The smell of henna-filled hands clad in cloth or plastic shoppers, to prevent it from dripping and coloring the walls. Us children running around with cousins, some waiting their turn for Nani Amma to apply henna on their hands, too. Sitting on the takht (a wooden platform bed), on the side of her ga’oo takia (round pillow) she would have her pandan, from which we used to embezzle sonf (fennel seeds) and chaliya (betel nut) when she would take her siesta. The pandan would lay besides her pillow on the head side. Sometimes she would catch our hand in her sleep. At other times, we would be victoriously running away from her clutches, giggling.
I still wonder how she managed so many of us grand children from her children. We always found peace and joy at Nana Abba and Nani’s home, which would always be our final destination for all occasions – including after shopping sprees at Tariq Road as Khalid Bin Waleed Road was a walking distance away from what was then – and I guess still is – a hi-fi shopping boulevard.
“Abhi aati hoon!” Nani Amma’s call was a terror enough to freeze us where ever we were.
A hall with khaprail roof was our favourite spot for playing hide and seek, sliding from makeshift beds, quilts, pillows, chattai and dhurrie where they were stacked for house guests, who were quite frequent in those days. Brothers and sisters visiting even from the same city would be welcome to stay at least a night or so. Eating together, long conversations at night, telling stories, sitting around the aungethi (wood-burning stove) during winters. All would take cover in the same quilt, eating peanuts and pine nuts.
Perhaps, the less digital age was more humane and socially forbearing. There was hardly any incident where family and friends were not on the qui vive. Wedding ceremonies would go on for days with the whole family visiting from around the world, join in staying together – which meant three times daily meals, and other utilities and services all provided to each without the need for an event-management company. It was gala, a festival of feasts catered with love. People would let go of who had hurt whom. They would become one. All expression of grief, regret, pain, censure, or resentment; lamentation; murmuring; accusation; fault-finding would vanish with a little loving remark, a handshake following a hug, a few sobs – and the family would reunite.
On Shab-e-Baarat all family, friends and neighbours would again get together. They observed Baraat, involving in a festive nightlong vigil with prayers. I still remember Phuphi Jaan would make halwa with sooji, channa ki daal, eggs, both qatliyaan (squares ) and scented with Kewra, cardamon and cloves. She would send it to all relatives before Maghreb prayers. Chiraghan (fireworks) and the smell of halwas are memories still alive in the hippocampus.
Shab-e-Baraat was considered a major event in the Islamic calendar, where Muslims collectively worship and ask for forgiveness for their wrongdoings. It is believed to reward them with fortune for the whole year and cleanse them of their sins. In many regions, it is also a night when prayers are offered to seek forgiveness of one’s deceased ancestors.
I still can feel, hear, taste and smell these occasions vividly.
20 years back in USA, married for a year then, my friend Heidi asked me once, “When you are reminiscing about your birthplace Karachi, what is it that you miss the most?” I told her it was the sea and the sulphur smell of the air! It was as if I could still smell it then. In fact, I can smell it now!
For us children growing up in a non-digital age, Ramzan was most popular for its iftar time. When in the scorching heat of the month of June and July we would wait all day long to have pakoras (vegetable fritters), fruit compote and the red soul-refreshing sherbet from Hamdard. That last product also reminds me equally of the Naunehal magazine subscription which we used to get in routine: it was the best time-killer and educational supplement with which our bored afternoons became more passable.
Eid-ul-Fitr was awaited with vigour. The last ten days of Ramzan used to be most busy. Keeping awake on odd nights, Shab-e-qadar, praying and asking for whatever little things our small world was lacking in. Usually praying for good results at school was always top of the list. We would dose off after the Isha namaz and Ammi and Abbu would help us to bed. In the morning, it was a school day and we would be fresh, but on our way back in the school-bus we would put wet hankies soaked from the school water cooler on our faces and head to stay cool.
We would be taken for shopping to malls and bazaars, where we would shop till dead. New clothes for the last Jumma (Friday) of Ramzan with choorian (bangles) and all hair accessories. And then there would be three more dresses and accessories for all three days of Eid-ul-Fitr. With five of us children, Ammi, Abbu and household staff it used to be a long list of supplies and purchase. Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha were most anticipated holidays. It was a renewal of the whole household. Everything that one wanted was deferred to Eid. You want new clothes? “Bus Eid aa rahi hai, phir ley laina.” Beddings? “Aray bus Eid aa rahi hai.” You want to get the house painted? “In a few months Eid will be here, phir kara leyna.” All the budget would be financed near Eid.
Eid was like celebrating Life. Eid was spring. Eid was a new chapter, exciting and adventurous. Eid was the beginning and the end. Eid was celebrating Earth. Eid was celebrating Love. Eid was a validation of being! Eid would offer everything which normal days would not!
Ramzan and Eid would remind us to forget disappointments and celebrate with everyone, without financial differences. Eid was time to be with family, close and distant alike.
Dadi Amma would send a sari or shawl for Ammi which was always brightly coloured. For us she would send dried fruits, palm jaggery and butter. We would eat jaggery sprinkled on a thick layer of butter spread on hot chapatti rolled to make it easy to hold. And there would be a love letter for Abbu (her son migrated years ago from Hindustan to Pakistan) from India. Eid was a little more than rejuvenation of love and happiness.
The week before Eid was the busiest time. All last-minute details were to be executed. Curtains would be washed and hanged, cobwebs were taken off the least used areas in the house, cutlery and crockery would be examined for breakage or loss and would be replaced by buying new teacups or a set of silver spoons getting polished and glasses rewashed and stacked.
There was hardly any concept of getting edibles from the bakery, in the form of frozen food, or for that matter anything from fast food outlets in Karachi of the late 1900s. So, everything was made at home and stored. Beef shami kebabs, shakar paray, Burmese rolls – all premeditated and stored. Of course there were dishes like kala channa, dahi bardray and the iconic sheer khurma which were made fresh. Sweet meats were brought from famous Shikarpur sweets, Dacca sweets and Bhashani. These boxes of sheer sweetness were sent to or taken personally to neighbours, friends and family.
The most important ritual and obligation was to disperse zakat, fidya, and fitrana. These were calculated in the beginning of Ramzan and distributed before the dawn of Eid.
None were forgotten! The house-keepers, gardener and guard all were asked first about their needs.
Chand Raat was the most awaited time before Eid. Ammi would get all dried fruits soaked in the water especially dry dates, making sure that all would be ready and available for the Eid spread.
Men’s attire for Eid namaz were all ironed and hanged, shoes and accessories are complete and in place. We girls would put together our colorful choorian (bangles) and other accessories with our Eid clothes.
Henna would be applied and we waited impatiently for that maroon red colour on the hand to appear.
A last-minute trip to the Bazaar was on the agenda: to see the hustle and bustle more than actually buying anything.
Up until before our teenage years, we used to get our choorian at the Bazaar. The choori-wala would effortlessly put them on our wrists. Sometimes witty remarks were a part and parcel of the whole charade.
Rising early on the Eid day, showering one by one, putting on new clothes and waiting for Abbu to get back from the Eid prayers was the excitement unsurpassable. A few days ago a friend remarked broodingly; “Now we change clothes three times a day, buying and buying, needed or just needlessly, the economies of average households have expanded, but somehow it doesn’t give one the same pleasure, when we used to wait for months to buy anything new!”
It is quite right actually: shoes, clothes and books were passed on from one to another sibling. I remember wearing Ammi’s kattan (our silk) with gold threads, and ghararah in my teens to a family wedding. As Abbu and brothers would be home after Eid namaz, we would get Eidi which we could spent without any accountability.
After Eid breakfast, which was sheer khurma, shami kebab, paratha or halwa puri, Ami would also dress up and our first stop over would be Nani Ammas’, second would be Phuphi Jaan’s since our paternal grandparents were in India.
Next day all siblings of Ammi would come for lunch, and the evening was spent with friends. The third day of Eid was always an open house with all paternal side relatives having a barbecue on the roof top.
On the third night of Eid, all of us children would count our Eidi and make plans to spend it.
Then, all of a sudden, we all grew up!
Some of us got married in different cities or went abroad. Some lost touch. Some went to study in the developed world and made it their home – never making it back in time for Eid.
Technology was already in progress, then media happened. Time became scarce. Change is inevitable. We all got busy earning or looking to our children’s education. Nani Amma and Nana Abba were no more. Dadi Amma and Dada Abba passed away. The house which was more cherished than our own home was sold. We started ignoring each other because “he said that!” and “she acted that way!”
I moved to my husband’s home and wherever our postings took us.
Now there are new people, new Energies and new norms that are not so normal! The inevitable change distanced us all from our cultural heritage and family traditions.
We do celebrate Eid with the same vigour with our children and family. However; those carefree days are no more. Those unplanned meetings are a story of bygone days. Casual, spontaneous meetups are a forgotten culture. We have come to be in bondage to perfection and are impatient with each other.
Though embracing this change seems to be our last resort, yet a need for each other is still there. Those natural instincts to be in a flock are finding refuge in some who are still keeping the love alive.