Dr Ajaz Anwar remembers what a usual Eid day was like, back in the day
For the affluent, every day is an Eid day. But the spirit behind the Eid-ul Fitr is that the rich and the poor embrace each other and share every blessing bestowed upon them by Allah. The Ramazan fasting is meant for the rich to know how hard it is to stay hungry all day long. Fidya, fitrana and zakat are meant to share one’s money with the have-nots.
It is a duty for the elders and earning members of the community. For the children, it is simply a feast to enjoy and revel.
Not too long ago, tailor Fazl Elahi would take measurements for children’s clothes and promise to deliver them custom-stitched a day ahead of the Chand Raat. However, he did not have the time to properly iron them or shake the thread pieces still sticking to the apparels.
The whole populace remembered the need to buy new shoes only on the Chand Raat. If the Eid was announced after the 20th of the month, salaries were paid in advance; it’s another matter that you then had to wait for a good 40 days before you’d be paid the next salary.
All markets and bazaars would have a lot of hustle and bustle. Eid cards bearing images of the crescent under which hands were seen in prayer position were posted many days in advance. Some cards had photographs of leading film artistes along with heart diagrams pierced with arrows. Images of the Old Lahore were also popular. With the coming of e-cards, very few cards are now sent by the regular post.
Ladies applied henna to their hands in delicate, intricate designs. Vermicelli is now available readymade in the market, but back in the day it was prepared at home. In fact, the Eid preparations reached their peak the night before.
On a corner of the Nicholson Road, a sweetmeat seller displayed his brightly coloured products, further highlighted by silver foil, and textured with pistachios, almonds and raisins. The large round metal plates were arranged in stepped manner, reaching to roof of the shop. Precariously perched between the greasy, sugary merchandise, the seller would hold the thick rope lowered from the roof to maintain his balance while assorting and weighing each order.
The customers, not used to queues like the ants, would throng his shop. Other delicacies such as jalebis were seen being roasted live in the big cauldron, often along the filthiest sewerage. These were in bright vermillion red colours. Back then, no one had heard of food colours.
The item was then lowered in vessels soaked in thick, generously sugary liquid which added weight to it. The rule is that the more sugary and oily the product is, the more nourishing it is. Under the ancient banyan tree, Phajja had set up his furnace where he’d prepare pakoras and katlammas.
At sehri time, a number of teams of volunteers, carrying large drums, would wake up the entire region’s people — even those who weren’t going to fast. On the Eid day, they’d go door to door, asking for alms. Even the gutter or sewerage cleaners never seen around would show up, with their long bamboo sticks. The postman would make sure he’d deliver the cards and letters on Eid day only. (Telegram had become defunct, otherwise I’m sure the telegram man too would seize the opportunity.)
Old house servants also turned up out of nowhere. Even the old ladies who sew cotton quilts in winters made sure to visit and bless the grandchildren. The mashki, who would sprinkle water in the street in the front, would also drop by, that is if he were still alive. Incidentally, he was called bahishti, meaning one who is destined for paradise.
Before you’d step out for Eid prayers, all dressed up in neat, freshly starched clothes and wearing some itr or perfume, it was a tradition to eat something sweet. Remember, only the Satan fasts on the Eid day.
Usually, the Eid congregations took place outside the city, in open grounds, so that large numbers of people could gather and pray and, later, greet one another. It is wrong to hold the Eid prayers inside the mosques. Eid gah is always outside a city.
One Eid gah from the times of Emperor Jehangir existed along the Railway Colony on Mayo Road, near Garhi Shahu. You’d go by one route and return by the other, so that you could exchange greetings with more people. In the modern times, cities have become too large to be habitable. In hadith, it is prescribed that when a settlement becomes too large, new settlements should be made. This is meant to control crime because in small areas people know one another well. Also, diseases don’t spread quickly in clean areas. (It is on record that this particular hadith was discussed by Mussolini with Allama Iqbal during the latter’s visit to Italy.) In these times of the pandemic, it is advised that social distancing is maintained and no one hugs each other.
Another Eid-day tradition was that people visited their near and dear ones, whether by rickshaws or wagons or taxis, as there was no public transport service back then.
Once, my friend Minhaj was miffed with his father. They hadn’t spoken to each other in a long time. As soon as we finished the Eid prayers, I signalled Minhaj to hug his father. He held the latter in a tight embrace, and they both broke into tears. Eid is also a day of reconciliation and forgiveness.
(This dispatch is dedicated to my childhood friend Minhaj)
The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at [email protected]