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Festivals are normally, in human society, a cause for celebration and exchange of greetings and good wishes between friends and strangers alike
As a child, I had no idea that festivals had religious connotations
Festivals are normally, in human society, a cause for celebration and exchange of greetings and good wishes between friends and strangers alike. Not so on my Twitter timeline, where, on the occasion of the recently celebrated Eid-ul-Fitr, trolls decided to wish me with abuses and offered a taunting invitation to eat cows. Eh? As a side note, I am Hindu, one who has been trying desperately to go Vegan for the past year, but, who said facts were ever an obstacle for the genuinely hateful?
It reminded me though of how, for a large part of my childhood years, my brother and I had no idea that festivals had religious connotations. We didn't know Christmas was Christian, Eid was Muslim, Guru-Purab was Sikh and Diwali and Holi, Hindu. As far as we were concerned, Christmas was when we got presents, and socks full of sweets. Diwali was when we got money and a chance to hog as much kaju katli as we liked, and Holi was an excuse to go ballistic on the neighbourhood and not be scolded for bad behaviour.
We began to celebrate Eid when, one year, the usual 'special assembly for festivals' was held in our junior school. After the prayer, a girl in a salwar kameez and a boy in a kurta pajama, came to the mic and began, "Eid is the festival of happiness and fulfilment. On this day, our wishes come true. New clothes are worn on Eid. Children get presents called Idee. Delicious food is cooked on Eid..."
That day, a boy named Salman in my brother's class brought mithai for tiffin. He gave it to the homeroom teacher, Anjali aunty, who announced, "Salman has brought sevai for us." Everyone came and ate two spoons. It was delicious, my brother said.
Later, when we came home from evening playtime, our parents were in the dining room having tea. "Salman brought sevai for class today," my brother said. "Oh yes. It's Eid tomorrow-I completely forgot," replied papa. "In school, they said children get presents on Eid. Why don't we get any?" "You get presents on Christmas," said mumma. "So why can't we get presents on Eid?" I asked. "Because we don't celebrate Eid." Said mumma. "Why not?" "In the Armed Forces, all festivals are celebrated," papa said, thoughtfully. "I never knew you wanted to celebrate Eid," mumma smiled. "We do," said my brother and me firmly, greedy for more presents. "Okay," she said, simply.
The next day, mumma made sevai, and made papa get kababs from Sonkers in Delhi's Khan Market. Papa gave us R10 each, and we bought two packets of Uncle Chips. Eid was satisfactorily celebrated.
My parents had gone for the essence of what festivals ought to be about: a reason to spread joy. I don't know whether it was a conscious decision on their part, but, as a result of this attitude, I was unaware that I was a Hindu, and those who celebrated Eid, Muslims, until I was in double-digit years. It was only when we got to senior school in Class 6 (when I heard boys in a fight calling another boy Katuaa, and decided to investigate what katuaa meant) that the entire gamut of human social organisation, based on faith, institutions, leanings and complex inter-personal relations, tumbled upon my brother and me. And I remember what our biggest concern was upon achieving this enlightenment: "Does this mean we will not get presents on Christmas and Eid?"
So to my dear Eid-trolls: Perhaps life really is that simple. Perhaps there will come a time when the celebration of one community will not cause bile and malice in the hearts of another. But, for that, we must begin by not killing and lynching in the name of cow, pig, buffalo, bull, chicken or... God.
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