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That I don’t fast for my husband’s long life on Hartalika teej is something people have issues with. Why can’t I have a choice here?
It was Hartalika Teej a few weeks ago. The festival began as a dedication to celebrate the union of Goddess Parvati with Lord Shiva. There are many stories behind its origin and evolution. Soon, women adopted this ritual as a day’s fast praying for their husband’s longevity.
I grew up watching my mother, aunts and women of neighbourhood starving happily for their husband’s long and healthy life. And I, too, participated with enthusiasm in the preparation of the prasad, in applying mehendi, playing ludo and of course, dancing till twilight.
It ended only after devouring the delicacies my mother made as offerings. Everyone was allowed in the nocturnal gathering filled laughter and dance. It was jovial and immensely satisfying.
As I grew up, I witnessed the unwillingness in women to observe fast. Yet they do it following the societal norms. Their fasting was very ironical to me. Neither domestic violence, physical pain, mental harassment or an unloving marriage stopped them from starving themselves for their husbands’ good health.
My question of why didn’t men fast was always called an act of rebellion. The reason for my conflict with this is an altogether different topic to discuss.
When I got married, it never occurred to me to fast for this or any other festival for my husband’s well-being. Neither did my mother-in-law mention that I should observe a fast, which came as a great relief to me. She was understanding enough to not ask me for my reason behind it.
And later, I found out that she never fasted for this day in her entire life, either. I was elated to not be of the different kind. With time, this category outnumbered my statistics. I was happy and my family was cool with it.
It started getting distressing when friends, relatives and neighbours started questioning my integrity as a wife. ‘Why don’t you fast?’ ‘It comes once a year only!’ ‘Are you not happy in this marriage?’ ‘Do you not want him to live long?’ ‘What ya! You should fast na!’
But the most ridiculous one came from a colleagues wife, ‘Did you not want to marry him? Had any boyfriend, kya?’ This came as a blow to me! And each passing year, the ‘whys’ never stopped coming my way.
During the first few years, the naïve me answered all their questions as a challenge. I wanted to prove my point, ‘He doesn’t observe a fast, either!’ ‘I fast during saavan, janmashtami. And I pray for the well-being of my family!’ A few times, I played defensive and said, ‘My family never asked.’ They would nod with a smile and while holding a sneer in their voice.
With each passing year, I realised I couldn’t control other’s behaviour but I could choose how I responded to it. Moreover, I was answerable to none of those people who equated my relationship on the basis of their rigid mindsets.
And irrespective of my answers, the questions never stopped hitting my face. Now, I have cut down the threshold of the jibes with a single ‘no,’ a shrug of my shoulders and walking away with a smile.
It amuses me how this mockery never dampened my excitement for the ones observing it with the beliefs and values. In fact, I desperately wait for the photographs to pour into my phone’s gallery so I can live each moment of the celebration. My sister’s henna decorated hands, maa’s Benarasi saree and my sister-in-law’s jewelled photos. All these make my day.
Life is and should be all about the blissful and tough life choices and decisions. When it is adopted not imposed, we can go to extents to upload the commitment with adherence. But as a woman, we are deeply conditioned to follow the festivities and norms without giving a thought to if we really to want to follow it or not. The prejudice that overpowers the unwillingness is questionable.
With times changing, I hope one day, we can all celebrate it without doubting the dedication of woman’s role as a mother, wife or sister. These rituals are a part of our lives and not the complete identity of our existence. I pray for the day when we have welcoming vibes for the varied ones like us, who are slightly different from you.
Let us all hail our identity as Jean-Paul Satre, ‘We are our choices!’ and celebrate all the festivals.
A version of this was earlier published here.
Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam
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A researcher, an advocate of equal rights, homemaker, a mother, blogger and an avid reader.
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