What Bakreid at my house looks like to an outsider
… who’s been there all day.
The concept of Bakreid has three parts- sacrifice, charity, and family. Anyone who knows the Biblical version of Abraham’s offer to sacrifice his only son, basically knows the Quranic version as well, because they are almost the same narrative. The point of bakreid is the spirit of sacrifice. You rear an animal, or at least look after it for a bit, and then offer it as a sacrifice symbolical of the one Abraham was ready to make. Of the meat from that animal, one third is distributed to the poor, one third shared with relatives, and one third kept for the family. Families who can afford to keep their freezers stocked all year round sometimes give away the last one third as well. In many third world countries, this is one of the few times in the year when so many poor families who could not otherwise dream of such lavish spreads, eat curries and stews where meat plays the main role, not just a guest appearance. People who suffer from too much food live next door to people who suffer from too little. Sometimes, even the ones who don’t want to share, must share. Bakreid is supposed to be one of those days.
Emphasis on ‘supposed to be’. For the most part, it turns into a ‘my-goat-is-bigger-than-yours’ all over the damned place. The ideal equation, if you can afford it, is a goat per person in your family. If you have enough money you can go right ahead and give two per, the extra meat will just go to poor people anyway. But instead of stocking up the freezer at orphanages and soup kitchens, we have literal bidding wars on goats.
Let that sink in for a bit, that’s right. My father’s friends show up regularly every night for 3-4 days preceding bakreid. One proclaims he bought a ram that put him back $1200. He’s immediately countered by “Ha, the biggest one I bought was $1400!” Of course, there’s plenty of sanctimonious nodding and agreeing that so much meat is going to the poor. We hear most of these conversations while serving the food or the tea or the coffee, since women actually in the discussion would make these indefeatable men of the world too uncomfortable to even swallow. There’s just polite silences and some mental stripping while we serve and we leave. And then they go back to the pompous little circle jerk.
Which wouldn’t have been so distasteful, really, if some good even came of this extravagant expenditure on lambs to the slaughter. Sure they all *say* that this is all going to feed poor people, but in reality, these pony sized rams just end up getting circulated between affluent houses. Someone sends us a leg of mutton as big as my entire arm. Courtesy dictates we send an equally big one back; to do anything else is social suicide. Their freezers are overflowing, our freezers are overflowing, and neither could physically consume that much meat unless they had a half year to do it. Yet this is what happens, year after year. The meat sits in the freezer for a month before, in a fit of seasonal cleaning, it gets distributed to the maids or the staff who don’t mind the off taste. Or, like my aunt, they throw a massive BBQ. In fact we’ve begun timing these BBQs. They happen in a cluster 6-10 weeks after Bakreid because, obviously, you don’t know what to do with the damned meat. The meat that was supposed to go to poor people. The sacrifice that was supposed to be your devotion to God. The animal that was supposed to feed an improverished house at least for a couple of days.
Oh, and then you have some other beautifully two faced set ups, like ours. The day starts earlier than usual, because you have special morning prayers- which actually is a good start to the day, because my father fucks off to pray with the rest of the men at the community centers, and we can pray in peace at home. Then the morning flurries into afternoon and evening, because the butchers (who rake in the money in this couple of days) prepare mountains of cubed and diced meat, shanks, sirlions, my knowledge of cuts is woefully deficient, sorry. The whole time we are packing up the meat in 1-2 lb bags, sealing them and stacking them, while the cooks begin prep for the evening’s dinner party. Most houses hire people for this part of the work but in our case, ‘we’ ( read, dad) don’t like spending extra money when there’s easy labor at home. Distribution takes most of the day well into evening, and the cook’s prep reaches its culmination at this juncture. My mother generally goes unholy insane trying to coordinate everything and not give into temptation and murder dad, who’s in his element, screaming and bellowing at everyone in sight, shouting instructions and moral platitudes. Once he’s sufficiently shouted out, he goes to nap before the party while we finally clear up the house and prepare for the onslaught of guests. We get dressed first, because the cooks can’t spare mom, plus we do the serving initially so we should be ready to receive the thrice blasted fucks who come to inflict their benevolent company on us. Mom gets dressed at top speed after us, putting on prominent display all the trappings of luxury. There’s crystal vases overflowing with fresh flowers, cheery arrangements, little trays dotted with hors d’oeuvre and fruity cocktails. All the tables are full of tiny bites fighting for space, and the various assorted daughters and wives mingle and talk ernestly with us about new collections and watered down politics and how ‘dehplaaawrable’ the downtown’s becoming. Once upon a time I gave them reason to look down their long noses at me, with my hair I stubbornly cut myself, or toerings with skulls on them, for the sake of some show of rebellion, without which I’d go insane in this bleached, pastel crowd.
Fact of the matter is, half of them aren’t worth enough to be given that opportunity. Not that it’s torture to have to discuss the new McQueen, or how Pravda is always in vogue- but it’s not the least bit intelligent or illuminating, and after five minutes of rhapsodizing, you can’t anymore. And the other half, for all their brainwashed blandness, are actually sweet enough, even well meaning, and they don’t deserve the disdain. In any case, we see them for a few hours, and then our worlds segregate again. Like tonight, for instance, a newly minted follower of my father brought his wife along, and she was so obviously discomfited by the thick-as-treacle pretentiousness in the room. But even though the husband was clearly an ass, the wife was a kindred spirit, and we had an unprecedently pleasant Eid night. Who knows, maybe this dysfunctional approach to ‘family’ and ‘community’ hasn’t wrecked every pseudo Orthodox home. There might just be some ‘pillars of the community’ that aren’t rotten inside. Idealism and hope and all that, etc.
Despite having grown up in this atmosphere, I still watch and experience all this with the detachment of an impartial outsider (okay, more embittered than impartial). Maybe it’s because where we grow is also what we know, and I’ve grown in more than one place. We’ve known more than one country, we’ve known more than one home. OR maybe my mother’s right and I am just a bit of a deviant, demanding logic and spirituality in religion, secretly drowning my sorrows in whiskey while my father bangs on the door a few hours later, telling me to get up and pray because I’m going to Hell. But at the end of the day, of this day, it’s still some comfort knowing that my maid took home enough extra food to last her family a week. And maybe, after every act is played, a little good is done… and that’s good enough.
Even for an outsider on Bakreid.