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Salami then and now: The tradition lives on in this digital age

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As usual, Emran Hossain went home after closing his shop. It was the last working day before Eid, so he was excited, though tired. He had to shop and stand in a long queue to collect fresh notes to give salamis to his younger siblings. However, cash was not the solution for sending salami to juniors and many others he would not meet during Eid. His mobile wallet came to the rescue to send salami to anyone with the greeting note 'Eid Mubarak.' Emran, who used to send and receive such tips in cash, has now found a newer way to forward this old tradition of salami in this digital age when pressing digits works wonders.

This is not just the case with Mr. Hossain, who runs a business in Sutrapur area of Old Dhaka. Like him, many have observed the epoch change in exchanging salami on the merry occasion of Eid.

Md. Hashem Ali, an elderly from Lalbag in Bangladesh capital's same part, Old Dhaka, says that he started receiving salami from his parents, uncles, and grandparents when he used to wear half pants for what he tried to mean his younger age.

"After completing our prayer with cousins, I rushed to our grandparent's house for salami. I used to touch their feet, which we called offering salam. Only after touching feet did our grandparents would give us salami."

For Mr. Ali, it was a tradition that no one taught them to do. He learned about the salami from his parents, and his parents learned from theirs. However, historians believe the salami trend came from the Fatimid Caliphate that ruled from North Africa to the Middle East in the 10th century AD.

On Eid day, the Fatemide dynasty rulers would give food, clothes, money, or other gifts to the citizens of their territory. The tradition has many names. In Bangladesh, we call it salami; however, in Pakistan and India, it is called Eidi; some other countries in Africa and the Middle East call it Eidiyah, derived from the words 'Eid' and 'Hadiyah', meaning Eid gifts.

Mr. Ali vividly remembers receiving Eid money, or salami, from his grandmother. In those days, salami used to be given in coins, and the children used to keep them in their pockets or in a box to spend the whole week of Eid festival. This tradition extended beyond his grandmother. As he grew older, he carried on the tradition by giving salami to his younger relatives, but at that time, it was not in coins but paper notes.

Nazifa Tasneem, the eldest daughter of Md Hashem Ali, used to receive salami in cash from her elders. She used to receive not only cash but new clothes and cards as a gift on that occasion. For her, the change was from coins to notes and cards.

"I was born in the nineties and grew up in the 21st century. I have seen a tremendous change in this tradition of Eid salami. When we were younger, we used to buy Eid cards at a cheaper rate and sell them by creating a small shop in our area. I also used to exchange cards with my cousins and friends on Eid."

Now, in her late twenties, she gives salami to others in a generation change. In most cases, she sends salami digitally. However, she carries some cash also. She believes the old way of salami tradition might be nostalgic for her, but it is less time-consuming in today's busy world.

Echoing her is Omar Fahean Hamim, a journalist working for national television, while sharing that he misses the salami vibe of his young age but finds it innovative to give salami through a digital medium.

He says, "Now, I don't have to stand in a long line to collect fresh notes for salami. Nowadays, Dhaka traffic is hectic. Then, finding fresh notes is difficult as well."

Speaking of the latest salami transition Hamim says, "Last year, I gave three thousand taka through bKash's Eid Salami." Many, like Hamim, have switched to the digital salami from the physical mode.

In 2021, bKash revolutionised the salami in the digital form. Shamsuddin Haider Dalim, Head of Corporate Communications at bKash, has said, "During special occasions like Eid, festivals, or special days, gifting money as a token of love has been a tradition and one of the most- practised cultures in Bangladesh. bKash increases the joy of wishing manifold by bringing this innovative 'digital salami' feature."

Last year, during Eid week, around eight lakh customers used bKash's digital greeting cards to wish their loved ones well.

Mr Dalim believes bKash's Eid Salami has been an integral part of the Eid celebration for millions of people. "Customers are not only sending salami but also sharing customised messages and posting them on their social-media handles, which makes the celebration even more joyous."

Maharab Marzan, a television reporter, frequently uses bKash's Eid Salami feature. To him, bKash brings the card-giving tradition into the digital form, where Gen Z likes to share it on social-media stories.

"We cannot forget our memories, but you indeed have to be well-connected with technology and follow that flow. So, I think it is also an opportunity to bridge the gap between generations," he said.

Whatever shape the tradition has taken today, Mrs Hasna Begum, a mother of four grown kids from Savar, is relieved to see it going enthusiastically. This woman in her late 50s finds it amazing that people have embraced the Eid Salami tradition more happily than ever.

"It's the happiness that matters, not the way. Everything has evolved, and so has this tradition. The good thing is it hasn't lost its appeal like many other traditions," she narrates with a satisfying smile.

She and hundreds of thousands of parents and grandparents are now waiting to disburse some happiness among kids as the biggest festival of the Muslim Ummah is only weeks away.

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