A tale of three camelsArchive
EIDUL Azha is over. It is in fact now a new year, with the month of Muharram having commenced. A season of mourning has begun and the mirth and merriment of Eid, some weeks ago, is a memory. Some portions of it, however, remain. Large cuts of meat lie chilling in the arctic depths of deep freezers, botis and smaller cuts for biryanis towards the top. Sacrifice is in theory an act of giving away; its realities, Pakistani freezers will tell you, is somewhat different. Its remains continue to appear on the plates of Pakistanis long after Eidul Azha has come and gone.
That is not the only memory of Eid that remains. In my neighbourhood, the parade of livestock did not simply include the usual goats and sheep and cows, but also camels. In years past, a camel tied up outside a neighbour’s house was a sight to see. Children and grown-ups came to see it; many perhaps had seen one from afar, on the beach or in the inland desert of Sindh, but the vast majority had never been close enough to touch it. So we trooped to the house where the camel was, imagined how it could survive 40 days in a desert without drinking.
In some older neighbourhoods of Karachi, a number of families inhabiting several floors in an apartment building would pool their money together and buy a camel. Hours before it was to be sacrificed, a drummer would arrive, the beats of the drum would bring the camel to its knees, its neck which had to be cut for the sacrifice being closer to the blade in that position.
Camels are no longer oddities in the sacrificial scene of Eidul Azha in Pakistan. Along with the prizewinning cows, ever taller and heftier, promising ever better cuts of meat, camels have become commonplace. In my Karachi neighbourhood this year, three camels stood tied to gates in a distance of about three or four blocks. Sacrificial animals and particularly camels, we all know, must be tied to the front of the house. They may no longer be novelties, but are still deemed worthy of the neighbourhood’s attention and estimation.
As is the case with many Karachi neighbourhoods, a drive through the area saw its pre-Eid transformation into a farm: sheep and goats and cows, the smell of what they ate and what they excreted, their moos and bleats competing with the workaday horns and honks. Amid the lesser animals were the camels, standing tall and festooned with decorations. (In the story of the Prophet Ibrahim a single animal appeared in the stead of his son. The single small animal is, however, now deemed somehow inadequate by the devout, and the camels are testaments to the trend.)
Then it was Eidul Azha and one of them was sacrificed on the very first day. A few hours after this was done, the entrails of the camel, steaming, stinking and bloody were dumped at the edge of the road, at the end of the lane where it joins the main road. The camel’s innards were not the only ones, of course; goat and sheep and cow innards were all there to keep it company. The camel, however, is a formidable animal and like its heft, its intestines outdo others in size, smell and substance. That was the first day.
On the second day, the discarded camel insides had company of their own kind, presumably from one of the other two camels. Those who brought them there to dump at the end of the lane far away from their own houses were never seen. What they brought, however, stayed, its stench rising in the air attracting carrion birds whose bellies may have been full from the season, but who could likely not resist the wafts of temptation. The party of entrails was now in full swing at the end of the road.
Finally, as the time for sacrifice was about to run out, the third camel was also sacrificed and just as it had been in the case of the other two, the giant stomach and intestinal portions were transported to the side of the road, at the edge of the lane, right next to our unlucky house.
There they remained for not one or two or three or four but five days. The city trucks came and took what they could from the vast pile of animal innards, but they could not it seems accommodate entrails as formidable as those of the three camels.
In the meantime, many neighbours who had sacrificed animals drove past the mess (they were not unlike us fortunate enough to live next to it). Some may have smelt it, others may have seen it, but none seemed bothered by it. They had done their religious duty: disposing of the remains was a problem for unknown others, the city, the government, or the unlucky people who had the misfortune of living near the very end of the lane. With the duties to faith fulfilled, the duties to fellow men or women could be filed away, unimportant and unworthy of notice.
The stench and filth of the sacrifices of others became so unbearable that we had to attend to it, hire and pay some workers who claimed to be affiliated with the city so that it could be removed. It was a difficult task, so grotesque that one could not help wonder at the callousness of those who made it necessary. Over a week after Eid, one neighbourhood’s tale of sacrifice came to an end, or at least to a pause, until next year, when more camels and their entrails, will again become the stench of indifference that the pious cannot smell.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2016