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“Not for me,” said this author about KarvaChauth, a tradition that discriminates against women. But the golden middle she has found is really lovely – her mom in law champions it, too!
It’s a curse; to be born with a curious soul and a critical mind in a conservative family!
As a child, too, I always questioned everything. I was discouraged; to say the least! Always singled out if I tried to be loud in venting out my thoughts lest some apshakun should happen to the family or me, but that never stopped me. Now, after many years, either I am treated as an outcast, or seen with such contempt, as if I would be the next target of self-proclaimed commissars of the religion!
Though almost all the Hindu Gods and their special days triggered my questioning spree, yet the one which topped the list, and kicked explicitly all my curiosities used to be when my mother fasted the entire day sans a single drop of water on KarvaChauth.
“For the well-being and long life of your father”.
My mother’s answer always baffled me.
“But how is your fasting helping him stay healthy and live long? And what about you, why doesn’t father fast for you – doesn’t he need you also to be healthy and live long?”
My mom always desperately tried to answer my curiosities with so much effort.
A devout follower that she was, blindfolded by years of irrational conditioning that her reasons couldn’t go beyond a certain point when they ended up with this line. “You have to understand; God likes us, the women more and so gives us more opportunities to pray and seek good for others”.
She was a woman torn between what her heart said was right and what years of conditioning had made her believe was right.
My granny, who dictated the rule book for the day, took charge very early morning. On this particular day, the only day in the year; she used to wake up early to cook paranthas fried in tonnes of butter. This was accompanied with kheer loaded with ten different kinds of dry fruits. All this, along with various other items, a portion size suitable for three to four people, used to be served to my mother. And she was expected to gulp down everything between 4:45 am and 5 am that day, precisely fifteen minutes!
“You have to survive the entire day without anything, eat it, finish it!” used to be my grandma’s words as she stood next to my mother like a Mess in charge ensuring everything was consumed.
I always wondered – “What a pity! Were human bodies like car petrol tanks – fill it, shut it, forget it!”
My father, a man of logic and an intelligent person driven by rationale, completely surprised me on this day. His logical mind told him that it was harsh on his spouse, but he failed to raise his voice against granny’s rule book or rather the norms of the society laid out for women for the day. He often said – “but she is happy doing it!” She was, but I never was happy watching those skewed rituals!
“All for the happiness of ladies at home, you will understand when you grow up”. Yes, my father was right; years later, I would not just understand but would completely crack it!
As the evening approached, all the fasting women used to get ready in their heavy silk sarees and finest of jewellery (no repetitions were allowed except mangalsutra). With hues of red and green being the preferred ones, it used to be a sight to behold in the community park just in front of our house. Dozens of married women, decked in best of their clothes and elaborate pieces of jewellery – heavy danglers, a couple of neckpieces along with the mangalsutra, bangles of glass and gold along with bitchua and pajeb!
With the makeup matching the colours of their sarees and bangles, around thirty females used to gather discussing how the colour and design had come out on their mehndi adorned hands. The colour had a direct relation to how well the year would go on the dimensions of love and health of the spouse and mom-in-law. With beautifully decorated thali and a pot of water, all of them would sit in a circle waiting to hear the Veerawati story from Panditji, the chief guest for the day tended to with full honour and a sense of duty.
Panditji used to be the most sought-after man on the day, reeling under immense pressure to deliver! Performing under the strict deadline of attending to his so many calls, he acted like a robot. He was a man on a mission, quickly narrating the katha and amassing all the offerings of fruits, mithai, clothes and money, before pushing off to the next community park. His calendar had six to seven to attend between 4 pm-5:45 pm, before the sunset!
As I accompanied my mother, I wondered – The king, the maid, Veerawati and her brothers; ages old fantasy characters remembered only during those ten minutes! Couldn’t Panditji be more creative and narrate more topical, more relatable stories which could resonate better with the women?
My rebel thoughts used to get snapped every time with Panditji’s words, “Jaldi Jaldi thali ghomayein, Mujhe der ho rahee hai”. (Make it fast, I am getting late for the next community park). Finishing his repertoire in a Shatabdi express manner, he surely was a man delivering under stringent deadlines that day!
After this ordeal, used to begin the eternal wait for the “moon mama”. No panga with him! Our third-floor neighbours of the DDA building were expected to keep an eye out. They had to keep checking every five minutes for the divine sight after 7:30 pm (this window could stretch anywhere till 9 pm). When finally the moon mama was sighted, the whole building cheered the arrival which reverberated all across – aa gaya aa gaya!
The long day used to end with my dad standing in between the moon and the utensil of the day- a circular sieve (a truly ancestral piece which generations had been using) as my mother poured water followed by blessings from him and dear granny. How after releasing her fast, she used to devour her food and sip in loads of water– was such a relief to me!
Every year I resolved and announced it too. “I am not going to keep such a fast for my better half, come what may”. Something which my grandma always disliked and challenged but I was determined!
So when I and my better half started dating, and it was time to take a call, I explicitly shared my charter of demands which included reservations on following the rituals of this festival. I could sense some discomfort, but thankfully, I found a resonance. Though the battle was only half won, the final nod had to come from my mom-in-law. However, after a few not so easy twists and turns, she also was sorted.
So as per the KC deal every year – both I and my hubby fast to our varying levels of severity praying for each other’s health and well being, thanking each other for the lovely partnership. No katha, no panditji and no filling of tank early mornings, but a dine out table booked a week in advance.
My mom-in-law, who initially thought this to be weird, not just joins us for the KC dinner but has also found peace in the treaty. She lovingly champions the revamped KC in all her kitty parties!
Dear Gods, with due respect, I have revamped the KC rules. I may have ruffled feathers with some of you, but am happy to have cracked it!
A version of this was first published here.
Image source: By CSG-Info – अपना काम, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
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