The Night before Eid
Nusrat Jahan Pritom
Aprodigious cow the size of a miniature elephant at the rear, a bevy of well-groomed goats at the sides and two metric tonnes of people all around in the metropolis, the rush the chaos, the cacophony. It's the day before Eid and nobody's being a 'home-body'. Adamant infants pull at their father's faded coats while fancying their eyes on some treats, clothes, etc in the shops, women fuss over the crowd in the beauty parlours while they knot their coiffures, the salesman sigh and fold a saree for the umpteenth time with a relatively nonchalant look and then enough élan to unfold the same one for another customer. Obviously there are many more signs of this important holiday. Take the army of girls and young women sitting around the mehendi designer at various malls, the overloaded ferries, lorries, trains and buses. But no other indications could be more devoted in evoking the spirit of Eid-ul-Adha than the fiasco that usually results with the animals waiting to be slaughtered. Every year, somebody, somewhere (in Dhaka) catches a glimpse of a gang of people chasing a formidable cow in the marathon!
It is not always easy to understand the significance of slaughtering animals as a way of showing devotion to the creator. Just the other day, my 10 year old student, Zair, innocuously and judiciously expressed his aversion to the idea. It is perhaps a natural reaction for anyone at that age, in this globalising, urbanising, secularising world in which a very short of time, if at all, is expended on religious anecdotes. And why not? God had alluded this in the Holy Quran (Ch-22, verse-32) “Whoever holds the Rites of Allah in Honour (in the sacrificing of animals). Surely such honour comes from the piety of heart”. Also note what the poet had said "Drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring”
It's important to realise the importance of such sacrifice that comes annually and is not just a one time-move in our lives. For which reason, as reasons lose grip if they are perpetually conducted with all the propaganda in our existing time. That the time that needs to be spared to fully appreciate the sacrifices of the self-denial Abraham and Ismail (Peace be upon them) for their unconditional love of The Supreme One is not just an apportionment of our “acts of piety”. So the many Zairs at an impressionable age have no choice other than to protest against the “ruthless killing of cows and goats”. This inadequate understanding even makes its way in confusing a good number of adults too. And it is just sad to imagine what an arduous task it is now to recognise true love which is acknowledged through the mandatory act of sacrifice (without which any love is unfulfilled).
Then again it cannot be acceptable that the motive behind the 'sacrifice' is more for a chance for a man to compete his well-to-do neighbours by purchasing the most expensive animal and then keeping the largest portion for his and his family's consumption completely in contradiction to the religious dictates, not to mention cheating his personal doctor with an intake of a ridiculous amount of cholesterol.
One reflects on this and on the exemplary models of contentment and simplicity found in the more unfortunates. Due to the fact that I had to do office until the day before Eid and my mother had to be a perfectionist at shopping-well, fate was pretty much designed for me to situate myself into a mélange of interesting events. First the absurd contrast must be drawn out to the readers most of whom probably share this experience. My journey started around 2pm and continued for 8 hours. PQS, Krishi Market, Bashundhara Mall were all in the integral design of my mother's plan. While waiting in Town Hall for her to buy groceries where her 10 minutes took about an hour! Standing at a corner I was bewildered to see the road. Where did all these people come from? All the roads were packed. Although there were lots of cow and goat sellers, there weren't that many buyers (people with walking cows) compared to the main city. This could be attributed to the humble income of the people here. Yet, then again, why were they so busy? This contrast unravelled itself more clearly and purely as I went to Krishi Market after shopping at PQS in between. I noticed some girls (around10 and some were teenagers) on the other side of the pavement delicately picking up and adoring the imitation jewellery from the hawker. What astonished me were their smiles. They were undoubtedly grinning out of delight! Just moments back, I recalled a lady with a huge trolley in PQS with a mountain of products with the same expression and then it hit me. The fact that happiness really means nothing other than the fact one attaches to it. Would that lady have had been equally happy with that with which the girls were so ecstatic? She might have even thrown the thing away in disgust. And if by some stroke of luck, those girls could have taken possession of that which she had accumulated at the supermarket would their happiness equal hers? Then again it's best not to be conclusive. There were such a variety of people in this particular market-some in office clothes, while two or three women looked like they had come to a wedding getting out of their cars, walking side by side, a couple dragging their son in an old, dirty sweater and shorts. This bizarre contrast in the extremities in possession, of plutocracy is prevalent especially in Dhaka. Brushing this poignant scene aside, I make my way through whatever is left of the day. After all it was the eve of Eid, a day to be joyous right?
Finally, I professed myself that it's up to the government to provide sustenance, comfort to all these people. The disadvantaged would be given precedence by people from all sectors- and at the end of the day, Eid will be enjoyed equally by all. However, it was only a short period of time before the probity of this notion could be challenged. I encountered a person I will never meet again, or even if I meet again, will never be able to remember or recognise him: or even if I did would never be able to do anything other than to feel sorry.
Who is this person? He is none other than a poor rickshaw puller. About eighteen to twenty-something, I presume. The particular feature that bounced in a frisson of anxiety was his emaciated limbs. I couldn't imagine anybody could walk with legs so thin, let alone pull a rickshaw. As I watched in horror, he came under my purview (of vision, only) and went out of sight.
The rickshaw puller has no idea of the impact he had created in me and to the many who are pacing their eyes through this page right now. But he left-nothing wonderful happened to him- he didn't win a lottery that would satiate all his economic frailties. Moreover, he probably re-entered his world only to face ordeals in travelling to his homeland, muggers, pecuniary disadvantages, other mental depressions and physical oppressions.
There is no addendum to this other than three words “God bless him!”
In any case, my prime assumptions about the mishaps rotating around a group of people- the largest group of people-the poor whose sufferings are endless even on this Eid day remained in situ. Undeniably.
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