Karwachauth, the Indian equivalent of Valentines Day, especially in the Northern part of India. Of course, with a traditional twist. Here, women keep a fast from sunrise to moon rise to pray for the long life of their husbands. In return, the husbands showers them with jewelry and gifts and if you are married to a modern-day romantic husband (cue- Raj of DDLJ), the husband also fasts for you, with you, for your long life. Problem solved. That too, in Oh! So romantic a way!
I love Romance. I am super romantic. I guess, I acquired the quintessential Hindi film standard of romance from my love for mushy Bollywood songs and film and from my parents who are no less than any filmy romantic couple even today. Yes, they even sing love songs, looking at each other in a Dilip Kumar- Madhu Bala mode and I bet they tried dancing around like Jitendra and Sridevi in the botanical garden somewhere in India when they were younger.
So, as a kid, every year, I saw my mom get up on Karwachauth, humming some Lata Mangeshkar song, feeding my dad his favorite breakfast with heart emoticon on her face and staying hungry the whole day. My dad would make henna motif on her palm and then she would dress up in a beautiful traditional silk saree in red, orange, gold and wear her Mangalsutra and jewelry and meet other ladies for Karwachauth Puja.
In the night, we would be sent to the garden to look for the moon and inform my Mom. We would run shouting, ‘ Mumma Chhand aa Gaya ‘ in Hindi which means, ‘Mom, look Moon has come’, excitedly and then, my mom would look at the moon from a sieve, and then look at my Dad. He would feed her water and an Indian sweet and then she would dutifully bend to touch his feet and my Daddy would pick her up and kiss her.
This went on for 16 years that I stayed at my parent’s home and even though I moved out, they continued this tradition, year after year, until this day.
Then after years, I got married. My husband, on the other hand, has not even seen Sholay which is like the most epic film of Hindi Cinema and at the time of our marriage, he could barely speak in Hindi. My husband is a South Indian by birth but has been raised with very non- traditional sensibilities and he has never seen his Mother observe Karwachauth, simply because it’s not their tradition. So, poor guy has not been educated in the rituals of this festival which is the epitome of romance for a married couple, because of his family and his lack of knowledge and interest in Bollywood.
I bet he would have followed Karwachauth, had Princess Leah observed it in Star Wars, but since that’s not the case, he has no feeling whatsoever for this festival. In his books, it’s not even a festival.
Now, Imagine my 1st Karwachauth after marriage. We were married for 2 months. I had moved to Oman as an Expat wife. I did not know any Indian family yet and my husband did not know the Karwachauth observing traditional side of me.
As luck would have it, Karwachauth was on a weekend that year. I announced to my husband that, “Tomorrow I will be fasting for your long life. I will not eat anything or even drink water from sunrise to moonrise and in the evening, I will do some puja and then when the night falls, we will wait for the moon to rise and then when it arrives I will look at you through a sieve. Then you will feed me water and give me food and say Thank you.”
Now read this whole paragraph again. And maybe you will notice it sounds super funny coming out of the mouth of a woman who is an educated, HR Boss, with 4 teams reporting into her. Who has been a speaker at the Women In leadership forum and who has worked in her own capacity to counsel and empower women abused by their family and in-laws?
My husband looked at me as if I had lost it. He seemed worried about my identity crisis but because we were only married for 2 months then, he chooses to keep quiet and played along.
Karwachauth came and I observed my fast. He sat next to me, munching Pringles and eating burgers. I was trying to maintain my calm, and pray to God for the long life of this insensitive man who was sitting next to me, eating food, as my stomach rumbled. As a dutiful new bride, I also let it go. But by the evening, I was in a very sad state. I don’t diet, I drink gallons of water in a day, I was just not feeling romantic or even ‘in love’ with a pounding headache and dehydrated throat.
My husband drove me to a nearby beach that night. I came out of the car and did the moon ritual, when some people gathered around us, thinking witchcraft was going on. My husband asked me to do it quickly and we soon fled the scene, before cops caught us, because we lived in a country where the display of foreign religious beliefs out in open is not allowed.
Anyway, I continued this one-sided tradition of mine for 3 years, when last year, my husband had enough.
I had become severely dehydrated by the evening. I had a severe headache and I had already thrown up twice since morning and so my stomach was as acidic as some boiling pot in a chemical lab. My husband was visibly annoyed and wanted me to break the fast and stop this suffering. I obviously rejected the idea and continued my misery.
My husband sat me down and gave me a big monologue which can be put into the following bullet points: –
- This is NOT romantic
- Since you are married to me, a South Indian, it’s not even traditional
- You not eating for a day is so not increasing my life by any extent of imagination possible.
- I will live longer if I am not worried about your health or angry about your foolish display of romance
- This ritual made sense in olden days when women observed it for their husband who was going to war, or whose long life meant their long life because women were burnt with their husband on his pyre. I am not going to a war and the way it looks right now, you are killing yourself anyway.
- And don’t let me even start on the hypocrisy of your beliefs where you consider men and women to be equal and complimentary while you play this game of stupid submissiveness, touching my feet, expecting gifts for your suffering. How the hell is this a symbol of strength in a woman?
- Is it really your choice, or is it years of conditioning and cultural programming that you fell for?
- I love you. And I don’t want you to suffer and my not eating food for you is out of the question especially when we are abundant enough to feed ourselves and others. Eat. Be happy. That is romantic.
You got the gist, right? Now, do you want to know my reaction?
I fought with him.
I told him he doesn’t understand
I told him he is insensitive.
I told him, this is not the Karwachauth I fantasized about and it’s truly not how they show it in the films.
But something happened the next morning when I had my tea and a plate of Dosa. See, when the food finally went in my tummy, my brain cells started performing.
I am, well ehmm (!!), a modern woman who can handle short skirts and cotton sarees with equal elan. I introspected. I realized, that I do not believe in the story of this festival, I also know that this is not imperative of my faith, because it is just a hearsay ritual, not a religious ceremony prescribed by the Veda. I also knew that every word that my husband said, I agreed with, because, somewhere I had myself thought about it. And most of all, I realized that I was not finding any happiness, love, romance or even goodwill on this day, all due to thirst and hunger. So, this day was just becoming a joke of sorts and I was the joker.
I concluded that my husband was, in fact, acting from the space of Love. He is the man, who gets me gifts every other day and he has never waited for an occasion or a festival to shower me with jewelry or holidays or spa or clothes. His love was not given to me in the form and manner and doses that I prescribed to him on that day. And that’s, fine, right?
Why should my man play along with me, on my notion of ‘ How love should be’ on a day in a year, for rituals I don’t believe in, for a festival that’s overrated, when my body, mind, and soul are clearly not enjoying it.
And then, I had a moment of epiphany. I decided. Next year on Karwachauth, I will do the fun stuff. I will deck up in my Indian Saree and wear jewelry and channel my Indian bride avatar. I will even pray for my husband, his happiness, our marriage and his long life, but I will not Stay Hungry and I am done staying Foolish. No more masochism in the name of Love. Not for me. My body doesn’t like it. I don’t like it and my husband is definitely not loving me any EXTRA for it.
How does keeping anyone hungry ever strengthen any bonds? What’s to say that a woman who has been hungry all day wouldn’t just simply go ballistic and take her ire out on the man who is she is fasting for?! I know I did.
I am not going to touch the sensitive topic of Karwachauth, where the women who call themselves feminist say, “Oh you keep the Karwa Chauth fast, C’mon, yaar, you are educated.” Or those women partaking feel compelled to defend, “I keep Karva Chauth but I am not regressive.” I am no one to decide because I have questions of my own.
So, if you don’t fast on Karwachauth, does that make you a bad wife?
If your husband does not understand your self-afflicted suffering from lack of food, does it make him a Bad Husband?
Should this make you feel weak and guilty?
Lots of questions and no easy answers. This is one of those arguments were for and against have to agree to disagree, and hope that if you are indeed fasting on Karwachauth, it is because you want to and not because you are coerced into it. Resentment and hunger are not good companions, after all.
So this year, when I will dress up beautifully, and meet up other women who are fasting I know I will be asked this question by other married Indian women of my society, ‘ So, you don’t fast for your Husband?’, and I will cheerfully say, “Nope! I don’t. And neither does he. And we think, It’s pretty romantic!!”
*Glossary: If you are not an Indian reading this
*Karwa Chauth :
Celebrated nine days before Diwali, Karwa Chauth is an auspicious festival celebrated on the fourth day of the waning moon in the Hindu month of Kartik which falls in October. ‘Karwa’ means a small earthen pot of water and ‘chauth’ means ‘fourth’ in Hindi. It refers to the fact that the festival falls on the fourth day of the dark-fortnight, or ‘Krishna Paksha,’ which is the month of Kartik. The festival also coincides with the wheat-sowing time, which is the beginning of the Rabi crop cycle. Huge earthen pots in which wheat is stored are sometimes called ‘Karwas’. There is a possibility that this festival may have begun as a prayer for a good harvest.
Pre-celebrations of this festival include applying henna or ‘mehndi’ on the hands. A few days before Karwa Chauth, married women buy new ‘karwas’ and paint them on the outside with lovely designs. They put bangles, ribbons, home-made sweets, make-up items and small clothes inside it. On the day of Karwa Chauth, they visit each other and exchange these ‘karwas’. Daughters-in-law purchase new clothes and gifts for their mothers-in-law and mothers-in-law present them with red sindoor, new bangles, and make-up kits in exchange, wishing them a long and happy married life.
A mangalsutra is basically a black and gold beaded necklace with a gold or diamond pendant. Mangalsutra carries immense importance in Hindu weddings as well as in the lives of Hindu married women. It is tied around the neck of the bride by the groom during the wedding rituals. It is a symbol of marriage and is worn by the bride until her husband’s death. The word mangalsutra can be deciphered as ‘sacred thread or cord’; as ‘mangal’ means auspicious and ‘sutra’ means thread or cord. Though in appearance it looks like a jewelry item, it is definitely much more than that. The concept is thought to have originated in South India, where it is known as thali or thaaly or maangalyam. It is a yellow thread painted with turmeric paste and is tied around the bride’s neck with three knots.
Note : Some images in this post are taken from Google Image search and they are free to download.
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