Eid was just celebrated in Bangladesh. My country is a distant place to me now. I can’t go back even if I want to, I can’t touch it even if I reach out. It’s as if the country doesn’t exist for me anymore. It’s been 20 years since I’ve been there, 20 years since I’ve experienced Eid. A lot of the time, I am reminded it was Eid after it’s over. Years have rolled by dealing with the troubles of my life in exile. I hear about the bad news from my country more than the good.
I’ve been seeing photos of cows on my Bengali friends’ Facebook profiles for quite a few days now. The cows look like Danish or Australian cows. I didn’t see such hefty cows when I lived there. I heard they are injected with hormones to make them appear fatter. Due to the extra hormones entering their bodies from eating such meat, young girls reach puberty sooner than they should. They miss out on their childhood. This is indeed a problem.
When I was a kid, cows were very skinny. After buying a cow for Eid, it would be tied in the yard. My father would feed it straw and salt water. I really enjoyed watching the cow eat while dangling its tail. In the winter, my mother would put a blanket on the cow’s back.
Even though both of my parents took care of the cow, I always felt like it was not enough. I wouldn’t be able to sleep all night thinking about how we were sleeping under mosquito nets while the poor cow was left in the yard. What about the mosquitoes biting it?
I once proposed putting up a mosquito net for the cow. My mother did not grant it, but she arranged some dhoop to get rid of mosquitoes in the yard. I would run out to see the cow early in the morning. I would see tears in its big, beautiful, dark eyes. I would pet its neck, stomach, and its back – as if it was a new guest in our house. I would promise that this new guest would no longer have to suffer, it would even get its own mosquito net at night.
The time would soon come for the cow to be taken to the fields. Someone or the other would always drag me there to watch the cow being slaughtered. I always wished the cow would muster up all of its strength, push those men standing carrying knives and bamboo sticks out of its way, and run free, out of our sight. The slaughtering of a cow is truly a horrible thing to see.
Every time, a bunch of men would come, tie the cow’s legs, and use bamboo sticks to make it lie on the ground unable to move. Then they would slit the throat of the helpless, innocent cow with a sharp knife. Blood would start gushing out from its throat. It would scream and cry. It would struggle to get away using all of its strength, but fail.
My body would feel numb after witnessing that scene. I would feel like crying. I would run to the bathroom, lock the door, cry for a bit, and then come out. The pain of killing a cow in such a brutal manner would in no way leave me.
The pain would lessen a little in the evening when I would see hundreds of beggars gathered outside the gate for a single piece of meat, and buckets full of meat being distributed among them. I would also join in distributing it. I would be told not to give more than two pieces of meat to one beggar. But I would always give four pieces to each of them. I don’t know if beggars still crowd outside houses to collect meat. I heard my country has changed a lot. How much it has changed and in what way is something I really wish to see.
I am an atheist. To be honest, for me, there is no Eid or Christmas, puja or Hanukkah, Budda Purnima or Guru Nanak’s birthday. I believe in celebrating Pohela Boishakh and Ekushey February. I celebrate Darwin’s birthday and World Humanitarian Day. But every Eid, I become very nostalgic about those childhood days.
I remember my father waking up at dawn to bathe. And also waking his children up to shower, be it winter or summer. We would bathe merrily using Cosco soap. My father used to buy Cosco soap specially for Eid. I still don’t know why it was Cosco and not any other soap. Even today, when I see any soap in a shop that looks like the Cosco soap, I buy it. To tell you the truth, it’s not the soap I buy, I buy those lost childhood days.
Before every Eid, my father would take me and my sister to Gourahari to buy material for our dresses and drop them at the tailor’s. He would buy us shoes from Bata. But he would never listen to our pleas to buy bangles, necklaces, or lipsticks. He didn’t like us getting too decked out. If we ever used any makeup, he would drag us to the tube-well to wash it off. He would always say: “Study hard and become a better person.”
On Eid morning, after we’d showered, before we could even manage to put on our new clothes, my mother would put out six to seven different kinds of shemai and jorda on the table. I still don’t understand how she managed to make so many types of shemai so early in the morning. Maybe she knew magic. My father would have shemai for breakfast with me and my siblings.
But mother would not eat. She would be busy in the kitchen. She would be done cooking the polao, the chicken curry and mutton rezala would be just about done as well. We would have our post-breakfast or pre-lunch at 10 in the morning! There would be various dishes – we would have a delicious meal with our father at the dining table. Maa would not eat. She would be busy in the kitchen. Who knows how she cooked so well on that mud stove. Maybe she knew magic. She did know magic.
Maa would not have the time to wear her Eid sari all day. Sometimes, she wouldn’t even get a new sari on Eid. When she did get a sari, it would be evening by the time she got to wear it. That is, after feeding all the guests and everyone in the house. After a while, she would have to take it off and again wear her everyday-clothes so that she could cook dinner for everyone. We would have dinner with father again. I wouldn’t even know when, what, where Maa ate. Did I ever even bother to ask?
On Qurbani Eid, mother wouldn’t even get the time to wear her new sari. From dawn, she would be preparing the ingredients to cook the beef. Maa would be in the kitchen all day. In the morning, the cow would be slaughtered in the field. The meat would be cut up on the veranda. Then the meat would be sent to the kitchen in huge bowls.
Maa would cook all day long. Whenever she would be done cooking something new, she would instantly put it on the dining table for us. I never bothered to peek inside the kitchen to see how she was doing it. I never thought of helping.
Maa is no longer with us. When she was here, I didn’t realise what it meant. I still can’t accept that she is gone. I feel the same way about father’s death. I used to dream that one day my life in exile would end, that I would go back to them. Those dreams died a long time ago.
Every Eid, I remember my mother. If I could somehow, magically, go back to those days, I would not have let her bear all the burden alone. I know the days that have passed will never come back. Still, I wish I could get them back. I know that I’ll never see my mother again. Still, I wish I would run into her somewhere.
I know that there is no heaven, still, I wish there was a heaven. And I wish my mother would live there, in heaven, for eternity. My mother spent her whole life working like a slave. She wanted to study, she wanted to be independent. But she was not allowed to do any of that. She was a woman. I spent this Eid trying to feel her sufferings. That’s how I spent this Eid.