KARACHI: It was an occasion she had been planning for since last summer. An event that was going to happen after 19 years in her family.

Fouzia Nadeem and her children were excited not only to attend the wedding of her brother Mudassir, but also of her three male cousins.

Flying all the way from Mississauga, Canada, a 14-hour plane journey, arriving in Karachi on Feb 26, the early days of March were spent by her in the last-minute shopping for the family weddings slated to be held during the end of the month.

Preparations were ongoing for pre-wedding events such as dholki, mayun and mehndi until the Sindh government announced the closure of wedding halls, public gatherings and shrines on March 14 until April 5 as coronavirus cases began to rise in the province.

“We had no idea this was going to happen. After all, malls were still open when news of coronavirus cases in Sindh began to first emerge,” says Fouzia, an online Quran teacher.

Two people narrate their experience with one finding a silver lining

However, Ailia Abbas, a housewife residing in Gulshan-i-Iqbal, was not completely caught off guard when she heard of the announcement. She, too, like Fouzia had prepped for an annual major gathering planned for March 14.

“Koonday at my place is a huge event with arrangements for over 300 people. Large amounts of food are ordered. Our house is spring-cleaned for three days. We also prep traditional Koonday foods such as puri, kheer, kaley chanay and dahi baday,” she tells me on the phone on 22nd Rajab, when most Koonday are held in households.

“But we kept our eyes on the news on the virus which soon became a serious situation. We were in two minds and pushed the date to March 21,” she says. “We thought we would ask people to come in groups of four and partake of the homemade niyaz.”

But then the situation took a dramatic turn when Ailia and the members of her joint family whom she lives with heard the announcement of the ban on large gatherings by the Sindh government. They immediately decided to cancel the event for which they received backlash from relatives, she says.

“There is no doubt that life and death are in God’s hands but then suicide is certainly not allowed in our religion. Therefore, we decided it’s best we stay at home. We still prepared tikki, kheer and macaroni at home, parceled them into packets and distributed them, but were cautious not to enter houses,” she says.

Silver lining

Fouzia continues to hope though that before she returns to Canada on April 12, her family can arrange the valima function for her brother even though she tells me her husband, who did not come to Karachi with her, is insisting she return soon after the small-scale rukhsati comprising a nikah ceremony with very few people in attendance which they have been forced to organise because of the Sindh government tightening curbs on the province’s residents.

On Tuesday, with countrywide cases rising to 212, the Sindh government took the drastic decision to close down restaurants, shopping malls, public parks, government offices, out-patient departments of hospitals and inter-city bus services for 15 days.

“Of course, we want everyone affected by the virus to recover and others to remain safe but all our armaan have sunk,” Fouzia tells me dejectedly.

Ailia, still, finds a bright spot in the toughening restrictions amid COVID-19 pandemic. “Personally, this small-scale observance of Rajab ke koonday should be the way,” she says.

“So much money is spent when it could be spent on someone needy.”

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2020

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