I woke up as I do on any other day. There was determination to treat it like any other day…not days of night-old henna flakes on the sheet, of the hub of activity when the men in the house prepared to go for the namaaz and the women in the kitchen. My mother cooked like a dream…this time too she has made sheer khorma. I know she will keep one bowl aside and light some aggarbattis and say a prayer. She will ask me if I’d like to join her, hoping that I will.
I will. Because, my first breath I owe to her. The two prayers I know. I use them – one for domestic flights, one for international flights. I was told as a child that you ought not to burden god. So, I will keep it short…it does sound like going through the motions but this morning as I was trying to shrug off everything I felt my eyes sting. As though a bee had lodged itself in there. The tears tasted like honey and lingered on the cheeks like memories…
Moon-sighting was akin to looking for the UFO. We'd go to the balcony and for some reason squint our eyes and imagine that by doing so we'd spot a sliver. And once it was spotted, my grandma would look at it, cover her eyes and ask to see my face first. There was no confusion over that!
In our house, besides the night before preparations and Nani’s mehndi applying skills, that included elephants and big flowers and large dots to the more nuanced ones of later years, there was the excitement about a crate of bottled drinks that arrived. For some reason, fizzy colas were not a part of my childhood. We had rose sherbet, Rooh Afza, and squashes. I liked the lemon squash – slightly bitter, slightly sour with just a dash of sweetness. We had to wait for it till some adult decided they wanted to cool off. And then every sip was savoured. This must qualify as child abuse of some sort…
The relatives started trickling in by 11 AM. There was chatter, some music; someone might even read in a corner. The youngsters were dispatched to distribute the sevaiyan to neighbours, friends and other assorted creatures that constituted one’s social life. Even though I had no social life, I was made to carry this burden – in glass bowls protected with a crochet cover. You had to smile sweetly at people, say ‘Eid Mubarak’; sometimes if one looked particularly cute, a kiss was planted on the cheek. I disliked lipstick stains on my natural blush and most definitely suffered from hygiene issues for I would wash it clean several times.
Then the family appraised your clothes. I sometimes succumbed to the sharara business. The part I liked best was holding up the middle delicately if it was too long and walking – it was so deliciously Bollywood. By the time I had got to my teens, I would hope that I’d drop something and some dashing guy would bend down to pick it up and hand it to me, our eyes meeting and then both running round trees, me holding up that sharara. It never happened. All I’d hear were loud shouts of the neighbourhood fellows, “Hey, where are your legs?” A nasty one that, considering I always wore skirts. There was no pressure on me to wear traditional clothes, although when I look back it must take some nerve to get 'special Eid clothes' made by Zia bhai, our tailor, and his shocked expression when he was told that it was a polka-dotted skirt with a ruffled blouse and a waistcoat. I do not think he found it amusing. Zia bhai took his revenge by making the skirts long. When the packet arrived, I’d lock myself in a room and hem it up.
So, in this Muslim household where most people had fasted the whole month and prayed, I was not seen as much of an outsider. Their faith included me as one of them. For, they believed in me as much as I believed in them to be a part of our world.
Lunch time constituted a bit of a struggle as to where to fit me. I was between ages. It was my pleasure to join the younger ones because food was served first to the kids. I continued this for as long as I could. The change in status came when the Eidi money – a token amount of money elders give as blessing – increased. I did not know why. Then, I made the simple deduction that it had something to do with my growing frame. The appearance of breasts increased my brand value. Yes, that’s what I thought.
I wasn’t the sort who’d just throw money. I saved most of it and used it to give little gifts on birthdays. It is a joy I receive even today. Just the thought of buying something for someone, packing it up nicely and then handing it with so much trepidation – will they like it, will they?
My eyes are misting over now. I can clearly smell the flowers, strings of them that the women in the house wore in their hair. And the scent of ittar, a strong essence, used instead of regular fragrances because anything with alcohol content was avoided. I remember the ittar shops in small lanes and how they’d dab a bit on the back of the hand. I’d be handed a plastic rose, its dark pink shocking and a ball of it soaked in cottonwool stuck at the centre. I’d hold it afar, so strong was the scent. And wonder why some petals never fall.
Why? They embed themselves in your mind and become nostalgia…a small recognition of a life that creation has granted.