My first brush with Karwa Chauth was though my mother. I remember her dressing in gorgeous sarees, some from her wedding trousseau wearing lovely jewellery and keeping the fast with cheer and peace. She woke up early morning before dawn and ate whatever she had to eat. Since I never woke up that early, I had no idea how she did that part. 🙂 There was a complete absence of any gifts of the material kind. Dad did not give her any; she never cribbed about not getting any. Perhaps because festivals were not this commercial and there were no hyper sales back then to put pressure. Her fast was observed without any protests. She kept it without water or nirjala till her health declined and she stopped it. I can’t forget the goodies she made for all of us including malpuas, puri, sabzi etc. and there was a ritual she followed when she made us all sit and listen to her recite the story of Karwa Chauth in the evening. We kids had the responsibility to spot the moon and report to her. She then broke her fast after doing her pooja watching the moon through the sieve. It was a beautiful, ethereal day filled with happiness. No tussles in her heart or mind about why she should be fasting for her husband or putting him on a pedestal. No hysteria or shenanigans from my father who did what he was told to in a matter-of-fact manner. He, of course, stopped her from fasting when her health got worse and she complied. As simple as that.
So, when I got married, I was excited to do the fast for my husband. You know the rush of love you feel when you are newly married. How you want to be a part of this elite gang of married women. I was married into a family where there was no tradition of this fast except for a sister-in-law who kept it at her own volition. So, I was pretty much free to do what I wanted, keep it in whatever fashion I deemed fit. I loved dressing up in my wedding ghagra choli which still fits me and wear heavy jewellery. I loved applying mehndi and wearing colourful bangles. I did the fast diligently though I was scared to God how someone like me would fast as I had never fasted before. I did not cruise through them over the years. No tales of superhuman strength there. I actually struggled because I felt faint, had a bad headache and felt very thirsty by the evening. In the meanwhile, I also was exposed to a lot of chatter on social media about how regressive the festival was. How could independent women do something like this? And the jokes, damn the jokes! They hurt.
Why was someone else having an issue with what I did inside my house out of my free well? I felt a bond with my husband, a day to celebrate our wonderful relationship and love, and also a day to test my self-control. He asked me every time to stop keeping it as I felt a massive headache and nausea by the evening. I finally did 2 years back. I did feel a little sad about letting go of a ritual that I had done diligently for years. Hey, but what is stopping me from celebrating the festival without the fast? Nothing! So now, I just dress up, enjoy the day and cook some goodies sans the fast.
Many of us living in big, urban cities are doing the fast happily and customizing it to suit ourselves. Some avoid food but take juices and other liquids, some take milk and fruits, yet others don’t have food but water. Some who never kept it also keep it due to the widespread reach of Bollywood and romance around the ritual. As long as it is done through one’s own choice, it is perfectly fine with me. The husbands are also confused as to how to keep up with their wives and get rid of the forced guilt on them. Some of them fast with their wives, others give them gifts, spend the day with them, cook with them or take the family out for dinner. Mostly, harmless! Definitely a day of celebrating love between married partners! Regressive? You decide.
While it is important for every society to constantly review its rituals, behavior and culture, it is equally important to do so with empathy and objectivity. Just because something does not sit right with your thinking, it does not necessitate lampooning and hurting others. Calling another names may make you feel superior for a bit but definitely makes you a lesser person. Try to understand how our festivals and rituals have evolved instead of painting them all with the same brush of being patriarchal and regressive — the favorite punching bags on social media. Keeping or not keeping a fast does not make you liberal, your ability to look beyond the noise does!