Eid is here, joy is not
Eid is in a day or two, no? You have to ask just to be sure.
A whole year has gone by since the last Eid-ul-Fitr. Yet, it seems time has stopped. Somehow, it has been caught in a whirl of stresses -- the new variants of coronavirus, spikes in infections and deaths, depleting savings, job losses, work-from-home strictures, lockdowns, dearth of vaccines, frustration over the healthcare system and complaints about the poor's disregard for safety protocols.
This Eid will be like that of last year's -- locked down.
No congregation on fields. Some people, not all, may go to mosques for Eid prayers. No traditional hugging and no handshaking after prayers.
Gather together, yet not unite.
No guest is coming over and none going to visit others. Celebrations will be reduced to our own homes, spilling over into social media.
Children will not go out to rooftops and make sure they see a slice of moon in the farthest corner of the sky. No shouts, no fireworks, no honking of horns and no preparations for celebration.
Outside, it will remain quiet; eerily quiet all around. And inside, it will be just another day for human zombies, swinging to the situation that has persisted for the last 14 months amid restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has already claimed more than 12,000 lives at home and over 33.2 lakh beyond.
Eid has a tremendous influence on our lives, economy and culture, so much so that everything would invariably revolve around the occasion. The three shots from the two Eids and Pahela Baishakh keep the domestic businesses going for a whole year.
Sadly, it is now on a sickbed, missing out on two back-to-back shots from Pahela Baishakh and this Eid. It is a repeat of last year's events. Businesses are ailing, so are we. Eid is here, yet a sense of huge emptiness engulfs each of us. Happiness, where has it gone?
Have we seen happy faces this time? Ahead of every Eid, the faces that make a beeline for homes, finding a place for oneself on any vehicle that moves, braving any situation that reminds us of hell and savouring every sight on the way.
Caught in a 50-km long tailback, they smile. Made to walk for 10 kilometres while going out of Dhaka, they smile. Kept waiting at ferry terminals for 18 hours, they smile. Ending up on the backs of trucks after finding no bus tickets, they smile. Forking out on last-minute shopping with whatever is left of festival bonuses, they smile. Cheated by touts, they smile.
They keep this smile all the way home, the places of their birth. The smile stays with them throughout the days they stay there before heading back to cities, the places of their work. Every person they meet and everything they see -- the tiny teashop, tree-shaded roads, rickshaws, sweet shops, birds flying over vast expanses of paddy field, still ponds or the elderly barber from their childhoods.
Smiles, where have they gone this time?
The call from home ahead of Eid is in their genes. Although not as intense as in normal times, the famous home rush was also there this time around. The journey was made far more arduous with no inter-district public transport due to the coronavirus-induced restrictions.
This time, they were made to walk longer. This time, they were made to suffer more, with ferry services being snapped by authorities. This time, they were told not to go home. This time, the journey was dubbed infamous. And, this time, they did not smile.
Dark nor'wester clouds gathered on their faces, making them look worried about what lies in the future.
Dhakaites eagerly wait for the "chand raat", the eve of Eid day, to go out for last-minute shopping and late night adda in a deserted capital after the others go back to their roots. Chand raat will come and go, but, like last year, only a few people may go out, not with smiles but worry.
This year, the act of shopping for Eid is not received well by most.
Such are the strange and unfamiliar conditions that herald this Eid -- an occasion that has for centuries been one of unparalleled joy for Muslims rich and poor. Eid this year has turned out to be the eeriest one in living memory. Happiness has been sucked out of our souls by an army of tiny virus particles.
The smile is what we're missing. What we have is the uncertainty of how long this will last.