Bicycles and birthday cake: on celebrating Eid

bicycle with basket leaning against a brick wall

When I was seven, Eid-al-Fitr fell on my birthday and I felt like the luckiest girl alive.

I was almost sure that I was going to get a bicycle - a lemon-coloured bicycle, to be precise, with a white basket. It was to be both a birthday present and an Eid gift; a double win. I was almost sure I was going to get it, because I’d picked it out and had already asked my parents for it already. And I was also pretty sure, because I’d caught sight of it, just a glimpse, in the corner of our garage a few days before. I loved surprises so I was sort of mad at myself for noticing it, but I was also willing to be patient and so pretended I hadn’t seen it at all. A bicycle it was, then.

On Eid morning, after we had been to the mosque and slurped milky vermicelli pudding out of my mother’s best china bowls for breakfast, I recall my bike being wheeled out of the garage, with a ribbon or two twisted around the handlebars. I don’t remember much about being a child. But I do remember that day, when my birthday (sort of) coincided with the sighting of a new moon, was a happy day.

My father had filled our dining room with balloons, hanging from the walls and the curtain rail, and my mother had equally filled the dining table with birthday cake and Pakistani sweets and all manner of dishes. Eid was the one day when dessert wasn’t on pause; instead everything was served up at once. It was not unusual to find a bowl of creamy kheer, a sweet, thick rice pudding dusted with ground pistachios, placed side-by-side next to a platter of puffed-up pilau or fat kebabs shaped like chubby thumbs. Hot naans were piled high in precarious tin foil towers, right beside plates of lurid orange jalebi, swirls of pure sugar in fried form. A bite of this, a bite of that.

Later, our home too was stuffed, full of friends and family who gathered around the dining table to sing to me. I blew out my candles, utterly charmed, utterly full.

Now that I am grown, I appreciate that there is a bit more to Eid than simply the celebration of food and the receiving of gifts. I understand now that it offers something symbolic and more meaningful; a sense of renewal, of starting over.

But all I remember on that day, when I was seven and only ever wanted a lemon-coloured bicycle with a white basket, was that after a month of fasting, Eid was a knock-yourself-out sort of day.

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This year, it just so happens that my middle child, my little boy in betwixt his brothers, celebrated his birthday on Eid. And it just so happens that he too asked for a bicycle.

This Eid, after a month of fasting and a morning of prayers at the mosque, after remembering the ones who are no longer with us and scattering petals at their graves, we gathered around my mother’s table once more.

She filled it with food, and I topped it up with birthday cake. We hung balloons from the curtain rail for him and we sung for him and I picked him up so he could blow out his candles and I stole kisses on that cheek while I still can.

We knocked-ourselves-out. We remembered how lucky we are that we can.

Will you join me?

Postcards Home is my online summer writing course on writing your first-person memories. It’s designed to inspire you to want to write, to fall in love with writing, and to do it in a small, simple ways that aren’t overwhelming.

Postcards Home will gently remind you to look out for the details in your everyday, both your present and your past, and take note so that one day, you too might remember everything you want to through your very own written words.

Postcards Home is available in two ways: as weekly essays released one by one (one each week), so that you may take your time to reflect and follow a writing journey, or as an immediate download for you to read through in its entirety,

The next round of Postcards Home begins on Monday, July 1st, 2019.

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