It's that time of the year again. Young, freshly groomed children of varying ages, dressed in freshly pressed clothes will roam the streets, minted with crisp notes collected from neighbours and relatives near and far.
Armed with the confidence of buying power, they will strut into neighbourhood shops, picking out candies and toys they've been longing for the whole year.
You see, what makes the Choti (minor) Eid, also called Meethi Eid, a bigger and sweeter occasion than its more sombre counterpart, the Eid-ul-Azha — at least in children’s eyes — are the traditional cash gifts called ‘Eidi.’
The sweet vermicelli soaked in milk called Sheer Khorma in our parts of the world and the sweetmeats exchanged amongst friends and family to mark this festive occasion definitely sweeten the deal, but cash remains the king despite or perhaps due to the complexities that come into play with it. More on it later.
What starts in Ramazan as a tally of who observed how many fasts culminates among the children as to the amount of Eidi received, retained, spent, saved, confiscated and in certain cases extracted from pliable but playing hard-to-get elders. Depending on the socioeconomic background of both the beneficiaries and benefactors, the above considerations come into play in myriad combinations.
A lesson in finance
In the more affluent circles, children get to keep all their Eidi. However, in more budget-constrained circumstances, children get a head start in life’s economic lessons — the concept of a taxman, centralised collection, reallocation, redistribution to check against concentration of wealth, and how to avoid that terrible trap of the circular debt.
This is how it works: as soon as the child receives Eidi, the taxman, who usually happens to be the mother, begins to hover around, demanding to know the amount and the source. The tighter the family budget, the higher the tax slab.
Lucky recipients get to keep a portion from the windfall and the rest is claimed by the ‘taxmom’ with a refrain “hamara hee diya hua lautaya hai” [it is what we gave their children that has come back].
This is an early lesson for this lot as it prepares them for what awaits them at their weddings. Since parents spend a lot on their offspring’s nuptials, the cash gifts called salami in this case are expected to be surrendered to the central depository. The logic here is the same — it is what the parents gave over the years as wedding gifts that has been repaid. Where Eidi is concerned, other than the minors, womenfolk of the family, especially daughters and daughters-in law qualify for it regardless of age.
Sibling rivalries and gender also come into play and Eidi may be among the few areas where girls get preferential treatment. No number of Salams by the boys can ever match a single adab by a girl child, when it comes to melting aunties’ hearts and loosening uncles’ pockets.
This is the time of year when the number of relatives, both resident and visiting, are counted ardently in the hope of outdoing competing siblings or cousins. While everyone constantly counts and recounts Eidi, a running commentary on the ‘spoils’ and frequent announcements of the leading chief extortionists fill the air.
Kids are like nations — or is it the other way around?
Respective incomes do not always keep up with the expenditures. Some are trained by the bitter experiences of the past when mom refused to subsidise the toy beyond one’s Eidi-based purchasing power and save up. Others continue with their proverbial hatheli pay aai; gali mein khai [from fist to the street in a jiffy] ways. Here too, the push and pull between the instant gratification of ice-creams and candies, and durables like books and gadgets is at full display.
None of this is to suggest that Eid and Eidi are nothing but economics and bookkeeping. To the contrary, quite a few monetary principles are playfully turned upside down in Eid’s merrymaking. A crisp note assumes a higher value than a soiled, crumpled note, and for a short while, demand for change outstrips that of higher denomination bills.
Some historians trace the tradition of Eidi back to the Fatimid era when the ruler distributed cash gifts among his subjects, especially the less privileged segments of society. The tradition has since then witnessed many changes, such as the inclusion of food provisions and clothes as Eidi. Of late, globalisation has led to commercialisation of many traditions and Eidi is no exception.
Communication devices, gaming consoles, household gadgets, gift coupons, cryptocurrency and NFTs are all jostling to replace the good old wad of cash as Eidi. The traditional gifts of mithai or sweetmeats are also facing competition from more exotic goodies like chocolates, Turkish delights and the middle eastern Baklava courtesy of labour mobility and ease of communication.
However, in many Muslim societies, Eidi survives in its earliest form as elders consider it to be a valuable tool for training the young in financial management.
Of giving and sharing
In the subcontinent where festivals have traditionally been celebrated and enjoyed with a universal bonhomie, communalism and politics of identity have unfortunately ghettoised festivities like Eid, Diwali, Christmas, Baisakhi, and Navroz, etc.
It is perhaps time to recount Munshi Premchand’s story “Eidgah.” It portrays an orphan named Hamid who gets a three paisa Eidi from his grandmother, Amina, to buy sweets or enjoy a ride at the fair. Hamid instead buys a dast panah [pair of tongs] with his Eidi so that his grandmother does not get her fingers singed while making chapatis for him.
Long after Premchand’s demise, his grandson Vijay Rai continued to narrate “Eidgah” to neighbourhood children to inculcate the spirit of giving, sharing and a sense of community beyond the narrow constraints of identity, creed, and class.
In the last two years, social distancing necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to another iconic Eid tradition — embracing while wishing each other Eid Mubarak. This year, politicians are doing their best to appropriate even the Chand Raat in their quest for power.
Pray that some young Hamid or Hina use their Eidi to light lamps of hope. As Saghar Siddiqui so earnestly pined: “chiragh-e-Toor jalao bara andhera hey” (Light up the Sinai, it’s gotten too dark).