It is not easy to come out of the Bakra Eid mode, irrespective of whether you can’t wait another moment for a serving of bhuna hua gosht or hate the smell of meat. The waste management officials have to work overtime on Eid-ul-Azha, or so they say.
It has already been a few days since Eid, but the exchange of uncooked meat-trays between neighbours and relatives continues. So do the get-together parties in the evening - defined by cholesterol-heavy delicacies like siri paye, nihari, and so on. But the mission to sate the appetites of meat-lovers gets underway a couple of days before the big day - in the cattle market.
Haggling for a healthy goat or whera (ox) in the cattle market is a moment that meat lovers wait for an entire year. One dividend of Eid-ul-Azha is the abundant availability of red meat - a time to rejoice. One just wishes that these impressively huge cows and highly decorated goats did not seem so out of reach to the general public.
This year it was the same as every year. The cattle market I went to, Shahpur Kanjran, was unbearably smelly. A heavy downpour a day before had made things even worse. It is one of the biggest cattle markets that spring up in Lahore a couple of weeks before Eid-ul-Azha. Buying a sacrificial animal required more patience and resilience this year in the face of ever-rising inflation and heavy rains.
Soaked in sweat, the sellers had come mostly from the outskirts of Lahore. They were in a miserable condition, with no electricity and safe drinking water. The few who could afford it, had their power generators running, at least for a couple of hours in a day. Already hard-pressed under the harsh working conditions, they were in no mood to give even a small concession to the buyers.
They had many stories of how the local administration added to their problems, instead of helping them out. "Kuj na puchho" (Don’t ask for you can’t imagine what we are going through), said one, who had badly bruised his arm while unloading cows from a truck. He was looking for medical help while he spoke to me.
While it seemed that the sellers had somehow adjusted to whatever was available, buyers were helpless in the face of hard-bargain sellers and unforgiving humidity and heat. A slight miscalculation could land you in a pond of muck or cover your feet covered in cow-dung. The enormous expanse of the cattle market offered us no respite from the vagaries of weather -- at one moment it would turn cloudy and at another, sun would blaze down unmercifully on the make-shift market.
On top of it, inflation has hit us hard this year. In the past few years, an average-sized goat was available for around Rs30,000. This time a goat of roughly the same size had a price tag of no less than Rs40,000. A smaller cow which had cost Rs55,000 just last year, was available for no less than Rs75,000.
The sellers, feeling the effect of inflation on their business, were not ready to be moved by references to previous years’ prices. "Ainay paisyan whitch tey bakri da bachha wi nai aunda!" (One can’t even buy a baby goat with this amount of money now), a seller said, as he walked away to bring fodder for his goats.
The duration of haggling was cut shorter in most cases. Either you gave in to the seller’s logic or the seller gave up. One knew that the real test of nerves was yet to come -- hiring a qasai (butcher), the king of Eid-ul-Azha.
When it comes to qasai, there’s always some uncertainty in the air, increasing manifold as the day approaches. Even after one has booked a qasai, one’s still not sure that the most sought after person will actually arrive at the promised time and at the promised place. In many cases he conveniently doesn’t.
On Eid day, history most certainly repeats itself. One is not even bothered to wish eid to the man standing next to one. One’s only concerned about one’s qasai. And it’s a long, excruciating wait. It starts with one jumping whenever the doorbell rings, eventually turning into one frantically trying to contact him in whichever way possible. If one is lucky he will receive one’s call. If not, he will never call back. In which case, one will be literally going from door to door begging for a qasai who is too busy even to respond. Bakra Eid has just begun.
Fast forward to the present day, most people still have their refrigerators stuffed with meat. I am one of them.