Long Faces of Lockdown Festival: Somber Eid in Kashmir

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KO Photo: Abid Bhat

Shut shops, padlocked mosques, and absence of the signature festive vibes marked the Eid celebrations in Kashmir Valley, where back-to-back death dispatches once again haunted the natives caught in the searing strife.

Mrinal Pathak | Rakshanda Afrin

AS pandemic dwarfed the annual festivity, ebullient Zamir Pandit of Old Srinagar hoped for a deathless Eid in Kashmir Valley on May 24. But then, he said, it was too much to hope for, as he soon got rattled with the aftershocks of Nawa Kadal gutted gunfight site.

Two hospitalized civilians fighting burn injuries lost the fight of their lives on the day of Eid and made the air mournful in the valley.

The two men, along with a preteen fun-singer from Srinagar’s Chota Bazar, were shifted to Srinagar’s SMHS hospital after a smouldering wall collapsed on them. They had gone to gauge the gutted gunfight site, when the incident happened on the evening of May 19, hours after Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Junaid Sehrai and his associate, were killed.

“It’s heartbreaking to shoulder funerals during festivals,” Pandit, an IT professional in his early thirties, said. “We Kashmiris don’t seem to have any respite from these tormenting events even on Eid.”

But while many in Kashmir kept talking about these regular deaths in their backyards, some wondered about home in isolation centres.

Quarantined Eid

Sitting akin to a captive in a quarantine centre in Srinagar, Alina Khan, 22, missed the hustle-bustle, the happy vibes, the social gatherings, and the special food this Eid.

Even as her phone lit up with constant happy texts and calls, the big occasion had lost its touch and taste for her confined tribe.

As part of a group of stranded students who lately returned home from a faraway country, Alina entered into a different time-space zone. “The good thing is that,” the talkative girl said, “I’m not alone spending Eid this way.”

After pandemic lockdown created new rules and regulations in the society, the likes of her were first noticed, when they sent SOS for evacuation. Once home, they found themselves in administrative quarantine centres.

Even as the lockdown-laden valley once again celebrated Eid amid restrictions, these quarantined Kashmiris couldn’t stop thinking about home and family togetherness on the special occasion.

“Not that we’re complaining about anything,” Alina said, “but yes, this Eid will be certainly remembered for its captive feeling.”

Quiet Celebrations

A much-awaited festival for Muslims, Eid-ul-Fitr is celebrated with full vigour and enthusiasm worldwide, after the conclusion of the 30-day-long fasting period.

In the run-up to the festival, swarms throng bazaars for Eid shopping. However, this year, the novel coronavirus curtailed both chatter and celebrations. Eid markets mostly wore deserted looks, with a heavy deployment of forces in Kashmir checking and regulating the public movement.

Even though this was not an ideal situation, said Ibrahim Sidiq, but due to the market shutdown, “we were not able to buy stuff which we used to do on this occasion and neither could we visit our relatives and friends”.

The spirit of Ramzan and Eid-ul-Fitr is to help the people around and spread compassion, Ibrahim, a government clerk, continued. “The only consolation, however, came from the fact that we were home, closer to our families.”

Earlier, religious clerics and administration came together to advice people to maintain social distancing and offer Eid Namaz at home.

The directive meant: No Eid Milans, warm hugs, and greetings.

“For the first time in my life, I missed the Eid prayers and couldn’t visit my friends and relatives on the auspicious occasion,” said Tahir Nazir, a resident of Anantnag.

“We celebrated this Eid in isolation.”

Somber Eid Preparations

In Downtown Srinagar, 40-year old kandur, baker Mustaq Ahmad would always look forward to special Eid orders.

Every year, people would fall in lines before his shop to buy the traditionally baked oven-fresh Bakerkhien and Sheermal.

For decades, nothing halted this cultural custom, until COVID came as a bogeyman.

“Customers would line up during Eid,” said Mushtaq, staring at the dust covered window and a door of his Kandurwaan — whose ceilings are soothed black with the fire from his tandoor all these years. “But now I’ve closed shop for two months.”

Even if any of these kandurs were opened during Eid, the fear and apprehension of catching the virus obviously stopped the valley’s sizeable populace from visiting them.

“This situation was never seen, or imagined before,” Mushtaq rued, as the fight against the ‘invisible enemy’ called contagion continues to desert his vibrant kandarwaan.

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