Carrying Eid from Middle East to Oxford of the East

Eid Food

[This article first appeared in Beyond The Underpass on September 25 2015]

Festivals are sewn in the fabric of our culture and religion. We celebrate them with the same community and at times even use it to bridge understanding between different ones. When moving places, we observe them either with a strong familiarity of the past, or sometimes with a hope to salvage whatever little remains of it.

To me, celebrating Eid in Dubai had a touch of placid monotony. I didn’t necessarily enjoy it as much as be content with it. The mandatory day off, exquisite sprawling mosques, people joining congregation prayers in large numbers, the quaint scent of freshly pressed traditional garments, and Biryani and sevaiya carefully crafted by the tireless hands of mother made Eid familiar and added to a reservoir of memory. It was something I would certainly long for after moving to Pune in India for my Undergraduate studies.

Some things were clearly amiss with my initial experience of Eid in India. There was little of the inexplicable peace of Ramadan that preceded Eid al Fitr (feast of breaking of the fast), and discussions of the Hajj pilgrimage that counted down to Eid Al Adha (the feast of sacrifice) were few. Our University followed a holiday printed on pre-decided calendars, completely missing the quintessential thrill of moon-sighting and last minute cliff hangers on whether or not Eid would be the next day. I remember writing an exam just an hour after the Eid prayer once. It was one of the toughest exams I had taken; after all it isn’t easy to be writing an Economics paper knowing that the opportunity cost of this moment would be a delicious feast with succulent meat and sugary treats. I tried to be content with what I had, an attitude not very different from that in Dubai.

By the end of third year, what lacked in Eid was filled with what I had never experienced from the comforts of Dubai. Never in my life did I find an audience more eager to know about my festivals than friends at college. Perhaps my cross-geography and cultural experience helped me with answers to thoughts that would otherwise be suspended in an air of misunderstandings and controversies. Attending classes during Eid meant that greetings were exchanged in person and not from couches over text messages. Moreover, festive meals were special with friends who may not have shared my faith, but were all united by the love for Biryani.

Pune gave me a glimpse of imagery that Eid’s essence stands for – a sense of communal affinity, little children dotting the streets with new wears and toys, and vendors selling perfume and kohl in little glass bottles. People of all ages and occupations thronged to the mosques and made-do with the little space available for synchronised prayers The inviting aroma of seekh kebabs on an open furnace immersed with the fragrance of perfume, giving you the best of both worlds. Quite a contrast to the casual urbanness and glitz of Dubai, Pune’s humble demonstration of a religious festival reminded me that Eid is not necessarily where the heart is, but where people co-exist and celebrate the little joys of life, where smiles and giggles are not entrapped in concrete walls, and where there’s a little lesson taught in harmony and joy.

This time when I removed my traditional garment for morning prayers in Dubai, I remembered it was the same as I had worn for my last Eid in Pune. Verily, lifestyles and our space of existence may change, but festivals are sewn in the fabric of culture, religion, and fond memories.


Out Of My Comfort Zone

This is something I had written a little more than 2 years back. As college has come to an end and I’ve left what I believe is certainly one of the best cities to be in, this article helps me jog my memory to those wonderful days. It’s a revelation to myself to, what I thought about the new city in the first few months. This is for you, Pune. (Minor changes have been made from the original one)

The sun rose again, my room inviting the warmth to fall upon its interiors. But how different was this morning from the ones that went by, greeting me with the shimmering light while I lay flat with laziness? It was the same sun, but I was not in Dubai anymore. The sun rose to greet me thousands of miles from my home, in the city of Pune too. Out of My Comfort Zone. Inspired from the title of the autobiography of former Australian Cricketer – Steve Waugh’s, there is a difference in the implication of the same in the two lives. While that man achieved heights in cricket that are now lauded in the world, I am an 18 year old Media Student who can only speak in great volumes of his decision to give up (perhaps temporarily), the great peace and leisure of living a life dependent on family, familiar surroundings, tantalizingly delectable food and greater insulation from hardships.

But after almost eight months of my life as a student of SIMC UG, I wonder if looking at that morning differently can be justified. Pune for me has turned out to be a home without unnecessary attention, a lifestyle that enables me to choose between the a modest pace of activity with ample time for introspection and a pace devoid of rapid work, self-development and success. Noises, noises that I hear throughout the day from home to college and back whirl in the head like it’s an integral part of my sanity. The distinct noise of the Auto-Rickshaw amidst the crowded streets of Pune brings vibrancy, while some are in cars, and many more on bikes. The six-seated rickshaw (‘Tum Tum’ as is locally known) cannot go unnoticed on the roads. Running mostly on main roads that link important locations, these ‘Tum Tums’ help people of all economic strata commute with convenience (not if you mind squeezing in yourself and your ego). Simply hearing the conversations of the commuters portrays the cosmopolitan aspects of Pune. One will find people speaking in Hindi, Marathi, English, Tamil, Malayalam, and so much so even Persian.

My favourite element that goes in living out a day in Pune, however, will always be the tea-stalls (As every interesting thing carries a local name, this one’s ‘Tapri’). In corners where an establishment is unimaginable, one comes to term with what keeps these Punekars charged up throughout the day – Tea, with ‘Vada Pavs’ devoured for good measures. A few taxing months and I’ve already started seeing my fuel in those ‘cuttings’.

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What Pune runs on

In this admirable and eclectic city, why would one not interact with the populace one comes across? When I’m not slogging my way into flagging down the atrocious fares, I’ve spoken to Auto drivers asking them about their life and daily routine. It’s simple, I’ve learned. They wake up very early in the morning, launch their ride on the roads, and return home late. In the process of this seemingly simple routine, they have dropped numerous passengers to their respective destinations, most of the time arguing against bargains in the process. Speaking to students of my age, I’ve gathered from many that they sleep at the stroke of dawn, and wake up when it’s dark. I still reflect upon the first day of my college.

Then and now, has Pune already become close to home? Have I judged this city in haste, and probably there’s more to what I see? Will this phase of moderate inner bliss remain the same as years pass by? Are there major parts of the city that are yet to be discovered? Will I finally become adept at speaking Marathi, and probably boast about successful attempts of haggling down the Auto-Rickshaw fares in the driver’s own language?

These questions probably instil within me the drive to explore Pune beyond the perception of an average NRI. It’s not very sunny anymore; looks like the sun would like a nap. As I draw the curtains, the tapri outside tempts me with its tea. It’s time to refuel, perhaps within my new comfort zone.