BY DURBA GHOSH
“Mamma, why do we have to go to Bangalore on July sixth ……can we not delay it by a few more days,” pleaded my younger daughter.
Looking up from my book, I wondered what major upheaval has led her to even consider delaying the much-awaited trip to meet her elder sister after a gap of nearly seven months, and asked her what the matter was.
“Mamma, Eid may fall either on sixth or seventh of July and we will not be there to celebrate it,” cried out the offspring of Bengali-Ahom parents (who identifies herself as a Bengamese with pride).
I let out a sigh and before returning to my book told her with a hint of sarcasm, “If it is on the sixth, you can pray in the airport and if it is the next day, you can do so in the guest house.”
“But…..Mamma, where will we have Biryani and sewaiyan! You surely can’t make it at the airport or the guest house,” she continued defiantly, in a desperate bid to preserve her annual feasting right on Eid.
“No, it is not possible to change the travel plans now. We have already fixed our itinerary and made all necessary arrangements,” I replied firmly and the usually cheerful 12-year old walked away in a huff, mumbling to herself about how unfair it was to make travel plans during Eid or for that matter on any other festival.
Her rather unpredictable behaviour set me thinking about how Eid or Id-ul-Fitr has become an intrinsic part of our lives even though we never made any conscious effort to do so. The festival for us has been an occasion to celebrate with our Muslim friends—visiting their homes to greet them and sharing the various gastronomic delights—pulao, biryani, parathas, korma, kebabs, sewaiyan, phirni or zarda—prepared to mark the festivities.
I fondly recalled the visit to artist Aminul Haque’s family home in Guwahati’s South Sarania where his entire family, particularly his soft-spoken beautiful mother, would rush out to welcome us with warmth and cheer. His mother is no more but we continue to celebrate Eid at Aminul and Nilima’s home.
Besides as a foodie family, my two girls and other half have over the years made it mandatory that on any day—preceding or following—the festival, biryani and sewaiyan had to be on the menu at home. Eid has to be celebrated by feasting!!
Eid was, however, not all about feasting for me when I was growing up as a young girl in the Jharkhand capital of Ranchi (then in undivided Bihar). An apparently idyllic small town then, Ranchi comprised a mixed population of Hindus, Muslims, Christians and even Sikhs which witnessed a sharp communal divide in the run-up to the Ram Janambhumi dispute and demolition of Babri Masjid.
Bonhomie and good-will between members of different communities at the personal level was strong, but as is wont, mischief makers made periodic attempts to create rift and a palpable tension prevailed. This was particularly pronounced during Ram Navami and Muharram when processions were taken out and trouble was sure to follow.
This was, however, not the case during the festival of Id-ul-Fitr. This particular day was an occasion to celebrate friendship, bonding and harmony since the first day of the month of Ramzan to the grand finale of festivities following the sighting of the much-awaited sliced moon. The memories, particularly those of the town’s bazaar, are etched deep in my mind and come every Eid, they are sure to make an appearance in the wistful alleys of my reminiscenes.
The town has a Main Road with rows of shops on either side and behind these were lanes and dingy byelanes leading to two areas with a predominant Muslim population—Hindpiri and Karbala. During the month of Ramzan, the road wore a deserted look during the day but as the hour of Iftar neared, life slowly began to stir with groups forming outside shops to break their fasts. Prayers followed and after the customary wholesome food was eaten, the streets began to buzz with life. Shopkeepers lined their wares and these were indeed a sight to behold!
Shimmering festoons and glowing coloured lights spread across the entire stretch of the four kilometre road as a canopy….mounds of sewaiyan of different colours and shapes too…rich, brightly coloured, heavily sequinned and embroidered clothes, fez and skull caps lined in rows….scent of attars and heaps of jasmine sold on carts, aromas of the appetising kebabs and smoky tandoors wafting in from the road side stalls…sound of qawwalis drifting from the distant mosques–Main Road during the month of Ramzan transformed into the dream land of Arabian Nights for me.
Adults complained of traffic being diverted and a public road being turned into a market place but for me it was no less exotic than Sarojini Naidu’s ‘Bazaars of Hyderabad’ though I hardly ever bought anything from the Eid bazaar.
“Mamma, can we celebrate Eid before sixth or can we have an Iftar party at least,” daughter dearest breaks into my trip down memory lane.
This girl surely does not give up and I made a feeble attempt to explain the finer nuances of keeping Roza and the philosophy behind fasting but Miss Know-All cut me short with a smug, “Oh No….children, the elderly, sick and pregnant women are not allowed to fast. Even you don’t have to fast as you are diabetic.”
Well, one can’t stop a determined child from achieving her goal and so its time I start planning my Eid platter and ring in the celebrations.
Durba Ghosh is a senior journalist with PTI, Guwahati, Assam (India). She is mother of two daughters, married to a bureaucrat, with a passion for the written word, appreciates art, gourmet food and travelling to quaint and not the usual tourist haunts.