The old man was kind to me as usual.
Salaam-alekum, I said, as we walked into his soap-recycling workshop in Dharavi. He smiled and waved us in. Behind us, his workers sliced the soap neatly into little bars.
Hurry, hurry, the old man said to them. I must go say my prayers.
There were two goats in the workshop - a big brown one, and a smaller cream coloured one. They followed him around.
First, I must feed these two, he said to me. And he brought out his store of wheat grain.
Wheat?, I asked. I thought it would be grass or leaves.
Ah, these are hand-fed goats, he said. No grass for them!
The goats ate greedily. I looked at their shiny pelts and felt sorry for them.
So, I said to him, tomorrow you will slit their necks, huh?
He nodded and said, yes, it is qurbani.
Qurbani, sacrifice, is the theme of Bakr-Id (in memory of the time when Ibrahim sacrificed his son at God's command, only to discover that instead of the son, a dead ram lay at the altar).
The ideal qurbani is therefore, when one selects the animal oneself, nourishes it and becomes familiar or even attached to it. Without that attachment, there is no real sacrifice, is there?
I knew this, but it didn't stop me from feeling sorry for the poor goats. Vegetarians like me can afford to feel this sort of sympathy. But as long as I don't get holier-than-thou about it, as long as I can understand someone else's point of view, it's ok, I guess.
I don't eat meat, I said to the old man. It was the perfect opening for him to ask me about myself. Who was I? What part of the country did I come from? Where did I live? We found ourselves settling into the well-understood rituals that govern social interaction.
I talked about my grandfather, and how he migrated to Bombay and found a job here. As I told my grandfather's story, the old man stood up and cleared a chair for me. Come, sit, he said, why are you standing? And thus, over a migrant's story, we made a connection.
Next time, I go there, I'll ask the old man about *his* story. I am looking forward to it.
The photos below are by the very talented Meena Kadri, who came with me on my Dharavi jaunt. Check out her flickr album if you have the time. What an amazing eye she has for form and colour.
Aerial view of recycling sheds (on the left). Trucks bring in raw material and take away finished goods.
Inside the soap factory: Worker slicing and packing soap. The raw material includes waste from large soap manufacturing factories. The final product is a small green slab.