Searching for happiness(es)
For half my life I was told a lie consistently until I believed it, and for the rest half I’ve been propagating that lie shamelessly: that Eid is fun, that it’s time to be happy, and that it’s the best day of the year. The disillusionment came on the third and the last holiday of this Eid, when someone on TV mentioned the ‘Eid’s happinesses’ (the phrase always takes a plural form in Urdu) for the one thousandth time.
Turns out we treat happiness just like sex: We are uptight about both, we laugh at them publicly and seek them privately, and most of the time we’d rather have it than having to give it. I watched the streets, I surveyed households, I saw a lot of television, and all I found was a desperation to be happy. Everyone telling everyone else to have fun, everyone searching for ways to have fun, and no one having any. Or they wouldn’t be talking about it incessantly.
The only available source of fun and entertainment, on this Eid as on previous ones, was food. On display was a surreal public fascination with not just food but abundance of food, more expensive and exotic foods, foods rich in meat and sweet. A man proudly points at the pricey dish in front of him and tells the viewers: ‘I like chaanp. Eid is a happy time. Therefore, I am having chaanp and I am enjoying it’. Okay, it did seem well rehearsed but still, the glee on his face was real! And it was not only for being on the nationally televised flagship news bulletin. The fact is, he was having mutton chops, and he did seem very happy. He’ll be just as happy eating chops on any other day.
In another ‘news item’ people who were outdoors were asked by the TV reporter what were they doing. ‘It’s Eid, it’s a happy time, so we have come to Murree or the park/beach/restaurant/museum/mausoleum to eat and have fun,’ was the typical adult reply. Children, all over the country, were more consistent in their emphasis on the last sentence: ‘It’s Eid and Eid is a happy time. We have come to Murree or the park/beach/restaurant/museum/mausoleum to have fun. Mujhay bohat mazza aaraha hai’ was the reply from Pakhtunkhwa to Pakhtunkhwa (means the Pakhtun dwelling, also known as Karachi), minus of course Gilgit-Baltistan where no one was asked how they were celebrating their Eid. Poor guys had a terrible time. Twenty of their folks were killed a couple of days ago for carrying the wrong information on their ID cards. But I digress.
There were other children standing at a distance behind the child talking into the camera. They were obviously jealous of the one. They hated this child for being picked and they hated the TV channel for ignoring real talent. But instead of walking away they stood there watching the back of this child’s head with expressions that oscillated between murderous intent and overpowering boredom. They were obviously not having fun, but then that’s why they were not picked to represent children.
The bravest effort came from TV talk show hosts. They were at it all of the 72 hours. Those who were not presenting were sitting as guests in a colleague’s show. If my counting is any measure, they smiled after every word, laughed after every sentence, and pulled their faces in exclamation or a mock expression after every three sentences. (The figures for Sahir Lodhi are double this average). And their guests! How sad does a celebrity’s life have to be for them to be sitting in a studio on Eid day, narrating the same anecdotes they belted out last year, and the year before? The hosts never watched talk shows before they started doing one, and therefore laughed heartily at every turn of the story, frequently looking viewers in the eye and reminding them of Eid’s happinesses. And every show had people eating, as a gesture of participation in this annual ritual of mass self-hallucination.
On an average, every mobile phone user sent thrice as many ‘Eid Mubariks’ as they received. People spent hours choosing, composing and designing their messages. And yet, they were all the same. I have used 237 Eid greetings I came across to get the essence, which is: ‘On this prestigious and spiritual occasion of Eid-e-Saeed, may God bless you with the highest state of empathy so that your existence becomes a source of happiness for people around you. Ameen. Remember me in your prayers.’
The same yearning for happiness, a supplication to the addressee to be the bringer of the elusive fun, and trust in God that if not this Eid, maybe next, happiness will visit us. There was only one message that tried to be different: ‘Lets join hands beyond our differences and divides to bow to the Almighty for what we have been blessed with: A country to die for …’ but then it reads more like ISI’s public education material than an Eid greeting.
To be fair, people do have fun on Eid. Lots of them actually, in many different ways. Only, they are the people who’ll have as much fun on any long weekend, any time of the year. You won’t find them lecturing others about happiness, and they won’t be found in the crowds searching for Eid happinesses in public places, cheesy greetings and slaughtered animals.
It’s not about Eid; it’s about us.
In its original form, Eid is as boring a religious festival as any. And while others have added colour, light, myth, mascot, song and dance to their celebrations, we have stuck to the default boring. That’s our choice. That’s the kind of people we are. We don’t have the capacity to work, let alone work hard, and therefore, we lack the ability to have fun and to enjoy a holiday, be it Eid. As for the dimwits preaching Eid’s happinesses, they know neither Pakistani Muslims nor their work ethics; and nor the relationship between the two.
Masud Alam is an Islamabad-based writer, columnist and journalism trainer. He can be reached at email@example.com
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