“Humare Zamane Mein…” Why Eid Doesn’t Feel Festive Anymore

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“Humare Zamane Mein…” Why Eid Doesn’t Feel Festive Anymore

Illustration: Ahmed Sikander

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here are a few terrifying moments in life when we feel a palpable sense of dread and wish the ground beneath our feet would swallow us. Like writing a math paper you’re not prepared for. Or sending the screenshot of a personal conversation to the wrong person. But nothing can match the dread that engulfs you when your domestic helper announces that she wants the day off to spend Eid with her family. Your lips are saying, “Yes, of course, everyone should spend Eid with their family” but in your mind, you’re experiencing one those blood-curdling Ekta Kapoor moments that go “Nahin, nahin, nahin!”

Much as I’d happily give an arm and a leg in exchange for her to stay, I watched her leave, her cheeks glowing with the joy of not having to see her employer’s face for the next few days – pretty much my state when I leave office early on Friday evenings. With the luxury of having someone else take over the reins of the kitchen, my role on Eid has always been limited to entertaining guests. Tiresome as that sounds, this time around, I had the added responsibility of shouldering the preparations that went on behind the curtain.

Like a true warrior, I refused to be bogged down. How hard could it be?

It’s a Herculean task. Like every other meaningful custom reduced to a hollow social obligation, Eid too hits the middle class the worst. My entire day was spent oscillating between the living room and the kitchen, arranging delicacies on serving trays, parading them in front of the guests, watching them take a mouthful while my stomach growled.

All hell broke loose for my carefully calculated mental schedule when a new guest arrived before the previous one had left. While I had to quickly serve tea to one, the other was still at the bottom of the refreshments’ ladder at the juice stage. So for the next few minutes, I was forced to juggle between cups and saucers, forks and knives, glasses and juice cans. Even the guests finally leaving was also tinged with bittersweetness: I didn’t have to smile and bow at everyone, but a sink full of dirty dishes awaited me. At that moment, my heart went out to anyone who, like me, was caught in the same whirlpool of social obligations. And from whom the privilege of celebrating a festival was unquestionably snatched away.

Back in the day, we celebrated Eid because we wanted to, but now we do it because we have to.

As I did dishes in my Pakistani designer-Eid-special-wear, completely soaked in sweat, I felt an incurable longing for the simple and meaningful Eids of my childhood. A time when Eid would be inaugurated with the uncertainty of whether the budget for new clothes would be passed by the parents committee. Obviously, a few well-timed sulks would guarantee their approval and lead to my cousins and I being dressed in loose clothes, meant for kids three years older. But for us, that was hardly a deal-breaker: In fact, for our innocent middle-class minds, the bigger the size, the newer the clothes felt and evoked even more excitement and pride.

For me, the highlight of the day used to be waking up early to unpack the Eid special bakery items that I could polish off before sharing with guests. Even now I can taste the pineapple pastry from the neighbourhood bakery shop that no fancy cheesecakes or glossy marble pastries have been able to overpower. Because back then, it was never about taste. It was about the sincere struggle of making one day different from the rest; about breaking free from the routine. The Eids of my childhood weren’t spectacular or unforgettable, but they are still imprinted in my memory because at that time, the day didn’t exist as an excuse to impress others.

Unfortunately, for a lot of us now, Eid has been reduced to a routine. From being a day where I looked forward to spending time with my relatives, it’s now become a day where I loathe their arrival. Back in the day, we celebrated Eid because we wanted to, but now we do it because we have to. It’s ridiculous how a minute of exchanging greetings is preceded by a week of extensive shopping, hours of getting dolled up, and a day of backbreaking cooking, arranging serving, mandatory pleading, and then cleaning up. In all this manufactured hysteria, we hardly have any time to pause and think about the real purpose of the celebration. As a result, a festival that was originally meant to be a gesture of love and affection has now become a formal compulsion for so many of us.

Or maybe I am just complaining because I have grown up and am forced to do all the hard work, instead of the army of moms, phuppis, and khalas who would take on the bulk of work. Still, I feel as if the celebration has been stripped away.

Yet, Eid after Eid, we continue to do the same things: We focus on the cuisine and the crockery, the clothes and the makeup, but rarely, on strengthening our relationship with each other. But is letting Eid be just another generic social obligation the only way to now celebrate the festival?

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