Eid-ul-Fitr used to rate the highest as festival of the year in our childhood, followed closely by Eid-ul-Azha and Shab-e-Barat. There were no fashion events or Eid special magazines, no concerts, no Fantasy Kingdoms, and sadly the Pahela Baishak celebration was very small compared to the Pahela Baishakh of today.
Activities for the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr would start around the middle of Ramadan when we would visit New Market to pick out fabrics for our Eid attire. Amma would look up the trends of the day. Though we were a very middle-class family, her fashion sense was high-brow. She had a flair for clothes and fashion. Of all the clothes made for us in a year, the Eid dress was the most special. So she would flip through Women’s Own and Women Only and decide what to make for the girls, i.e. my sister and me.
There was a lot of going back and forth to New Market, as window shopping was the order of the day, especially before any major purchase was made. It was fun as we, the kids, would accompany our mothers and khalas in Eid shopping. We would be treated with “mishti laal supari” as compensation for our aching legs as we went from store to store. Cola or chips were not on the list of treats, as fizzy drinks were considered to be far too expensive and packaged chips were nonexistent at the time. Once in a while, when it was well past the lunch hour, we would get a treat of cream roll from the Olympia Bakery. The fat, chunky, fried farm chicken that is readily available at every corner of the market was not even in the dictionary of the stores in our childhood.
The other major Eid activity apart from shopping was spring cleaning. Curtains and bedcovers were washed and ironed, and every nook and cranny of our abode was cleaned during the last week of Ramadan. The night before Eid there was a mad rush to de-clutter the house—the tops of the chest of drawers, meat safes, and sideboards had to be made spotless. Polishing the silver “atar dan” was also a last minute activity. The shemai—“deemer jorda shemai” and the “dudh shemai”—was cooked well past midnight. Back then, there was no trend of dahi bara and chotpoti. Only Nana Bhaiya very creatively introduced “Murgir Nonta Shemai” to bring a change of palate in the treats for the stream of guests who visited on Eid day. In my grandfather’s house, there would be fried meat slices as a variation. We would call it “gosh bhaji” Now I know they were strips of sirloin steaks. The morning started with a lot of activity. Everyone had to take a bath before the Eid namaz. On a regular day, we would take a bath in the afternoon with Lifebuoy. I think this was partly because it was more economical and partly because my parents believed the carbolic element of Lifebuoy would treat the germs better. However, on this particular day of Eid, we were given a fragrant soap such as Yardley or Cussons. Of course, there were one or two members in the family who were rebels. In our case, it was Abba. He, in my opinion, was the party-pooper. Walking around in his pajamas and vest, with a cigarette in hand, and drinking his strong tea, it was his way of announcing he hadn’t a care for rituals of any kind.
After we took our baths and put on our newly tailored clothes, we would wait for our hair to dry, and in the meantime, my two brothers with Nana Bhaiya or Dada would go for the prayers accompanied by the male help. Abba would be reading a book. I saw no reason for Abba to be so defiant, but this was his way of showing his non-conformism. He would sit there right in the middle of the drawing room, dangling his legs as he read a book. I miss those rebels in a way, as everyone is a conformist these days. Once in a while, I see an actor or two saying in the Eid magazines that they sleep through Eid day, as they are burnt out from all the shooting for Eid specials.
In our childhood, there was not even “Ramzaner oi Rojar Sheshey elo Khushir Eid” on the television. Even though television came to Bangladesh around ’65, it took some 20 years for it to become a part of the regular household. We ran up to the roof to see a sliver of “Eid er chand” in the sky. The shouts from neighbouring roofs and gardens summoned the Eid of the following day. I cannot recollect any Eid sighting committee’s verdict that the moon has been sighted. For us, everything had to be palpable.
The Eid meals were cooked in an abundance as each family had at least four children. The menu was the usual white polau, chicken korma, and beef rezala. The koftas and the shami kebabs were not made on Eid day, as it would have to be fried in heaps. Neither did our Amma, khalas and phuppus try something new with dishes from a different cuisine, like chicken chow mein, pasta or Thai papaya salad. These recipes were unknown to them back in the day.
On Eid day, a mama or chacha would have his pocket filled with one rupee notes. He would offer it to the first one who hit the floor to do the salam. Soon all the cousins would line up to take turns to earn the Eidi. With the prized note, we bought bittersweet milk lollies from the boxwallah ice cream man. We were usually not allowed to have those ice creams, but on this particular occasion, the adults made an exception; they looked the other way.
In those days the cooking oil of choice was ghee and dalda. So by the end of two meals and many snacks, we were so tired and our tummies were so full of rich food, we would suffer bouts of acidity. We would be given ajwain to put down the reflux.
As we returned home from Dada Bari, the youngest sibling was usually fast asleep, and the rebel father would carry her on his shoulder. With droopy eyes, I would crash on the bed. Drifting in and out of sleep, I was made to change my much admired. sequenced or laced Eid dress and had to get into the worn-out, old bedclothes. There were no fancy pajamas or nighties for us back then.
On the night of Eid, I was Cinderella who was changed back into her worn-out clothes when the clock struck 12. In my dreams, I dreamt of the fun I had dancing away the hours away during Eid day.