My earliest Eid memories go back to 1981, when I was close to 5 years, and we had shifted to a new place called Kanpur where my father was transferred. My father didn’t opt for government houses as they were too small for our joint family which included my dearest grandfather and first cousins, making the number reach 15. So my father and uncle bought a newly developed property and constructed according to our needs and much required privacy. I realized later, that we were the only Muslim family in that newly developed area; it became a talk of the area when we began constructing higher walls with lots of rooms.
Our neighbours were mix of different class and working environment. It was unlike our earlier accommodations, where we stayed with families which are working in same company, almost same environment, where fathers used to come home around the same time and our school was same as well.
For my family, and all of us kids – it was a big change. Our schools were separate now. Three of my brothers needed to be sent to Mussoorie for boarding school, as it was becoming very difficult for my mom and aunt to drop and pick up all of us at the same time. We cousins didn’t have much difference in age. It was majorly because girls of our family then were to be sent only to girls’ school or college. So, we didn’t share the same school any longer.
The environment was new for us, so it was new for our neighbours as well.
We were a big family, a bit introvert, females used to come out only when it was needed, and we all were tall, healthy and happy in our world. Our neighbours took it for snobbery maybe, so much that they never tried to communicate with us.
The person from whom we took this property came to my father to get some final papers signed. We knew his name as Mr. Khanna. He said that people were angry with him for selling the house to a Muslim family. They came to him and raised their concerns. “These people will kill animals and eat them,” he was told! There were many more assumptions and suspicions.
My grandfather and father were very composed. They said, it takes time to make place in heart. We were scared but they were confident that nothing will happen as there is no substitute to good deeds. By then, being the youngest among girls, I had made some friends around. I was allowed to play with the neighbouring girls.
By Eid our home was completely ready. We were allocated rooms – of course in sharing. Some were happy, others were not. But finally the workers were out and we had a shiny home where we could invite friends and relatives. More than six months it had taken for the construction to complete.
On the Eid day, we wore new clothes. Mom made Sewai, biryani, kebabs and chhole. Abba kept some benches in the verandah for visitors to sit. Many friends of my Abba and uncle visited, we served them with the delicacies, they gave us gift money to buy something of our choice as Eidi. It was going great.
Soon Abba found some kids of our neighbours looking at our house curiously. He realised that these kids could be our bridge to fill some gaps. He sent me to invite them. “Please come to our place and have some sewai, chhole, Dahi bada,” I called out. To my surprise, they agreed and came. They not only had everything, except non veg, but they also took second helping, and exclaimed with joy that they never had such delicious sewai earlier.
The beginning went off well.
Now the neighbours started wishing and accepting our wishes as well. The kids praised the food so much, that by the next Eid, some uncles really wanted to be invited. Thanks to my friends who spoke about things with innocence; those were simple times. Next Eid my father invited the neighbours. They came and had a good time with us. They discussed their jobs, their issues, the changing times and difficulty of raising kids. This was a new beginning. Because from then on, whenever there was an event, we were together. When there were Asiad games in 1982, a black & white television was positioned at our home. All kids of our neighbourhood gathered and watched it at our place. Then came the phone. We had the privilege of having it first, thanks to Abba‘s job. It was the only one in our locality in those days. All important messages of babies being born, weddings getting fixing, someone’s arrival to the city, was first delivered at our place and then to the person for whom it was meant.
Overall, life was good. We were occupied with our studies. My father and uncle were very busy earning to give us the best of education. But Eid had always been a day for everyone to forget everything and feasting.
Later, in the late 80s and early 90s, we saw some terrible riots after the Babri Masjid was demolished in Ayodhya. Our neighbours though, still came and always comforted us, advising us not to worry. They were always there for us.
Now when I look back, I feel, if my father wouldn’t have initiated the spark of love and care with a small gesture in 1981 Eid, would we have stayed at that place till now? Now everyone has phones, everyone is self-sufficient with all means, but the sense of respect my parents earned then is still alive in our neighbours’ heart. We haven’t changed, and so are they.
My Abba often narrated two sentences scripted by a famous poet-
“Gar ho sake to pyaar ki shamaa jalaiye
Is daure shiyasat ka andhera mitaiye“
Light the lamp of love, if you can
Darkness below the throne is thirsty for that light