By Dr Kharrum Sadiq
As I stood in the Service station on the last day of Ramadan, waiting for the AA to come and help; I started thinking of the last time I had an eventful Eid; jogging down the memory lane takes me back to the year 1992. For some strange reason, 1992 seems to be the pivotal year in my life for many pleasant and unpleasant memories.
Fresh from Pakistan’s cricket team World Cup debacles in 1992, the family decided to meet up in our native town, Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, for Eid ul Fitr (the festival to honour Ramadan). It was after 10 years that I was seeing my cousins at Eid. My Uncles, Aunts and the families travelling from all over Pakistan to be there at my Grandfather’s Haveli (family home).
My parents decided to leave for the destination on the 29th of Ramadan. The journey was 8 hours long. It was through one of the most barren but unique landscapes of the Northern regions of Pakistan; rumour has it that Gregory Peck’s ‘Mackenna’s Gold’ was shot in that terrain.
The temperatures rising up to 45C with dry and scintillating heat, but we were all so excited that it did not matter. We were still unsure when Eid would be, as the Islamic calendar is lunar; it relies on the 1st Moon sighting.
Every year, it is the same story about Eid; will it be 29 or 30 fasts? It all streams down to the Moon-sighting, after the Iftar on the 29th of Ramadan. That’s why when you ask a Muslim about Eid, he will come out with two possible dates, not one.
In the 90s, we all use to pray for clear skies on the 29th of Ramadan. Most families would go on to their rooftops with binoculars or without, trying to look for the slightest crescent not usually visible by the naked eye. It used to be a spectacle.
In my native town, the authorities made people know of Iftar (breaking fast) by shooting fake cannonballs; the bang could be heard for miles. The rest of the country used to and still relies on Adaan ( Calling of prayers) for breaking the fast.
We reached our destination around 4pm; the other families had already arrived. It was heart-warming to see the hustle bustle; my aunties were busy getting the clothes ready in anticipation of Eid. It is a cultural norm that we all need to have new clothes ready for Eid with matching footwear. In the last 10 days of Ramadan, the shops are stormed by people doing the ‘Eid shopping’ predominantly for clothes and footwear. The shops are bustling with energy, and bazaars (local open-air shopping areas) are decorated to welcome the shoppers.
One of the main highlights of the evening leading to Eid, also called Chand Raat (The night of the Moon), are Glass Bangles, colourful, vibrant with a panache. And the night is not complete without Mehndi (Henna) tattoos; nowadays, it’s done by experts in street stalls; back in the day, it was done by the husbands creating designs on their spouse’s hands. Chand Raat used to be an event people waited for the whole year.
My uncle had already arranged for the Bangles and Mehndi. Our caretakers were ready to prepare the desserts for Eid day. The main feature is vermicelli cooked in milk with dates. No Eid is complete without it, along with Chickpea salad, lots of chutneys and a glass of Orange, Mango or Lemon Squash. The breakfast was served after the Eid Prayers in the morning.
We were all waiting for the final verdict on Eid. Would it be ‘tomorrow or Day after?’
In our town, there was the tradition of letting know of Eid by having the Cannonballs fired at 10pm, three fires meant waiting for another day for Eid, but if there were 4, it meant Eid, the next day.
Eid ul Fitr is a highly awaited festivity for the children; every child is given what we called, Eidi (token money) by the elders. It was an opportunity for the kids to make some money.
On the day of Eid, all the relatives congregate at one place, usually the one house closer to the mosque. We are all obligated to pay a charitable donation, ‘Fitrana’, paid per person before we go to the mosque. It is to help the less fortunate, showing compassion and empathy, and demonstrating your gratefulness for all God has bestowed us with. In the UK it is about £6 a person.
After finishing prayers, the worshippers embrace each other three times, saying ‘Eid Mubarak.’ The whole congregation then goes to the Eldest relative/ friend house, where all are served breakfast; the group can be as big as 50 and as small as 2.
Anticipating all of this, I was all ready to embrace Eid day. We had our Iftari and were all waiting patiently for the Cannon fires…. Tik Tok Tik Tok…
My cousins were immersed in their social games. In contrast, I sat with my elders in the garden on the traditional Charpais (wooden beds), listening to the stories, humour, gossip, and Eid plans.
It was then that I heard the first Bang right on the dot; our faces lit up, with a gap of 5 seconds, another bang and then another. The excitement was contagious. We all awaited the fourth bang, five seconds and nothing, another five seconds went by, nothing; as our shoulders drooped, we heard the last BANG, and the atmosphere erupted ….Yay, it’s Eid……
The whole system was re-energised, caretakers started preparing the food. My aunts started getting the clothes ready, and my uncles started preparing to create the most amazing Mehndi (Henna) tattoos for my aunts….
Whilst thinking of the Eid celebrations in Pakistan, it still brings tears to my eyes. It’s not just Eid; it’s the gratitude, the interaction, the bonding, and a way to thank you for the gifts bestowed onto us…
As I write the last lines of this blog, I hear my wife in the kitchen, chatting to my sons about the preparations for the next day. I hear the door knock; it’s my brother and nephew who have come to their ‘Elders’ house to celebrate Eid ul Fitr. Finally, I hear the Evening Azaan, its time for the last Iftaar of the year; it’s Eid tomorrow …. Let the celebrations begin…
This year, we know will be very different. Eid is so much about celebrating and connecting with friends and families, gathering together and expressing gratitude for one another. This year, we must all remember to follow the lockdown guidance and avoid meeting indoors. If we can all do our bit in stopping the spread of COVID-19, we will soon be able to embrace each other again.
Eid Mubarak, Everyone…