Nausheba Khatun, Professor of IER, Dhaka University, is currently retired. She now spends her time occupied with child education. She reflects on a particularly fond day. Since she grew up in Kolkata, her childhood may have been markedly different from ours
Never dreamt that I would have to regress seven decades to remember the dullest day of my life -- Eid Day. The childhood of a lonely only child surrounded by mountain-like adults on all sides, ever on the watch to protect it from harm, and shelter it from having fun can be monotonous. Living in an Anglo-Indian locality in Calcutta and watching Christian friends enjoying the Christmas festivities made it doubly so. Father Christmas, Jingle Bells playing on their gramophones, Christmas stockings, the Christmas parties they went to, made a child's heart yearn to share the merrymakings with them. On the other hand, Ramzan and Eid which I had to endure each year were very different. Even now I can visualize pots, pans, plates overflowing with food, food and food. Food for Iftar, food for Sehri and food for munching between Iftar and Sehri. Fruit flies hovering over excess fruits in the 'niamat khana', (a netted shelf) have ended up in giving me a life long aversion to apples, grapes and peaches. Mango is my favourite fruit maybe because my childhood Ramzans came in winter. My grandmother was an enterprising person, fond of traveling, food, clothes and all good things that came her way. She doted on me and so did my grandfather; the lonely only grand-child had to bear the brunt of their love. They loved me in their own sharply different ways. He was frugal and practical and she just the opposite. But they respected each others' feelings.
On Eid days I was dressed up gorgeously according to her choice of color, material and design; one Eid I was made to wear a bright blue satin shelwar with heavy zari embroidered work, a red georgette frock with the same zari work and a light pink dupatta with 'kamdani' work all over. Readers, think of the combination of colors. The photograph of this outfit can still be seen in my daughter's house. Added to the outfit were a pair of golden salim shehis which pinched mercilessly at every step. Fate had been kind as the photograph is in black and white because a colored one could send the 21st century fashion designers into a state of shock.
Eid day began with a clang of utensils coming from the kitchen, servants on the run and grandmother in an intense busy mood. The male members hurrying to bathe to join the Eid namaz, the still sleepy girl child pulled out of bed to join the show. The men depart to the mosque after taking initial helpings of "shemai," the women bathe and dress and my long hair is braided and I deck to the hilt. Strict orders from my mother to be careful and not soil my dress while eating the oily Eid breakfast. My two hands are up holding the folds of my dupatta, I feel like a scare-crow with outstretched hands. How can I eat in this state of limbo? I complain already hungry, numberless safety pins are then stuck to my dupatta to get out of this plight.
The men return after namaz. I touch their feet, am blessed and given Eidi or gift money. Question comes to mind as to why the feet touching in conservative Muslim families. That too on Holy Eid Day. The obvious answer that it is the result of the inevitable mingling of cultures, no religion can avert it. Man is a creature of circumstance with a need for belonging.
Breakfast used to be sumptuous. I can still visualize the table laid out with parathas fried in pure ghee, meat curry shemai, lachchas, rizalas and koftas followed by zafran tea -- a special Eidi treat. Gradually guests arrive one by one to pay respect to elders. So far I remember women did not go out visiting on Eid Day. They next day was theirs. There may have been departures from this, but at least with my extended family this was the custom.
With lunch heavier than breakfast and in light outfits everyone retires for a siesta. Evening guests again, night approaches and tired and sleepy I go to bed. Families with cousins and siblings did it a little differently but the general pattern must have been the same.
The colossal consumption of calories after a month long of fasting is what still astounds me. How adjustable is the human body! How flexible the gastrointestinal system!
Eid for our youngsters is an enjoyable day. The teenagers have the freedom of choosing clothes; there are boutiques, fashion magazines, and beauty parlours not only for women but for men too. Consumption of food is threefold. We have caught up with the west and rock music graces the evening parties, the television programmes give us our money's worth. Fine. Change is the order of the day. My dull Eids have given way to my grandchildren's exciting ones, but the essence of abstinence was lost in the labyrinth of formality many hundred years ago. How can it be retrieved?
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