x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

A journey worth taking

The trip home to celebrate Eid is sometimes a long one.

The rush to get home in time to break your fast is something has become familiar during the past month. The traffic got particularly heavy during some times of the day, and come sundown, the roads were deserted. If you turned your gaze towards airport lounges, you would have seen that there is no relief for airline personnel, either. The race to get home to celebrate Eid with your nearest and dearest has meant airport lounges are bursting at their seams with people eager to be reunited with their loved ones - and keeping strange hours in order to get there on time.

And so, on a recent flight, I saw two gentlemen sharing one piece of carry-on luggage. There was not much in it because all the gifts - clothes, a DVD player, toys, perfume and running shoes - were packed away in two boxes that had been checked in. In the bag, apart from the usual necessities of travel, they carried two gold chains, one for each of their wives. Once they landed at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport, they would take a shuttle to the domestic airport, where they would wait, snatching occasional sleep, on the lounge chairs for three and a half hours before boarding the next flight to Ahmedabad. Then they would board a train and travel to the northern town of Unjha. More than half the village would turn up, they said. But after two days of travel, they refused to admit they would be too tired or irritated to celebrate their return, a well-earned leave they take every two years.

"You must have a sense of humour about these things," one of them said. "Otherwise, how are you going to entertain a house full of relatives with your travel stories if everything on the journey turned out just fine? That is boring. Telling them what we ate in the plane is fun. Or if the train is delayed, what happened. How did we cope? They want to hear every detail so we will tell them." A group of men from a village near Unjha - like scores of others from all across India - work in the UAE. Not all their friends are returning home this year to celebrate Eid, but they are all sending money home. These two men are not carrying money, for fear of being pickpocketed along the way. When they reach their village, they will line up at a local money transfer shop to receive the money they sent ahead of time and distribute it to those less fortunate than themselves. It is zakat - an essential part of celebrating the holy month.