I can vividly recall the day of Eid last year in 2020, the first Eid during a raging pandemic. Quite understandably, we did not have any guests over for dinner or lunch and neither could we visit any of our friends, relatives or colleagues. I remember waking up half-heartedly, and forcing myself to wear a new dress and sit at the breakfast table, laden with the Eid-special 'polao-korma'. An hour later, I fell asleep again, while checking visually overpowering digital Eid messages sent by strangers I had never talked to on my Facebook friend list. The only thing good about that day was perhaps the elaborate 3-course meal cooked by my mother- always a failsafe cure for any forms of minor sadness.
My earliest memories of Eid-Ul-Fitr (or what we call 'rojar Eid') does not only trigger the usual bouts of nostalgia these days, but also a subtle, yet deeply entrenched melancholia. The afternoon before Eid (also known as 'Chad Rat'), we would set off for our paternal grandparent's home, which was an hour and a half drive from Dhaka. The very last Iftar of the year would be a grand affair, with food being prepared under the supervision of my grandmother for more than 30 people within and outside the extended family. Right after Iftar, the impatient wait for the announcement of the moon being sighted would begin, till one television in any of the rooms would blare the classic 'Eid song' by Kazi Nazrul Islam being telecast on BTV. The unforgettable tunes of "O mon Romjaner Oi Rojar Sheshe Elo Khushir Eid' (O heart, Ramadan has come to an end, and the happy Eid knocks at the door for all) would unleash the barricade of Eid greetings everywhere.
The pre-Eid preparations would kick off with my aunts and mother heating milk in colossal steel pans, which later would be used to make two quintessential Eid desserts-shemai (vermicelli) and firni (rice pudding). The wafting fragrance of the milk once the elaichi (cardamom) and darchini are added would reach my younger cousins watching TV, and they would crowd around the kitchen with their respective bowls for the first spoonful. Afterwards, the mehndi (henna) applying session would kick off soon, with every kid eagerly waiting for their turn to get their hands decorated. The older I got however, the charm of painting hands with henna wore off, and would resurface occasionally, once in a while. Instead of running around the open 'uthan' (courtyard), I could be seen cooped up in a room, anxiously studying for exams to be held right after Eid holidays. Fast forward a few years later, I was seen fussing over poor internet connectivity the day before Eid while completing an assignment whose deadline was almost knocking on my door. Adulthood had quite visibly kicked in, and sadly life was not as carefree as it used to be a few years back.
Being the last generation to grow up without advanced technology, especially smartphones, 90's kids were perhaps the happiest as well. We lived in an era when handmade Eid cards were a popular means for sending Eid greetings, when minimal Eid salamis would brighten up our day, and when simple, homemade gastronomic delights made us rejoice and salivate at the same time. How can one not miss the genuine emotions attached to a personalised Eid card, the wonderful smell of fresh 5-10 Tk notes and the aroma of good old polao and chicken roast being prepared by mothers? Or the crowding in front of the television for some entertainment dished out by Eid special Natoks (dramas) aired on the handful of channels which operated back then?
In Bangladesh, we have witnessed a gradual change in how festivals are celebrated, and unsurprisingly, we the 90's generation have accommodated them in our lives as well. For the uber-cool teens of Dhaka, Eid hangouts today are unimaginable without a visit to the popular cafes and restaurants. The friend owning the iPhone could unarguably be requested to take the group selfies, which are to be uploaded and tagged with appropriate hashtags. Gone are the days of accompanying parents for our Eid shopping. With the advent of e-commerce, dresses picked out during 'live sessions' on Facebook are packed and delivered to our doorsteps, thus saving the time wasted in traffic, rushing from store to store and haggling. While it is nevertheless more convenient these days, the golden memories of returning home with one's favorite clothing while bursting with excitement are indeed priceless.
While technology has made our lives a lot easier and hassle-free, it deprives us of the deep emotional attachments we had towards people and objects in general. I remember saving up my Eid salami in a small piggy bank, so that I could buy myself a treat occasionally. These days, cashless transactions mean Eid salami can be directly via Bkash, but nothing compares to the jingling of coins and feeling of crisp paper notes on your fingers. Nor can technology replace the beauty of Eid 'kolalkuli' (embrace) with cursory texts and video calls.
Since last year, Covid-19 has disrupted our daily lives, and Eid itself has been a subdued affair, bereft of the usual fun and frolic. With social distancing measures in place, the enthusiasm is significantly lower, especially within families who have lost their loved ones in the past couple of months. For us adults in their late 20's or early 30's, Eid may have lost its glory from the yesteryears, but till date, it remains the one day in our packed schedule of 365 days, when we are able to make time for family, friends and ourselves. It marks the end of a 30-day long Ramadan routine of fasting, self-restraint and over-indulgence all at once, and is a perfect time to reminisce about our childhood days of innocence. Those were in indeed simpler times, and yet, they were unmistakably, the best days of our lives.