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     Volume 9 Issue 45| November 26, 2010 |


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Celebrating Differently

Tamanna Khan

Traffic free Dhaka gives chance for a fun ride.

While enjoying Eid with family and kin and watching foreigners play Bengali roles in the skits of Ittadi Eid special, a popular TV magazine show, one wonders how these people, living so far away from home, in another culture get to spend the Eid holidays.

For Don Bosco and his wife Sunitha Bosco, South Indians living in Bangladesh since 1998, the first year of Eid was a shock. Sunitha recalls, “For me it was a big surprise; such a bustling city like Dhaka all of a sudden became silent.” Not being accustomed to shops closing down for the holidays, she would often run out of groceries during Eid; “You do not see this happening back in India, where the large shopping malls remain open during the holidays.” Like most Dhakaites, now she stocks up the household essentials right before Eid.

Eid-ul-Azha for Sunitha and Don is nothing new; Don reminisces, “I grew up in a Muslim community and I had then and still have more Muslim friends than others. In India, Eid-ul Azha is not celebrated the way it is done here. In India, it is called the Bakri Eid and the celebration is just one day as the government declares a one-day holiday. And there is not so much fervour like it is here in Bangladesh.”

The couple along with their two sons like to spend the Eid vacation within the cosiness of their home for it gives them the opportunity to relax and get away from the hectic schedule of the working days. Don, identifying himself as “frightfully non-social” nevertheless gets visited by his former colleagues and present associates, who often bring the Qurbani meat as a gift.

The Eid vacation gives Tim, working at an international development organisation, the opportunity to work in the quietness of his office. For Eid, Tim also had planned to drive a bit around in Dhaka to see some places that he has not seen before and benefit from the relatively good traffic situation. The quieter Dhaka is also appreciated by Australian-born Matt Clancy, working at UNDP. “It is actually enjoyable to be in Dhaka. You can go for a walk and you can do it quite pleasantly with no traffic.” Like Tim, Matt also planned to do a little site seeing as long as Dhaka remains empty.

L-R: Jonathan Richmond received Eid hospitality at a remote Island called Cheradwip. Brendan Weston went to the Sundarbans for the Eid holidays. Photo: SHAHNAZ PARVEEN

In the majority of cases, however, expatriates take the opportunity to travel outside the country to Bangkok, Malaysia, Indonesia, said Terry Dearing, working at the British High Commission of Bangladesh for about a year. In fact that is what Andrew Jones, who just arrived in Dhaka from Switzerland, a few days before Eid, found out. “People of the place where I am staying are all going away to the Sundarbans,” said Andrew, for who the Eid festival itself is quite new. He had been to a couple of Muslim countries before but never during the Eid holidays. “On Wednesday I plan to go to see the prayers and the slaughtering; a colleague of mine has promised to show me around,” said an eager Andrew a day before his office closed down for the Eid holidays.

American journalist Ralph Frammolino who is working as a consultant at a reputed newspaper had opted for both a holiday outside Dhaka by booking a ticket to Thailand, a day after Eid and a tour round the city on Eid day to capture the festivity in his camera. “I would like to see what it takes to have my dinner. It will be a different kind of experience,” said Ralph; “I want to see how people do it,” he added.

Andrew Jones went to see the Eid prayers at the National Mosque. Photo: MAHBUB MORSHED

Brendan Weston, a consultant and an economics teacher working at a newspaper in Dhaka is not too keen about watching the rituals of the Qurbani. “I don't like to hear the cries of the animals. I want to be out of town when it happens.” Brendan who has been here in Bangladesh before, had the opportunity to watch the sacrifice up front at Srimongol. He said, “ I understand the two arguments you shouldn't be squeamish about the killing if you are a meat-eater. On the other hand it has to be stressful for the animals to be in a city where they can hear the cries and see other animals being slaughtered.”

For most westerners the slaughtering part of Eid is a highly unusual activity said Ralph. He explained that for people of the developed country food comes in packages, be it cereal, egg or the steak. They never have to witness the whole process of how a live animal is turned into the perfect piece of steak; even the slaughter houses in the west are chunked away in some unknown place away from the eyes of the civilised.

Nevertheless, it is not the mass sacrifice of the animals that bothers the westerners rather the objection is more to do with the question of pain that the animals suffer in the slaughtering process. Brendan believes that while some people do the slaughtering in a good way so that the animals are not hurt, probably others do not. Public Transport Advisor at the Dhaka Transport Coordination Board, Jonathan Richmond, who has read the Torah and Quran extensively, on the other hand, opines that if the slaughtering is done correctly according to halal regulations then the process should be painless for the animals. Still the brutality of the scene associated with the sacrifice seems to put off most foreigners and they would rather not watch it.

Iain Christopher Philip, who works at the British Council and who played the role of the bus-driver in the last Ittadi, did watch the slaughtering last year along with his Bengali neighbour. “I watched as the blood ran into the gutters and the cows took quite a long time to die than I thought they would. Even after they cut the throat, they were twitching. I literally had a vegetarian lunch that day because all the sight of blood put me off from meat for a while. But in the afternoon, gradually as I started to smell the different dishes cooked in the neighbourhood, I rapidly changed my mind,” said Iain. Andrew shares a similar feeling saying that when he had well-cooked beef for supper at his friend's place, a day after Eid, he did not give a second thought about the animals and the way they were killed.

Of course, Eid-ul-Azha is not all about chopping up animals for their meat and like Andrew many of the foreigners do understand the significance of the festival. “Well I am not quite critical about it (the slaughtering) if the meat is given to the poor people afterwards,” he said. Matt, with a Catholic background, also finds no problem with the concept of sacrifice as long as the meat is shared; rather he thinks the division of meat in one-thirds is socially helpful.

Interestingly, Jonathan who managed to avoid the Eid crowd and still spend a good time at Shonadia, St Martins Island and Teknaf, had a totally different taste of the festival at a poor village home in a remote Island called Cheradwip. He described how after he reached the first island at Cheradwip, a man from a house there, came out and took him inside and offered him Qurbani meat, even though he was a complete stranger. After his visit of the island with the man's sons, he had to come back to the house and have lunch with the family with rice and beef. “At no point did they ask for any money. It was a very, very nice experience because this is what Islam is supposed to be about. Especially, on Eid day you have to share the Qurbani meat and that is exactly what they were doing. They were doing what the Quran commands them to do: which is to offer hospitality.”


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