Virtues of Eid

Ghazi Salahuddin
Sunday, Apr 14, 2024

We have this weekend to deal with our Eid hangover. Most of us had a hectic time, doing the Eid drill. And we should be grateful for this pause in our routines in these times of distress. But what happens now, across an important landmark in our calendar of events?

During Ramazan, we hear about plans put on hold. The period after Eid promises new beginnings. For instance, opposition political parties are bracing themselves for agitation against the present arrangement. A new alliance is seen to be in the offing.

There are ominous warnings of disasters and disruptions by soothsayers who have rather excitedly interpreted the dark tidings of the total solar eclipse that occurred almost on the eve of our festival of joy. The prognosis is unreservedly bleak – and it relates to the world at large.

That the world is in turmoil is written on the wall, if not in the stars. There is still no respite from the great humanitarian catastrophe taking place in Gaza, which alone is a testament to cosmic disarray. Intimations of retaliatory strikes against Israel by Iran, after Israel’s bombing of its embassy in Damascus, are quite in sync with the predictions made by astrologers.

In addition, there are celestial signs of natural disasters. Fortune-tellers are invoking the threat of earthquakes and floods and freak weather all across the globe. We, in Pakistan, also have a taste of it. In addition to unseasonal rains in other parts of the country, there is a sense of emergency in Balochistan.

Now, against the backdrop of this dreary scenario, I find some compensation in what I would call the virtues of Eid. Not so much in a religious context but in the social and cultural celebration of togetherness that this festival provides. It is an occasion when families get together. Members of the family who are stationed elsewhere, particularly within the country, attempt to travel to their parental homes and join other members of the family in celebrating Eid.

Relatives residing in the same city feel a compulsion to get together and catch up with each other on what has been happening to them. Otherwise, such gatherings do not normally take place and contacts are maintained virtually or through cursory social media interactions.

Another dimension of this celebration for mostly lower middle-class families is the search for entertainment in public places. In Karachi, the hordes head towards the sea or the zoo or the local versions of a theme park. A friend who was out on the streets this week said that the Eid crowds portrayed the changing demographics of the city. He noticed an almost total absence of women in these crowds.

The intention here is not to offer a report of the Eid festivities. News channels were busy doing this, though in a very superficial manner. My focus is on how festivals like Eid can contribute to social cohesion and restore personal relationships. This means that there should be conscious efforts to improve the social and cultural manifestations of a festival in these digital times. However, I have no idea as to how this can be done. Perhaps the authorities can facilitate the holding of public gatherings by strengthening the cultural and recreational infrastructure.

We seem to be lacking the art of celebrating a festival in a collective sense. Our crowds readily become rowdy. Essentially, it does not seem possible for all classes, with families, to jostle together in a public space and preserve the aura of civility and a sense of cheer. Ours is not an inclusive society, a fact that informs the fragmentation of our society.

I have some idea of how major festivals are observed in other cultures. The most exciting and extensive, I think, is Iran’s Nowruz which is also celebrated in some other countries of Central Asia. It is an ancient festival that marks the beginning of the spring and the Persian New Year. Nowruz begins around March 21, with the spring equinox and the celebrations continue for 13 days.

One memory I have, from a visit to Tehran many, many years ago, is of large crowds celebrating the tradition of Chaharshanbeh Suri, the last Wednesday of the year. There were men, mostly young, jumping over large bonfires late in the evening. This was meant to cleanse the spirit from the malaise of the previous year.

There is the Chinese New Year, which is also a spring festival and secular. It begins with a new moon that appears between January 21 to February 20. It lasts for a week and the entire country is turned upside down with so many millions travelling from one place to another.

Anyhow, we do things differently. And we must be grateful for the excuse that the Eid days provide for being together with family and friends and try to build relationships that, ultimately, will be our redemption. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed our conversations with particularly nephews and nieces who have done well in their professions. I had a number of separate sessions with very bright individuals and, thankfully, there was no inclination to indulge in partisan politics.

Yes, many of the issues that came up were reflective of a national sense of loss. But it was the opportunity to sit together, face to face – an opportunity provided by Eid – that made me think about how crucial it is to make human contact and share our joys and our worries in a congenial environment. All this, while breaking bread together.

Eventually, however, Eid is over. Those who had arrived are departing. The news channels have exhausted their concoctions that were intended to entertain their viewers and make them laugh. There will now be a little more room for news about violent crime and the breakdown of order in many different places. Feuding politicians will hog the airspace with their lackluster rhetoric. We have to go back to business as usual.

The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at: