By Fathima M and Sharonee Dasgupta
For many Eid is synonymous with gluttony, with friends and family inviting each other over lunch or dinner with an elaborate assortment of delicacies including, but not limited to, biryani and sevai. But this year is different. Our lives have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In India, just like in many other parts of South Asia, festivals in this situation mean restricted celebration, with even close friends and family unable to come together due to the new norms of social-physical distancing. For the unforeseeable future, mass gatherings are neither appropriate nor allowed. With a large section of the population losing their jobs and finding it difficult to survive, festivals – and celebrations – have lost meaning, at least temporarily.
This year is a good time for us to introspect how we take things for granted, how rapidly things change, and how familiar spaces become unfamiliar in a jiffy. The South Indian city of Bangalore where both of us lived for many years has suddenly started to feel like a sombre city where you feel uprooted even after spending long years there. An unplanned expansion has transformed the city into an urban jungle, and those of us who return to the city after spending time elsewhere find ourselves struggling in our attempts to belong there, locating as we do our tiny shreds of memories broken with both time and space.
This year, we have suddenly found ourselves reminiscing the pleasant evenings of Bangalore, almost 10 years back, when we took trips to the Muslim neighbourhoods during Ramzan and Eid. The neighbourhoods of Shivaji Nagar, Frazer Town, Benson Town and Commercial Street would all be shiny and glittery with an array of street food joints, restaurants and shopping complexes. You could hear the pleasant sound of Dakhini Urdu, among other languages, as people came together for celebrations.
In Bangalore, the markets were pretty expensive, but we could go for beef biryani-hunting without fearing for our lives, or having questions about our religion when only one of us observed fasts. Today, the news of communal violence from Bangalore disturbs us deeply. It makes us feel alienated from the city. We’ll probably only whisper about beef biryani now and think twice before doing anything that reveals our Muslim/secular identities. The era of innocence has passed, and we now find ourselves exiled and uprooted from the city we loved to call our own.
Both of us moved to Delhi a few years ago and kept our passion for visiting monuments and Muslim neighbourhoods (mostly for food) alive. During Ramzan, we frequently visit Jama Masjid and the surrounding areas. During those hot and humid evenings, we snail through the lanes of Old Delhi hurriedly looking at all the shops that display colourful delicacies among other things. Over the years, this place has remained unchanged. But little did we know that things would change so drastically this year. The coronavirus pandemic has got us confined at home, worried whether we will be able to visit those places like before. But there is also a deep scar in our hearts this year, as the city we have come to love and live in witnessed the worst communal violence in decades. The fear is all-pervasive in the psyche of anyone who does not conform to the mainstream, divisive idea of being Indian.
We managed to get in touch with a few victims of the Delhi violence and also the migrants who are walking hundreds of miles without any food or water. The pandemic has hit them hard, and it will take a long time for them to recover from the trauma. The victims of the Delhi violence had barely recovered from the trauma of the violence they faced when the coronavirus pandemic hit them. Many have lost their homes and are now displaced apart from being jobless and uncertain about their futures. Some of them sounded fearful while disclosing their religious identities, and they are observing fasts under tremendous anxiety. We also got in touch with a few working-class Muslims who told us that while it is difficult to even get one meal a day, celebrations have lost significance in their lives. The perception of people towards festivals has changed in the present circumstances. However, for India’s Muslims, it also means safeguarding their lives while thinking of any festivities.
This Eid reminds us of the sufferings – man-made or not – that are capable of tearing our lives apart and leaving deep scars within us. As we struggle to come to terms with the new normal, let us also keep our syncretic selves alive and prepare ourselves to celebrate festivals across cultural borders and embrace friends, family and strangers alike as soon as the pandemic is defeated.
Fathima M and Sharonee Dasgupta are freelance writers based in New Delhi.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
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