If there is one festival that I cannot help but question every year, and that too at a very fundamental level, it has to be Karva Chauth. Most festivals evoke a mixed reaction from me- I generally like the festive spirit and religious sanctity they carry but the mayhem and mad rush frustrates me. When it comes to Karva Chauth however, it is a different ball game altogether. The basic idea of “Pati Parmeshwar” (Husband as a form of god) I find difficult to swallow. Belonging to a generation that came after the militant Bra Burners, I don’t wear the badge of feminism on my sleeve so to speak. On the contrary, I often think that “feminism” per se has lost its steam, outlived its utility and should make way for a more egalitarian concept of humanism. But come Karva Chauth and the latent feminist in me rears her ugly head.
Ever since Bollywood popularised Karva Chauth with movies like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaynege and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, the festival needs no introduction. However for the uninitiated few, here it goes. Karva Chauth is an annual festival celebrated primarily in North India wherein married women fast, mostly without water, for the long life and prosperity of their husbands. From very humble beginnings when women celebrated it amongst family and friends, to a full-scale page 3 gala, Karva Chauth has never been more popular. Six years ago, it was Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s first Karva Chauth that drove the media and nation crazy; this year Kareena Kapoor Khan has joined the bandwagon. And so it continues. Every little park or community centre has its own rendition of “glamorising and modernising Karva Chauth”- from the best mehndi design competitions to best decorated thali competition to “Mrs Karva Chauth” herself!
Coming back to the basic premise of the festival, looking upon and worshipping the husband as a form of god, is in fact, intrinsic to the Hindu view of things. Legends that extol the wife’s devotion to her husband abound- from that of Savitri and a woman named Karva, both of whom reclaimed their dead husbands from Yama (god of death) by the sheer force of their devotion ; to the likes of Gandhari, who, married to a blind man, spent her entire life blindfolded as well though I cannot help but wonder what was she thinking blindfolding herself! Doesn’t her “devotion” give an entirely new meaning to the phrase “Blind leading the blind”?
How well such stories would sit with the modern emancipated woman is anyone’s guess. Yet, strangely, the popularity of the fast continues to grow with leaps and bounds. Whether it is just clever marketing that women fall prey to or are Indian women still deeply traditional and devoted, beguiles me.
While I can’t speak for anyone else, annually I have a round of serious introspection to examine my reasons for keeping the fast. Yeah, despite my feminist rant, I do observe the fast, have been doing so for 10 years now. Why do I do it when I’m not in agreement with the basic premise? Honestly, I don’t know. To begin with, it was the sheer excitement of a newlywed- not for “pati parmeshwar” per se but all the festivities that come with the festival- the mehndi, the shopping, the gifts, the dressing up. Believe me, it is a lot of fun for a newbie. As the years have gone by, the fun, novelty has waned, and the same set of activities are yet another set of chores to be accomplished. The festive spirit does catch up no doubt but nowhere near the excitement of the first timer. All that done, I sit down with my cup of coffee for my annual round of introspection to decide whether to keep the fast or not. Often this happens on the eve of Karva Chauth as I start the final countdown for the next day. Does my decision to fast stem from even a faint belief in the “pati parmeshwar” tradition? Not quite. On the contrary, I am more inclined to think of myself as the cool goddess in the marriage! The way I reason it out goes something like this- if the fast was for the welfare of any other family member, be it parents or sibling, would I be as conflicted about it still? In fact, four days down the line comes the Ahoi fast for the welfare of the children. I have never found myself wondering whether to observe that fast or not and neither have I ever heard any feminist rant from anyone about it.
Ignore the “Pati Parmeshwar” tradition and one realises that the problem lies in battered egos, in humbling oneself enough to be the bigger person and fast and pray for a family member’s welfare, a member who happens to be your husband. Do I think that my life depends on him or that I’m subservient to him? No. Yet, can I deny that despite all trials and tribulations of married life, there is an intrinsic affection and caring? The answer again is in the negative.
Marriage, no doubt, is the most challenging and complex of all human relationship. The most trying of all, it can either make you or break you. It’s not about one’s “success” as a “good” husband or wife, terms that carry a variety of connotations that I’m talking about but your own capacity to evolve and grow as a human being while allowing the other person to do so at his or her own pace. Or even accepting that the other is not capable of such growth.
It is in such spirit of acceptance, caring and growth that I keep the fast. Do I believe that fasting for hubby dear makes me any less of a human being, any less of a feminist or changes me into a door mat? Not anymore. At one point I had all these thoughts running through my mind. Today it’s a prayer for the welfare of close family member that’s the deciding factor. Do I expect him to reciprocate by way of fasting as well or by getting me lavish gifts? Not quite. There isn’t any quid pro quo going on here. Something straight from his heart is always welcome. If not, that is his journey. My fast, I know today comes from the heart, just like that for my son after four days does. Rest is all marketing. It’s the heart that matters.
So here’s wishing all the gorgeous ladies a very happy Karva Chauth- happy fasting and happier feasting!