house of happy

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Sunday, 4 November 2012

The Children Must Watch

First it was the unexplained migration of goats. There were goats everywhere, their soft flanks painted with ochres, reds and greens. 'Wow, look at those goats' - we pointed from the car and were rewarded with one word: Bakr-id. The feast of the goat. Smiles turned to shivers as the infidels (us!) heard the whole story of Eid-al-Adha.

All those goats, rams, those beautiful red cows, that camel (!!!) - all these creatures that fill the streets of Islamabad - will be dead by Sunday. Namely: on Saturday morning entire families will gather around their sacrifice and say a prayer. The animal will be laid on one side, held down by the men. The patriarch will slit its throat and hold the warm body in his arms until it bleeds out. The children must watch.

The children must watch. 'They don't like it, but it's good for them' - I hear many times during these days. And 'They must understand'. Understand what? The 'rules' are spelled out: a) you must love the sacrificed animal (choose a favourite animal, one that you fed and cared for); b) the sacrifice must be done respectfully, no jokes, no giggling; c) you must stay with the animal until it dies; d) the meat is divided into three parts: one for the close family, one for the extended family and friends and the third for the poor; e) the children must watch - and learn the story of Abraham, who was ready to sacrifice his beloved son Ismail, at God's command. At the last minute, God replaced Ismail with a ram.

Since then, over 100 million animals are sacrificed every Eid, more than 10 million in Pakistan alone (thank you Wikipedia!) And the children must watch. I remember, as a child, watching my grandfather killing a hen. About 15 minutes before the act, I saw him sharpen his axe and learned why. Those last 15 minutes of the hen's life never left me; angst and adrenaline, curiosity and grief, rage and powerlessness, a lethal blend met with retching and sobbing, drowned in tears. I remember, another time, being inexplicably fond of a black turkey and shouting at them to tie ME up in the boot of our car instead, when the turkey made its final journey to a Christmas table in the city.

Why MUST the children watch? Moona has a good lay answer: 'If they eat meat, they MUST watch! You must know what's involved in putting that steak on your plate.' Based on which he decrees that I must watch, that Kira must watch too. We quake and gulp. We spend two days of terror around the beautiful goats, with flashbacks of an unnamed Romanian hen from the 70s flapping around a dusty courtyard minus its head.

We didn't watch. We woke up that Saturday morning and heard goats bleat from every back yard in the neighbourhood. We heard voices. Bleat. We heard the swish of sharpening metal. Bleat. We heard chanting. Bleat. Sometime later, we became aware of an unendurable silence.


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