Shaukat Ajmeri

It's Eid and you don't have goggles?

5-minute read

Eid ul Fitr is perhaps the only Muslim festival that is overtly celebratory. It spells fun and joy unreservedly. As children we must have perhaps known this intuitively. Fasting and prayer were not yet part of our life. We were free. Free of dogma, free from the burdens of identity and religion. Free from the obligation to please God.

No wonder on Eid day at the break of dawn when the elders of the house had gone to the masjid for khutba we children would bound upstairs to the terrace and literally jump for joy, shouting “Eid hai, Eid hai”. It was like a cathartic hi-jinks to kick start the day that held so much promise: new clothes, eidies, sweets, food and friends.

But when we grew a little older, the inner child seemed to have disappeared; the urgency of announcing Eid from rooftops was gone. Nonetheless, the excitement remained undiminished. Now there was an important addition to the list of delights to look forward to: girls. At that pubescent age when we were hesitantly discovering our sexuality, the girls commanded our single-minded focus. They were to die for, or so we assumed. We friends outdid one another in trying to impress them. New clothes tailored to the latest small-town fashion was of course a given, but there was one important fashion accessory you just could not step out of the house without: sunglasses, or “goggles” as we quaintly used to call them. If you were not wearing a pair you might as well be socially dead. We would wear them long after the sun had gone down, hoping to bump into our imagined sweetheart under the cover of darkness.

That never happened despite our best contrivances. Apart from making a fashion statement there was nothing much going for us. We thought we looked handsome, but secretly knew that the girls had a better sense than to fall for our looks alone. Besides we had no clue how our preening played out on them. We must have cut such comic figures that, now I suspect, they must have had a good laugh behind our backs. And even if they had laughed in our faces we were too self-absorbed to notice it.

This is not to say that the girls did not have an eye for the boys, only that we were not those fortunate ones. Or at least not yours truly. Girls by nature are more fashion conscious and on Eid they too would turn out in their finest. Their wayward lipsticks and lurid clothes were matched by our over-the-top hairstyle and extra wide bell-bottoms. Not to mention our over-sized goggles, of course. But we took all our fashion excesses – such as they were – in our ungainly stride. The girls I suspect must have enjoyed all the attention we showered on them but they would never let on, and fools that we were, we didn’t know what to make of it. We wondered “what do these girls want?” Some of us still do.

We had no idea then that all of us in our touching innocence were playing out the primal dance of the sexes, driven by millions of years of genetic memory and desire. Even if we knew we couldn’t have cared less. For us the goal was simple: to make a good impression. And Eid offered us the rare opportunity to cross social inhibitions and we boldly approached the girls we had a thing for. Just one fleeting look, or a quick handshake under the pretext of “Eid Mubarak” was enough to last for a lifetime.

Flush with our conquest, our next order of business was to go to this fancy restaurant called Coffee House. It was once a year ritual and no Eid was complete without it. It seemed fancy to us because it was beyond the reach of our middle-class standards. Although some of us were quite well-off we lacked the sophistication of spending money in style. To our young minds Coffee House represented the zenith of high class. Our annual sojourn within its portals was our attempt to stake claim to it.

We would enter the place gingerly, feeling out of place all the time. There was no need to look at the menu, we knew what to order: masala dosa and coffee. They served the dosa with forks and knives – which to us was both a novelty and a challenge, hence its appeal. Holding fork and knife in the wrong hands we perfected the art of eating like the agnrez. We must have made quite a racket clanging silver against china trying to show-off and at the same trying not slip up. But invariably, someone would, either dropping a knife or toppling a plate. And you would feel embarrassed with schadenfreude written all over your face, and grateful that you are not that person.

Drinking coffee was also a rare treat. We were weaned on tea and toast, coffee was something only high society people drank. Coffee House served it in style with separate pots for coffee, milk and sugar. Making our own coffee – after the hazardous dosa session – was no less fraught. Anything could go wrong, and inevitably did. On one occasion it happened to me: I dropped a glass and broke it, and with it my well cultivated sense of self came crashing down. It would have been Okay if loss of face was the only price I had to pay. Apparently the fancy restaurant had the “you break it, you buy it” policy. However, the episode was soon forgotten, but never forgiven. Paying for that broken glass still hurts. The sheer injustice of it is seared in the subconscious.

Many Eids have come and gone since but none seems to hold that magic of times past. The young innocent hearts and minds have long been colonized by the ways of the world. Then we wanted to grow up fast. Today we wistfully hanker after those careless days. Such are the delicious contradictions of life. Why can’t we just be?

woh firaaq aur woh wisaal kahaaN
woh shab-o-roz-o-maah-o-saal kahaaN

thee woh ik shaKHs ke tasavvur se
ab woh raanaai-e-KHayaal kahaaN

aisa aasaaN naheeN lahoo rona
dil meiN taaqat jigar meiN haal kahaaN

fikr-e-duniyaaN meiN sar khapaata hooN
maiN kahaaN aur ye wabaal kahaaN

– Mirza Ghalib