By Zehra Kazmi:
Every summer vacation, my mother and aunts would drag me, and my equally unwilling cousins to Amir Nishan Market in Aligarh when they had to do some “mummy shopping’’, which basically meant buying clothes and jewelry-none of which interested us. However, the Chaand raat bazaar on the eve of Eid, I have a very vivid memory of. Shops selling ittar, bangles, clothes, and people doing last minute shopping, women getting their hands painted with henna, restaurants and hawkers serving kebabs, sewai, chaat and biryaani and a flurry of announcements and music blaring through loudspeakers- a scene that is replicated throughout the length and breadth of India. In our home in Ranchi, Amma’s standard Eid menu includes dahi bara, kebab, sewai, biryani or yakhni pulao, chholey, pakorey and chicken tikka, with small variations and additions. My father and brother would go to the local mosque to offer their Eid prayers, clad in starchy white kurta pajamas and I’d witness the frantic annual search for those long forgotten skullcaps. My favourite memory of Eid involved being handed Eidi that day. Eidi is a gift or cash present given to children (I am apparently still one and for once, I am not complaining) by the elders of the family or community. There’s nothing like the cold crispness of a note to make a kid like me happy.
Eid marks the end of Ramzan and the beginning of the month of Shawwal. An entire month of fasting and prayers finally ends with a celebration. The festival was originated by the Prophet after migrating to Medina from Mecca (hijri). Etymologically, Eid means holiday and is celebrated as a day of merriment and enjoyment. Celebrations begin with the sighting of the crescent moon or hilal and continue till the next day.
The gastronomical bonanza that Eid is, has finally arrived after a month of anticipation and fasting. Eid-ul-Fitr is often called “meethi Eid’’ in South Asian countries because of the amount and variety of sweet dishes like qiwami sewaiyaan, sheer khurma, cham cham, ras malai, halwa consumed on this occasion. The rituals and culinary options vary, depending upon which part of the world you are in. In Turkey dishes like baklava and Turkish Delights are especially popular while in Egypt Kahk cookies are served on this day. In Senegal, as everywhere else, people buy new clothes, locally known as korite. This year’s Ramzan has been particularly tough for Muslims in Europe where the fasting period extended for almost twenty hours in some countries.
Buying new clothes and celebrating may seem like all that Eid is about however it is important to keep in mind that fitra or charity is a deeply significant aspect of Eid. All Muslims who can, are required to donate to charity on Eid, failing which the celebrations are said to be incomplete. In cities like Birmingham in the UK, a makeshift Eidgah is organized where food and gifts were pegged at reasonable prices and stallholders donated generously to charity. If one were to take a stroll around Jama Masjid in Delhi, they would spot curiously long lines of people in rags at Garib Nawaz Hotel. Hundreds of homeless people are fed with 2 tandoori rotis and one bowl of mutton stew by the owners every day during Ramzan for a mere 20 rupees. Anyone can go and sponsor a meal there.
As I write this, Premchand’s Eidgah comes to mind, where little Hamid spends his Eidi on buying a pair of tongs for his old grandmother. The story etched a beautiful image of Eid in our popular consciousness, one that involved celebration but also caring for others. Ramzan has ended and so will this column. It has been quite a journey for me- one which involved learning many new things and led to a lot of self-introspection. I developed a more nuanced perspective of the many aspects that make me who I am- a liberal Indian Muslim woman, trying to make my own space. An identity that I hope finds some resonance amongst many like me. I can’t say I have found all the answers, but definitely a lot more clarity. The question of Muslim identity and culture is a dynamic and constantly evolving one. We are all struggling to truly find ourselves and perhaps that search will never end. However, I still think festivals are a beautiful time not just because they involve good food and new clothes but simply because sometimes the comfort of company and the knowledge of having done some good can leave us with our own small moments of joy.
Eid Mubarak to all of you! I hope you have a wonderful one.
This article is part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s special coverage of Ramzan this month. Follow Ramzan With Zehra for more.