it's like the perfect finish to a perfect evening. I usually come back and show them all the stuff I buy. It's a great time to spend with your family. I mean,Eid day is always filled with lots of relatives and people that you don't remember the names of, but Chaand Raat is for very intimate family who you really care about and want to see."

Sadia also makes use of the night before Eid to wish friends and loved ones over the phone or text messages. "I usually reuse someone else's funky Eid greeting and forward it to everyone else," she says.

Many people have parties on Chaand Raat for friends in which they make lots of tasty food and desserts for their guests.

Chaand Raat is really just that -- letting people you think of (but never seem to have the time to pick up the phone and call) know that you're thinking of them on Eid, a night to hang out with friends and loved ones, sharing the excitement of Eid well-deserved after a month of strict self-control. For many, it is one of the few nights in a busy year when they can make time for such pleasant relaxation.

"My friends and I hardly get together the rest of the year," says Eva, "so, on Chaand Raat, we just hang out, apply mehndi, sing together, watch movies and eat -- sometimes it's a potluck, sometimes an invitation -- and we have a sleepover. Each of us do what we do best. Some apply henna on the others; one of our friends French braids our hair and I bake brownies. We even include the boys in our hang-outs," says Eva.

"I always go out for ice cream with my best friend on Chaand Raat," says 25-year-old Alpona, "and watch her hound her tailor to deliver her Eid clothes at the very last minute -- which is sometimes extended to early next morning!"

In some neighbourhoods there is still the Apa or Khala who will do last-minute tailoring for the girls on her street as well as women who do their hair. Some women even cook together large amounts of food like polao and shemai which they share between their households the next day.

All this excitement is not limited to Dhaka, however.

Girls enjoy getting together on Chaand Raat, trying on colourful churis, putting on mehndi and talking through the night.

Anwar, who works as a chauffeur in the capital, goes to his hometown in Magura a day or two before Eid and enjoys the pre-Eid festivities.

“It's not like it is in Dhaka,” says Anwar. “I do all my shopping in the city so when I go home I just hang out, visit friends and just enjoy the festive mood.”

"I can never sleep the night before Eid," says 25-year-old Sohana who lives in Narayanganj, "I'm so excited! I wear mehndi on my hands and leave all the work to my mother and watch my brothers line up to taste the zarda and other goodies she makes for the next day."

In Chittagong, Dastagir, after trying to sight the moon with friends and debating about whether it did come out, whether Eid will be on the same day as in Saudi Arabia or the day after, goes out to do last-minute shopping for the household.

"Many people save their Eid shopping for the last night because things are cheaper. The marketplaces are a lot more crowded here than they are in Dhaka," he says. "But I usually only shop for food items needed at the last minute for cooking. Chaand Raat is all about finding out what special dishes the neighbours are making and trying to cook something exclusive ourselves -- competitive cooking!"

For those who can afford it, the night before Eid is another night of celebration, shopping, elaborate cooking, partying and hanging out with friends. But even for those less fortunate, Chaand Raat is a night of exuberance and looking forward to a rare day of wearing new clothes, eating good food and visiting family and friends. Whether it is young children showing off their dresses or friends sitting on a pati on the roof and singing songs, it is all about the festive mood. More than what people do, it is about the thrill and merry-making, looking forward to getting together with family and friends, feasting or just having a good time -- something that has become a rarity in our busy lives during the rest of the year.

Eid the Old Dhaka Way

There is still a part of Dhaka where Chaand Raat is celebrated in all its splendour, starting with roads lit brightly in red and gold, complete with neighbours sharing their traditional delicacies cooked from ancient family recipes. The flurry of activity begins in parts of Old Dhaka as soon as the moon is sighted and Eid is officially announced for the next day. Homes are made extra tidy, last-minute grocery shopping, not to mention the local shopkeepers and storeowners who prepare themselves to keep their shops open, sometimes until the wee hours of the next morning, right before Eid prayers.

Twenty-two-year-old Durdana, a resident of Wari, gets ready to welcome the young girls of the neighbourhood to her home. Every year on Chaand Raat, all the young girls get together at one of their houses to spend the night together and have fun.

Many people go shopping on Chaand Raat because shopkeepers give good last-minute deals and discounts.

"We seem to have this whole routine that we follow almost every year on Chaand Raat," says Durdana. "First we go out on the terrace and try to spot the crescent. After that, we help with the household work, getting our homes ready for visitors the next day on Eid. At my place, my chores include changing the bed sheets of all the beds in all the rooms. Some of my friends and I are into photography and a few times a year we go outside Dhaka to take pictures. On Chaand Raat, I make sure to frame some of my work and spruce up my room a little bit. At around 10:30 pm at night, the girls from the nearby homes get together after all the household work is done. This year, everyone is meeting up at my place. Like every year, we will put mehndi on our palms, listen to music and just relax and read or watch movies. Everyone tries to come up with a new henna design every year."

"Chaand Raat is probably the only night when we can actually go out in the middle of the night and move from one home to another within the area," continues Durdana. "It's probably even better than Eid day itself."

Rouf has been the local barber in the area for more than a decade. He looks forward to Chaand Raat since not only does business boom overnight, but he gets to mingle with both the old and new residents of Kahettuli and spend time with them.

"Throughout the month of Ramadan, the older men in the area come to hang out after Taraweeh prayers at the tea stall next to my saloon," says Rouf. "They discuss politics, music, price rise and many other things until midnight. On Chaand Raat, these older men along with others come to my shop for a haircut or a head massage and carry on with their discussions and gossip late into the night."

One of the old timers, Majed, popularly known as Babu among his peers, says that Chaand Raat to him is just like any other Ramadan night, only more hectic. "Everyone gets busy setting up their homes and shop till late at night."

Chaand Raat is a night when girls go out with their friends and stay out late looking at jewellery and saris.

The local shops are seen selling clothes, candles, flowers and other last-minute knick-knacks required to decorate homes for Eid.

"Chaand Raat is a night when people finally break out of the month-long routine of going for Taraweeh prayers and then preparing for sehri in the middle of the night," says Neela, a homemaker. "On this night, not only do the youngsters and the elderly people prepare for the next day, they also spend Chaand Raat relaxing and spending time with friends. Even we housewives savour the day a lot since, with the men and the children gone out, we have the house to ourselves for a few hours. Many of us get together and enjoy ourselves.”


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