Some memories are vivid simply so. Wistful and awe were the two emotions that went through a nine-year-old as man landed on the moon in 1969. Awe at the fact that a new book on history was being enacted. Wistful because the vision in the shopfront of a TV seller in Brixton, London was in colour. Most people couldn’t afford TVs let alone colour-TV. The colour added, hazy as the scenes were, a new dimension whereby smaller, overlooked detail were given new form and dimension.
Fast forward to the present day when technology allows an often grotesque overdoing of those forms and dimensions. So much so that they can distort and twist the context. A picture may paint a thousand words; it can never reproduce the palettes of nature. The realisation dawned early on the maestros of art. Their response to human limitations was to either subdue or overdo their work with colours. Their focus was on the north-eastern light that they thought best suited work. They were either too bright or hazy.
Centuries later, photographers and filmmakers have fallen back to black and white and blueish tinges. Their arguments are sound. Black and white allows for a distinctiveness where colour pales. The details are crisp and marked. The focus is on the detail and not the accompanying necessary but not relevant asides. The blue tinge in films add an aura of the mysterious and ominous. Time will tell whether that too, will decline as has been the case with Sipia tones. Even the predominant colour favoured these days in clothing tends to be black.
There are pitfalls. Perhaps best represented by the gradual disappearance of colour are our Eid festivals. For all the innovations of the fashion industry, black and white are the preferred clothing colours. Somewhere along the way the colour too, has disappeared from festivals such as Eid- Ul-Azha. Cattle with decorated wreaths and tinkling bells have faded into the minority. There was a thrill (and irritant) of early morning baths and then heading towards mosques or open spaces for prayers.
The Khutbah would be in Arabic with no translation, meaning few understood. Some of that has changed as has the now boring addition of masjid committee bigwigs’ speeches. The closing Duah used to be long and has now given way to the shorter versions. It’s as if the Cato of sacrifice is more important than the prayer. But it did help in building expectations of dashing home after the embraces to don new clothes.
The excitement with which the full family gathered to welcome the cattle has given way to a boredom of inevitability. The numbers of families that went through the process of slaughter, skinning and cutting up the meat on their own have dwindled. Gone is the innocent curiosity of watching with awe the bare chested or vest wearing elders’ muscles quivering and hardening with each cut. There was a colour in the satisfaction that overrode the obvious tiredness of those that did it on their own. Colours were the in-thing ranging from cattle-skin to the punjabis, caps, dresses, shalwar-kameezes and sarees. It was a show alright-but one of celebration not wealth and extravagance. The few ‘louder’ expressions were looked at more in askew than a tinge of jealousy.
So many nights were spent watching women sew their children’s clothes waiting impatiently for the moment a ‘trial’ would take place. The saree vendors would be strutting the streets with new designs and colours turned out by local weavers. A far cry from the overbearing demand for and likewise availability of Indian or Pakistani variants. It was such a delight to watch the ladies poring over the details and then engage in good-natured haggling.
Post lunch, the target rendezvous was either to trek over to relations and friends to deliver bags of meat and distribution among the needy. Yes, there were fewer people but there was an overwhelming sense of joy at being able to share. Compare that with today’s scenario where most of the ‘needy’ seek enough to sell to roadside eateries, to the extent of literally breaking down gates of homes.
Old Dhaka’s annual celebratory possession was a fun-filled combo of decorated horse-driven carriages, an elephant or two, flame-eaters and voluntarily joined by local residents in colourful attire. Half of the colour came from the pink and white candy-floss that was an absolute must-have.
And the added attractions were the fairs or ‘melas’ where pots and potteries, botis (our version of the kitchen knives), trinkets and a whole range of toys and trumpets would be on sale. The creaky, wooden Merry-go-rounds were so sought after temporary destinations. The innate curiosity was the ‘improved diet’ served in jails and vagrant homes. There was so much wondering over what the ‘normal diet’ was. Vermicelli was certainly a part of it.
Partly due to the pandemic, largely to an overall depressive state of mind and the pathetic and obnoxious display of wealth has turned all of this into inexpressive black and white. The details are blurred, the focus on a religious tradition has lost out to more business in mind than the concept of sacrifice that it is meant to be. So has the the expression of the context. From clear Division into three parts-one for the needy, one for friends and relatives and one for the self meat distribution is now unimportant though preferred. Consume all of it or give all of it away isn’t the spirit of sacrifice.
Worldly concepts divided by growing disparate interpretations have taken over. Commercialism rules the roost. From the moneys that change hands between the farmer to the buyer,(read unofficial extortion), the leasing out of official ‘haats’ to the ‘favoured ones’, the ‘Hasil’ or tax imposed for cattle bought there and the ‘rate’ of butchers professional, seasonal and uninitiated and it all becomes crass. The trade in cattle skins hovers between fair prices in sales and purchases.
With leather goods consumption increasing locally and around the world trade has taken front row importance. In order to keep localities clean, cities will introduce more slaughter houses further eroding the traditional festivity. Those opposed to such slaughter consider it brutal. The consideration is lost for the rest of the year with meat in its different forms continues to be consumed even by them.
For the more culturally inclined the small bands in costume would play music scores of old and new songs pleasing to the ear. Barring the current situation they do so spewing out a cocktail of Indian music now that our sensitivities have been surreptitiously engrained. There were great expectations from the wealth of literature in the special Eid supplements and magazines. The supplements have largely vanished because of a growing disinterest in space occupied by repetitive messages from government high-ups. The magazines continue but are no longer a premium item of discourse in the coming days. The quality of literature too, has denigrated into hastily written pieces that don’t provoke thought. That writing should leave impressions way after a book has been read no longer holds true.