Eidul Azha has come and gone leaving behind a down beat feeling that I cannot put my finger on. I fervently hope that it is only my imagination, but the festival this year appeared to lack the spark that it usually generates. Even sellers of sacrificial animals felt the change amidst consensus that business was not as brisk as in previous times. They attributed the phenomenon to a large influx of animals in the market and financially handicapped buyers.

This year saw an escalation in private post Eid barbeques, evident from stacks of grills and bagged charcoal that mushroomed in and around Islamabad and Lahore. It now appears that this culinary event has become an inseparable part of the three day festivities.

There was a time in my childhood days when goats and sheep were the prime Eid sacrifice.  With my coming of age, beef appeared on the menu and became popular as a collective sacrifice, where a number of individuals could share the cost. The past few years have seen another creature added to the list – the Camel.

I have never seen a camel being slaughtered, but can assume that considering the animal’s body structure, the exercise must require special skills. Nonetheless, I have consumed barbequed camel meat during my professional excursions into the rural areas of Southern Punjab and found it to be savory and fat free.

Eidul Azha drags another individual center stage. This is the butcher or ‘Qasai’. As Eid day approaches, families put their heads together on how to secure the early services of this elusive professional. For the ‘Qasai’, the occasion is a windfall, wherein even the most stiff necked of his patrons turn to jelly in order to secure favor.

Modern times and technology has also morphed the way these butchers do business. When the man designated to come to our house did not turn up, my better half sent a member of my family in search of one. On reaching the meat shop, he found a young man sitting on a counter interviewing other applicants. This interview was a masterpiece of how business should be managed. It included questions on the genus and number of animals; the applicant’s address and telephone number; did the applicant possess a car (I wondered where this was heading – was the man working out numbers based on the answer or was he simply securing a pick and drop); the number of individuals or domestic help that was available at the premises; the availability of requisite auxiliary supplies like mats etc. and presence of a water source at the spot.

As the interview ended, the young man dialed a phone number and conveyed the data to someone at the other end. This whole exercise ended with the issuance of a chit showing the time slot when the ‘sacrifice team’ would be paying a flying visit (squeezed in between other appointments), to do the bare needful and move on, leaving the back breaking task of skinning and cutting up the animal to ‘other individuals and domestic help’. It was at this point that the interview held only a few minutes earlier began making sense to my relative.

There are also places in the Federal Capital and other cities where one can buy a sacrificial animal and leave it in the custody of the meat shop owner, duly tagged. One can then just drive over on Eid day, monitor the sacrifice and take the meat home after adding a substantial amount to the butcher’s pocket.

Eidul Azha also resurrects a horde of amateur would be butchers, who can be found roaming the city, carrying wooden chopping blocks and knives. Hiring one of these groups is like asking a cobbler to do a mason’s work. We once committed this cardinal mistake in Islamabad, only to find the result unrecognizable.

I chose the thread of this week’s column as a public service exercise so that it may benefit my readers in preparing for the next year’s sacrifice. I now bid you adieu for I can hear my next door neighbor (who failed to acquire the services of a butcher on Eid day) calling frantically to come to his aid as he rather impetuously decided to perform the sacrifice himself - sans the ‘Qasai’.

The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.