Meethi Yaadein: A look at Eid in the yesteryears

Ms.T takes you on a trip down memory lane to experience the wonders of Eid in the yesteryears.

Sajida Ali August 12, 2013

Ms.T takes you on a trip down memory lane to experience the wonders of Eid in the yesteryears and how it has changed over time

The last couple of weeks before Eid herald a frenzy of activity for Pakistani women, with the rush in local bazaars bordering on unbearable and our homes spinning on the festival axis. Spring cleaning, renovation projects, groceries and cooking for unwanted Eid get-togethers, all the while fighting with your tailor to speed up those last-minute alterations to your Eid ka jorah are the norm and try as you may, we cannot deny that we, as women, revel in this pre-Eid hustle-bustle. We set the entire country in motion and make the occasion all the more colourful and lively, as we have for decades. Have you ever wondered how Eid was for women in the yesteryears?  Here are some snippets from some who were lucky enough to have experienced the golden days of Eid themselves. You may be shocked at how our attitude towards this blessed holiday has evolved!

Few things can be as representative of our attitude than what we wear as it is an expression of our internal feelings. Eid fashion back in the 70s through to the 90s was a whirlwind of shimmer, shine and sparkle. Aliya Nisar cringes now for wearing the typical Panjabi, gota-adorned bell sleeves her mother always favoured. “I do not remember one dress from my childhood that did not come with elaborate lace or gota or sequins!” she recalls. “Even the accessories were super shiny: a yellow-gold clutch purse, matching heels and mercury glasses. It was like a competition for who could shine more!” she adds, laughing. Kajal and lipstick were special Eid bonuses and to complete her look, Aliya’s mother would oil her hair and braid it tight so that her ‘eyes would stretch sideways.’

For Simmo Zaidi, Eid paid tribute to the understated Lucknavi tehzeeb of the 50s and 60s with starched white latthay ki shalwaar, court shoes and beehive hairdos. “The duppatas were our favourite due to the Salma Sitaara detailing they had and as children, my sisters and I would sneak out of our beds at night to make sure they were still there,” says Simmo. In her family, Eid was also the only time she and her siblings were allowed nail polish on their small, clipped nails and it was a feat they looked forward to all year.

Matching bangles and khussay were bought well in advance to beat the Eid prices and there was rarely any last-minute tailor-induces panic because the clothes were lovingly sewn at home by the mothers and grandmothers. Nowadays, however, while the heavy outfits are generally avoided on Eid, the ridiculous rush at the tailors’ often leads to a great deal of fighting and stress to get one’s jorah on time which contrasts the simplistic Eid excitement of the olden days.

Apart from the fashion pas, the women of the house often competed over their Eid delicacies and laboured on an endless assortment of sweetmeats and savoury treats for family and guests. Guests would be presented a variety of samosas, kachoris, chollay, chutneys and halwa-puri with the pre-requisite namkeen lassi.  Dinner meant lamb chops, zafrani pulaos and zarda. Chef Shai Qazi says, “The table at my home in Quetta was laden with food all day long. Sheer korma, shaami kebabs and mithai would be followed by dinner which was another gastronomic affair!” Typical Eid menus incorporated a wide range of recipes from a rich tapestry of Pakistani communities such as sawaiyyon ka muzafar, dahi waalay aaloo, biryani and kachumber, etc.

In the times of the joint-family system, it was also a revered tradition for the bahus of the house to come together and prepare the Eid feast collectively. Saira Malik celebrated a typical Delhi-wala Eid of the 70s to 90s era wherein her “daadi, eight uncles and their families would get together for Eid. All the bahus worked together to prepare the meals. Nowadays, no one wants to share their secret recipes, let alone cook together!” she jokes. Saira’s uncles continued the tradition even after her daadi’s demise until the next generation grew up and out of the conventional Eid. Women now are reluctant to cook for scores of extended family and friends and many, like Erum Khan* now indulge in a one-dish get together wherein everyone brings in a predetermined dinner item. “This way, everyone gets a break from cooking and can meet each other in one go, instead of the painful torture of guests trickling through the day,” explains Erum.

When it comes to Eid, we cannot ignore the exchange of Eidi which was regarded as the most sacred and special ritual and children would often have intense rivalries based on who had collected the most money. After the children had delivered the adaab/salaam in orderly fashion, the adults would bless each with crisp notes of Rs5 or Rs10 saying ‘jeetay raho.” More house calls meant more of these notes and so the youngsters would enthusiastically accompany their parents from one family-friend to another, building castles in the air with just Rs50 in their pockets. Back in the day when families weren’t so dispersed internationally, a great big Eid get-together ended in a great big wallet. According to Nadira Jaffer, “By the time I had greeted all the adults, I would have a big load of cash, ready to be spent on little goodies!”

Mahvash Gul Kapadia recalls the first time she received Eidi at the tender age of two saying “I was wearing a long maxi dress and holding onto the hundred rupee note my Daadu had given me for dear life and a wide grin on my face.” Giving out Eidi to youngsters was also a matter of great pride and every member of the household who earned a steady income was expected to or bear the wrath of the children. But today, rising prices and children’s demands have discouraged people from distributing Eidi, nor do the youngsters wish to go door-to-door with their parents because it is ‘embarrassing.’

Syedah Shabih remembers an almost Victorian Eid according to the Lucknavi traditions of the 60s. “In a time when entertaining guests was a formal gathering and children were kept away from it, Eid was special because we were allowed in the drawing room and could also eat from the fine china and other family heirlooms passed down from generation to generation. It made us feel very important!” Unfortunately, entertaining guests has now become a tiresome activity avoided by many. Sadaf  Shahid* and her husband make no bones about trying to evade their guests: one the first day of Eid, they take their children and go off visiting their friends and family before anyone comes to them. “This way, I get to meet everyone without having to entertain myself,” says Sadaf. The family spends the second day at the beach to ward off any remaining tenacious relatives and by the third day, only a couple of very determined relatives visit since it is already “baasi Eid” and now, Sadaf can get away with just a cup of tea and some dry snacks.

However, the crowning glory of Eid was that it served as an occasion for all Pakistan to come together, regardless of caste or creed. Karen D’mello Dias holds fond memories of Eid in the late 70s and early 80s when Pakistanis shared each other’s celebrations. “Of course my family and I didn’t celebrate it per se but we would get a lot of mithai from our neighbours, visit family and friends and even collect Eidi like the other children. I will never forget the delicious sawaiyaan our neighbours would send every year after namaaz.” Karen rues that neighbours no longer interact like they used to and people simply aren’t as hospitable anymore. “Now, we don’t even bother knowing the names of our neighbours. It is really challenging to try and explain to my teenage sons what a wonderful life their grandparents and great grandparents lived in old Pakistan.”

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, August 9th, 2013.

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