The coronavirus pandemic has changed life as we know it. Lockdowns/shutdowns/curfews imposed to varying degrees across the world, have become part of our daily reality. Social distancing, self-isolation and quarantining have drastically impacted the everyday human interactions we took for granted.
The rituals of civilisation — all of the things that brought us together as a society — are having to be remade in light of new restrictions. And the manner in which festivals — the most community-oriented of all celebrations in India — have been observed during this lockdown has been especially instructive.
Capping a quiet Ramzan, this Eid was unlike any other in recent memory. But in homes across India, families managed to keep the ethos of the festival alive.
This is a visual record of Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations in India under lockdown, as captured by eight photographers in collaboration with Firstpost. The photographers are Masrat Zahra (Srinagar); Hashim Maqbool (Sopore); Tehreem Fatima (Delhi); Muhammed Shaikh, Aslam Saiyad, Zahra Amiruddin and Hashim Badani (Mumbai); Taha Ahmad (Lucknow).
IN THE CITIES WE LIVE
Kashmir-based photojournalist Masrat Zahra writes from Srinagar: "More than seven million in Kashmir celebrated the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr on Sunday away from usual with residents mostly restricted to their homes. The roads, gardens and mosques are deserted as there are strict military restrictions in place to combat the spread of coronavirus that has already taken 20 lives."
More than 1,200 people have tested positive for the virus so far in Kashmir and the count is increasing with every passing day.
"Authorities have declared most of the districts in Kashmir as sensitive red-zones and imposed several restrictions in order to prevent further spreading of the virus," she adds.
Of the rural areas in the valley, freelance photojournalist Hashim Maqbool reflects on how the coronavirus crisis has impacted the everyday lives of people in Sopore town, in north Kashmir's Baramulla district.
"Horse carts[ as seen in the photo below], are a speciality of Sopore; you won't find them anywhere else in Kashmir. That's the reason why this place is also known as 'Birmingham' of the valley. There are more than 150 such horsecarts," Maqbool says. "On any given day, before the crisis, one would find an array of these horse carts parked at the main chowk of Sopore town and people used them frequently."
The chowk would be choc-a-block round the clock during the festive period with people of the town and nearby villages buying a variety of items from the shops and eateries. "Alas, this time it was just shut shops and empty streets."
Tehreem Fatima, a photojournalist based in Delhi, shows how her hometown Kanpur celebrated "Quarant-Eid" which was marked by empty roads and barren mosques: "Police told me that every year there are almost two lakh people who come to the eidgah to offer their Eid namaz, but this year was starkly different. While praying in congregation is something that everyone looks forward to on Eid, this year, even the mosques asked people to stay away."
However, Fatima says, there were people who turned up at the gates of cemeteries to offer their prayers for their loved ones and a better future. "Even after 30 days of fasting, there was a rare melancholy in the mood of the people, which somehow also translated to their neighbourhoods."
IN THE RELATIONSHIPS WE SHARE
"Lockdown has changed the way we have lived our lives — the things we enjoyed, the way we socialised, prayed, celebrated — just about everything has changed," says Mumbai-based wedding photographer Muhammed Shaikh. This year, since the Eid-ul-Fitr namaz couldn't be held at the mosque, Shaikh stayed home with his family and prayed from home. "I wish we wake up to a better future and the world heals from this pandemic — that's my hope and prayer."
This year, the month of Ramzan was rather "unusual" for Hashim Badani, noted travel and documentary photographer from Mumbai. Anybody living in Mumbai would relate to Badani's thoughts about how the city that "never sleeps" has indeed been brought to a standstill ever since the lockdown was imposed.
Badani, however, says that things began to feel familiar when he visited his family home in Byculla to spend time with his parents a few days before Eid. "Seeing Ma and Dad pray in the fading light that envelops our home finally felt like the beginning of the festivities."
In the same locality as Badani's, freelance photojournalist Zahra Amiruddin was busy counting and documenting the mawa ladoos prepared at home on Eid.
"Every year, ma, bhai, dadi, and my sister-in-law, spend the morning painstakingly rolling the mawa ladoos, traditionally known as 'Sev Na Larvah', into shape. As always, I assign myself to the most useless but definitely required job of the counting and documentation committee," she says. In doing so, Amiruddin wondered how to continue making these photographs on Eid, without making them look repetitive.
"I guess that’s what makes these moments special right? In the midst of all this uncertainty, you can count on some things to remain exactly the same. This year’s ladoo count— 250!"
From Old Lucknow's Agha Meer Deorhi area, Taha Ahmad writes about how a closed neighbourhood celebrated Eid among themselves as they couldn't visit their relatives and extended families in other parts of the town due to lockdown restrictions.
"Members of the same family offered the Eid namaz together at home. I too visited my chacha's home, which is just next to mine, and offered my namaz there," he says.
"We all prayed and hugged each other. This is one of the most important things about Eid, but it has not been happening much ever since coronavirus scare hit us. So, from a community, it has now become a thing of nuclear families [sic]." Residents of Deorhi Agha Meer found families in their neighbours and continued the spirit of Eid-ul-Fitr by breaking the fast together with a bountiful feast.
IN THE PRAYERS WE OFFER
This year Eid-ul-Fitr in India was marked by requests and appeals made by community leaders asking people to stay at home and refrain from gathering in mosques, eidgahs or any public spaces, thereby complying with social distancing guidelines.
With the doors to places of worship being shut, some devotees stood outside the gates and offered their prayers. Masrat Zahra captured a few of these devout souls on the streets of Srinagar outside a few mosques.
For some, prayers had begun a night before Eid, on chandraat (the night of the moon). Taha Ahmad shares a portrait of a woman from Old Lucknow's Agha Meer Deorhi locality offering her prayers right after the sighting of the crescent moon:
Tehreem Fatima informs that while most of the practicing Muslims offered their namaz from their respective homes, there were some who could pray from within the precinct of a masjid in Kanpur. They were not residents, but people who got stuck in the city during the lockdown and found shelter in the mosque.
"Even so, they were completely adhering to the social distancing norms by wearing masks and maintaining a substantial distance from their fellow worshippers."
IN THE WAYS WE COPE WITH A PANDEMIC
While many missed the usual warmth of Eid-ul-Fitr this year due to the stress of the crisis, for some the festival brought small joys, such as being able to meet their loved ones after a long time.
In Baramulla district, there is a Primary Health Centre at Tarzoo village in Sopore town. On the day of Eid, some of the patients' family members came around to visit them. The health centre management arranged for a few treats to be distributed amongst the children of the patients.
The Shah Rasool Memorial Education Trust in North Kashmir's Sopore town has been turned into a quarantine centre which currently houses quarantined individuals, mainly students, who came back to their hometown post the COVID-19 scare. In the photo below, parents came down to meet their children and offer them eidis which included essential goods and cash.
Like most offices and workplaces across the globe have taken to virtual meeting platforms to, this Eid many youngsters turned to group video calling apps as a way of talking to their loved ones.
Mumbai-based photographer and nature enthusiast Aslam Saiyad celebrated Eid with his parents, wife and son at his home in Kandivali. His brother who lives two buildings away couldn't come home to taste the festive staple sheer kurma due to lockdown restrictions. But smartphones and social networking came in handy in the times of social distancing and the brother got his virtual eidi.
Similarly, Yusuf Ahmad, a resident of Lucknow, celebrated Eid with his sisters over a Zoom call. Taha Ahmad (the photographer) says, "Muslims in India and across the world celebrated Eid this year following all the rules and regulations of lockdown and following social distancing norms prescribed by the government."
[Banner image]: Delhi's Jama Masjid on the evening of 25 May when people were offering their evening Eid namaz. Photo courtesy: Sohaib Ilyas
— Copyrights for all photographs used in this essay are reserved with the photographers.