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My romantic bubble around Karva Chauth burst at 19. My friend's diabetic mother collapsed on the floor due to the fasting. Her MIL called her 'spoilt' & her husband was nowhere to be seen!
As a young girl growing up in Delhi, to say that I was familiar with the concept of Karva Chauth would be an understatement. No, my Mom never kept this fast nor did she ever feel the need to explain her decision. Like all the other ladies, she did enjoy dressing up though. My grandmother however was quite fastidious about it as were several of my aunts. Anyway, it was a familiar concept.
Over the years, Karva Chauth went from being a North-India specific custom to a pan-India rage. Bollywood and the romanticization of this festival were essentially responsible for this. Scenes from popular movies showed young girls dressed in elaborate attire, keeping the fast with more gusto than even their mothers had done. Some particularly mushy movies would even show the boyfriend/fiancé/husband fasting alongside, thus declaring to the world how much in love he really was. Adorable right? Then they’d open the fast together, eat from the same plate (that was a must) and live happily ever after. Speaking for myself, I was young and naïve and admittedly, enamoured.
‘It’s like our very own Indianized version of Valentine’s Day,’ I once heard a neighbourhood aunt remark. ‘So romantic.’ I suppose the fact didn’t cross her mind that sadly, Valentine’s Day is often regarded as a Western evil in our society thus making it a barely tolerated, almost shunned festival. Unfortunate of course but that’s another matter. The point is that
Karva Chauth has rapidly gone from being a traditional custom mostly celebrated at home with family, to a highly anticipated, romanticized, dynamic, social event. An event where women young and old competed for everything from the most expensive sari to the most generous mother-in-law right up to the most extravagant declaration of love by the husband. Needless to say, it was a happy day for the shops and markets too. After all, they were laughing their way to the bank on this day, every year.
I still remember the day my romantic bubble burst as far as Karva chauth was concerned. I must have been around 19 (perhaps 20). I was visiting the house of a close friend. Her mother had kept the fast and I still remember how pretty she’d looked in an intricate, pink chiffon sari, her hair professionally blow-dried. Anyway, we were sitting in the living room, drinking lemonade and eating mattris when a sudden thump had us all rushing to the master bedroom. Much to my chagrin, my friend’s mum was lying on the floor, white as a sheet.
‘What happened to her?’ I asked, shocked to see the pretty lady who was always so kind to me sprawled on the hard, stone floor, barely conscious. ‘This happens almost every year.’ My friend looked sad even as she helped her mother to a sitting position and offered her a glass of water which she obviously refused. ‘She’s diabetic you see and isn’t supposed to fast. It’s an essential custom though and my dadi insists on it.’
I turned my face to the far end of the room, curious to see the otherwise benign looking, silver-haired, old lady who insisted on something that even the doctor had strictly advised against. Even as I stared at her, she shook her head disapprovingly and muttered, ‘The girls these days. No strength at all. When I was her age, I used to keep the fast and do all the housework. Yet, I never uttered a word of complaint.’
Listening to her, I wondered whether she was trying to set an example that she thought ought to be followed or was simply grumbling about her daughter-in-law. ‘My kids were all inconsiderate brats,’ the old lady continued then. ‘And I didn’t have a doting husband either who got me expensive presents and took me out for dinner afterwards. I tell you, the girls these days are just plain spoilt!’
She rose from her armchair and shuffled out of the room, still muttering. Even as we helped my friend’s mother to the bed and turned on the air conditioner for her, I couldn’t help wondering where the doting husband was. Probably still at work and quite oblivious to everything that had happened. I remember how all my romantic associations with the tradition went flying out the window that day. I promised myself that I would never put myself in a position like that. Ever.
Almost two decades have passed since that day. I am no longer that naïve, wide-eyed teenager, sitting in a darkened theatre and watching with awe as the hero feeds the heroine her first mouthful of food as a reward for fasting for his long life. Nor am I the appalled young girl who had vowed never to follow a parochial custom that coerced a woman into something that was so obviously detrimental to her health and well-being. On the contrary, today, I am a confident woman who enjoys keeping the fast on her own terms and seeks no permissions or approvals from anyone.
Admittedly, I have customized the way I do things, detaching myself from certain practices that my mind and heart cannot accept. A traditional yet modern woman, I’m called by some. I don’t know about that though. All I know is that I am my own kind of woman. I do things my way. On my own terms. No questions, no rules, no sanctions. No pressure, no obligations. No sudden annual declarations, no unrealistic illusions. Just my decision, my choice. Plain and simple. And that my friends, is the way it should be.
Image source: Still from K3G
Rrashima is a senior corporate analyst with over 20 years of experience in the corporate sector. She is also a prolific writer and poet and her articles, stories and poems are regularly published in leading read more...
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