There was once a time, when the joyous festival marking the end of Ramadan, was celebrated in an age old traditional manner. Like everything else, modernization has begun taking its toll on an age old custom as more and more people with means, are setting a new trend by spending Eid holidays in hill stations or vacation spots away from their homes. To me these are the first cracks appearing in our cherished family system, which the West discarded to their detriment and are now desperately trying to revive.

I come from a golden era, where Eid was an occasion for the whole clan to get together at the home of the senior most family member. We were privileged that the hosting of this ‘reunion’ always fell to our lot. Those were the days, when modern bathrooms with hot and cold running water were far and few. Eid mornings therefore, were a pandemonium as the large rotund copper ‘hamams’ were prepped with burning coals stuffed into their central tubes to heat up the water. More hot water was provided by a constant stream of steel buckets to a fro from the Kitchen.

Bathing done, the male folk piled into cars for the trip to Badshahi Mosque, while the females headed for the pantry to put final touches on the culinary extravaganza they had already prepared the evening before. Offering prayers in the grand Moghul landmark was a tradition running in the family since ages. It was a venue, where the family would converge from the Walled City and the Suburbs to mingle as one unit. One had to arrive early at the mosque to be able to get a convenient parking spot and more importantly, a place as far forward in the huge courtyard as possible.

While the faithful prostrated themselves in submission to their Creator, the errant ones were there for a different purpose – stealing shoes and picking pockets. It was for this reason that we wore old footwear and did not carry any wallets in our pockets. Occasionally one of these individuals was caught and soundly thrashed by the public and the mosque management.

I was the youngest child in my immediate family and therefore considered fair game. My first trial was the ‘sherwani’, the wearing of which was considered compulsory. There would have been nothing wrong in wearing one, had it not been made from my great grandfather’s purple and green ‘angarkha’. My appeals for mercy and even tears were ignored as I was stuffed into the dress, amidst snickers from my eldest sibling (who had outgrown this torture). The second ordeal came immediately after the first. I would back away like a cornered animal as my mother advanced upon me with a ‘surmay dani’. Needless to say that I shed the ‘sherwani’ and washed off the ‘surma’ immediately on returning from the mosque.

Prayers ended and ‘hugging’ done, the entire clan would move to our house for a ‘belly splitting’ breakfast of ‘pooris’, ‘shami kebabs’, ‘bhaji’ and ‘sevian’. We would however be looking expectantly at the next event on the ‘program’ - ‘Eidi’. The saying ‘every rose has a thorn’ was manifested in all its truthfulness during this ritual as we became unwilling victims of the ‘kissing aunts trio’. These were my mother’s cousins, who had somehow imbibed the notion that handing over ‘Eidi’ to a youngster was incomplete without planting a wet kiss on both cheeks. We considered this humiliating and unmanly, but the prospect of pocketing the handful of currency was incentive enough to bear the indignity.

No ‘Eid’ was complete without the ‘Beggars’ and the equally persistent ‘Taarwala’, the ‘Dakwala’ and the ‘Meter Reader’. To arrive and depart from the Badshahi Mosque, one had to first run the gauntlet of the ‘Beggar Horde’ that occupied the steps, pathways and parking lots. This was a test of one’s temper as they plucked at clothes and body to get attention. Back home, we would be set upon by groups of annoyingly persistent individuals demanding and in most cases getting their ‘reward’. These were the government employees, who delivered telegrams, mail and noted our meter readings.

As I sit immersed in these nostalgic memories, I can hear laughter and the pitter patter of small feet, as family members begin arriving at my home for the Eid Holidays from in and around Islamabad. Eid festivities done, the house will once again be silent, as we recommence our daily grind waiting for the next Eid to arrive.


The writer is a historian.