I can confidently say that my family celebrates Eid in the most typical of ways. My father usually likes to leave town, to avoid the excessive eating and formal socializing that accompanies the festival. But if we are at home on the big day, we—my father, my brother and I—make one of our bi-annual trips to the mosque at around seven-thirty for the morning prayers. The mosque in our neighbourhood is small, and so finding a space amongst the lines of believers involves much polite jostling. Once everyone is neatly arranged, the prayer begins. The word ‘follower’ best describes me at this moment: I simply follow what everyone is doing. The mellifluous Arabic flits through my mind like music in a language I don’t understand. My body, filled with hesitation, mimics the rhythms—the bend-up-prostrate-up-bend—of those around me. We are a heaving mass of collective devotion. Once the prayer finishes, our mosque’s maulana—chaplain, kind of—delivers his khutba—sermon, kind of. He is a gentle, mild-mannered man whose patience during my Arabic lessons has made me his lifelong admirer. His khutba is, like him, short and gentle: he entreats God for blessings for newlyweds, peace for Palestinians, food for the hungry etc. We punctuate each entreaty with a dullish ‘Aameen’ (‘Amen’, kind of). Then we stand and we hug each other, three manly hugs each. (Women do not attend service at this mosque.)
Following the prayers, with a sigh of relief, my father leads my brother and me to our first-cousin’s house. Here, the festival begins for us, which is to say, we eat shaami kebabs and kheer for breakfast. We then make our rounds, wishing family and—my brother and I—collecting our dues (on Eid, grown-ups ‘wish’ their young ones by giving them money. When we were kids, we considered this an opportunity to calculate love, our monetized love.) Lunch is usually a big family affair: our family or one of my father’s siblings’ families invites everyone over to their house for a good old-fashioned bout of, what can be badly translated as, ‘bone-breaking’ or ‘bone-shattering’, which is to say, eating lots of red meat. The rest of the day is spent lazing in the watery semi-delirium experienced by people who’ve consumed copious amounts of over-spiced mutton. In the daze, guests and well-wishers come and go, eating along the way, ‘gup-shupping’ (‘chatty gossiping’, kind of), and re-forging old relations in the time-honoured custom of shared tea drinking. Everyone is left with a satisfied smile. Yes, this has been a typical Eid.
Editor, Vintage Books
Random House India