Love to hate

Unlike most other festivals, which I either hate or love, Karva Chauth is a festival that evokes rather ambivalent  feelings. I think it is a festival that I love to hate. I quite like the air of festivity that in any case is all pervasive in the month of October. The Karva Chauth special goes on to add to this mayhem- ladies going ballistic in the markets , mehendi on hands , plethora of small small customs (sargi) and finally decked up in all bridal fineries in the evening. Honestly I still get mehendi put on my hands even though I bid adieu to the fast years ago. Yet, as the RSS sanctioned Desi Valentine’s Day approaches every year, I’m forced to rethink the ideology time and over again. 

Finally I’ve realised that what irks me about this festival the most is the hypocrisy it reeks of. When those very women, who oppose yet another manifestation of this patriarchal set up that forbids women from entering  religious places during their periods , fast with a halo over their heads, it irks me ; when women who are shattering glass ceilings at work succumb to the tyranny of glass bangles only because they don’t want to rock the boat and create a controversy at home, it upsets me ;and when the very generation that spearheads movements like “pinjra tod” fasts for their boyfriends , I am truly disappointed. Of course explanations and reasons are plenty….from “it’s my choice and no one is forcing me” to “it’s a way of showing my love” to “it’s a good way to detox” but the bottom line is hypocrisy in which we Indians excel. How about an honest ” I don’t believe my husband is god incarnate but I fast nevertheless ” or “I just like the air of festivity ” or “I rather fast than become the black sheep of the family” or “I just like to pamper myself” or “I haven’t given it a thought. .I just do what’s being done” ?  And while you do fast,  please be sincere enough to spare the feministic rant. 

Considering the all pervasive double standards and hypocrisy that we are born and brought up in , asking for some honest introspection is just asking for too much. So while “unpativrata”women like me eat , drink and make merry , let the pious and loving ones fast and may all be blessed with long happy years of companionship. 

For Pati and Parmeshwar

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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!



Being A Woman

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                     Women’s Day ! Wow ! Honestly, what celebrating days such as this means, I don’t understand..women’s day, father’s day, mother’s day and the list goes on. Does it mean that you can pay lip service to the person/s concerned on that particular day and carry on in your old, staid ways for the rest of the year? Would seem so. What not will we witness today? Long sermons, tall promises, host of demonstrations- some peaceful, some may be not so. And tomorrow we’ll be back to same old, same old.

                 A question that is often asked today is  “what being a woman means to you?” Prima facie, it sounds like a fairly silly question. It means being myself.  I mean I’ve not known anything else. So being a woman means being “me”. On more considered thought…what does it really mean? The question seems to evoke more questions than straight answers. When I woke up to the whole politics of “being a woman”, it became synonymous with being a firebrand Feminist. As a student of English literature, feminism, Simone de Beauvoir, Kate Millet, Eve Ensler made their entries and influences earlier in my life than they might have otherwise. Patriarchy,society,men became easy punching bags and not necessarily in that order. Being heard meant having an opinion on everything and that too a loud one. Holding your own, not becoming a door mat varied from the stubborn to verging on the downright rigid. From fiery speeches in crisp cotton sarees to equally fiery protests and demonstrations complete with breaking police barricades and facing the water cannon and lathi charge – been there, done it. Unknown to me I, and many  around me had fallen into pitfalls that face any kind of activism – seeing everything through tinted glasses. Every non issue was an issue and many issues were blown out of proportion.  Or to put it another way, making a mountain out of a mole hill and, in the process,often missing the mountains worth noticing.

              Living at such an emotionally charged level can be quite draining. Even a strung bow needs to be relaxed. Luckily for me, I grew out of this bra burning feminist phase. Then came the lull ‘after’ the storm and now I think I’m somewhere near finding my balance. Men vs women; us vs them – where will this battle of the sexes take us? Is it, in fact, even a battle? Does “empowering” women mean taking something away from men? What, in any case, constitutes ‘empowerment’? Are there any blanket solutions and universal answers? Can I impose my modern day cosmopolitan thoughts and sensibilities on women from entirely different background and socio-economic strata?

                    As a society, I often think we are living on clichés. Not so long ago I witnessed a glass of cold drink being thrown on a boy by a girl at a Mc Donald outlet, who it turns out was his classmate. The boy’s crime? Asking the girl out for coffee in full view of all their friends. The last time I checked, that was not a crime. Assuming she was not interested, did she have any right to humiliate him? A simple and straight no would have sufficed and been in line with the boy’s forthright approach. But we are a sexually repressed society – straight approach doesn’t work. The instinctive reaction of the bystanders was to assume the boy was at fault and almost lynch him. What happened to our sense of perspective and fairness? Is it fair for us to assume that always men are at fault without even looking into the matter?

              Yes women deserve respect. So does every human being. Do women treat the men they come across, from the labourer on the road to the milk delivery boy, with as much respect as they demand? I’m afraid not. By behaving thus we ourselves set the standards of behaviour for these men who in turn will treat their wives and other people similarly. Preaching is one thing, practicing in daily life quite another.  

                      Power, of any kind, corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. What started out as simple division of labour with women taking care of the household and men of the outside work, eventually led to subjugation of women. Do we want to rectify this wrong by making the pendulum swing to the other extreme? When and how will the swinging pendulum find its centre? Is it not as wrong for a woman to misuse her power, be it sexual, social or legal as it is for a man  to misuse his? In this dog eat dog world, how many show the responsibility that comes with power? Not many I’m afraid.

                               Today if anyone asks me what being a woman means to me, my answer is simple- it means being human. Is this the kind of thought that Salman Khan had in mind when he founded his “Being Human” foundation? Looking at his asinine movies, one is not likely to think so but people are capable of profundity (and stupidity) beyond what is apparent. Even if he didn’t, it’s about time that we started focussing on being human rather than being a woman or a man. How do we propose to empower women in any case without the support of the other half of the population? For every Asaram who shot off his mouth with comments that don’t even merit attention let alone a protest, there were thousands of men on the roads demanding justice for a woman they didn’t even know. If this is not being human, I don’t know what is. This women’s day we ought to celebrate not only every woman in our life but every man in our life as well for it is only together that we can build a better world for us human beings.