Misguided traditions?

A couple of weeks ago, many Indians celebrated a festival called Karvachauth. The main purpose of this tradition is for married women to fast all day for the long lives of their husbands. You are not supposed to eat or drink anything after daybreak until after moon-rise once you have looked at the moon through a sieve, offered water to it and prayed for your husband’s long life.

Like many other Indian festivals, this one too is blown out of proportions and highly romanticized by the Indian film industry. And there is the commercial side: the gifts, the dresses, the jewellery, the heena artists flocking every corner with long lines of ladies waiting for their turn to get their hands adorned.

I grew up with this tradition and have some great memories around it. I used to love watching my mother get dressed up and sitting with her through the ceremonies and prayers. Then at night, we kids kept popping in and out looking for the moon. When it finally came out (which was always very late), we would follow our mothers to a spot where it could be clearly seen so they could perform the puja (prayer) and we all could finally eat dinner!

This changed a little when I got married and had to fast myself. Not that I don’t want my husband to have a long life, I do, most times anyway; but because it makes me feel like a completely different person than who I am. I have never been into wearing elaborate saaris and jewelry and whenever I am made to do all that stuff, I feel like I’m somebody else. Just to give you an example, when Indian girls visit their parent’s house for the first time after they get married, they are supposed to really dress up, like a new bride, and 99.9999% of the times, they like to do that. Unfortunately I fall in that 0.0001% category. When I visited my parents for the first time after the wedding, I was in jeans and a shirt, everyone was shocked and I still get to hear about that from time to time.

Anyway, this background about my personality is just to assure you that not wanting to fast on Karvachauth has nothing to do with the fact that I cannot eat anything that day. Absolutely nothing to do with it, trust me! I still have fasted almost every other year since last eight years. I mean I had to when my mother-in-law, grandmother-in-law and mother call with expectant voices asking me whether I’m going to fast this year. After all, it is for the long life of their son/grandson/son-in-law. As per the folklore, if any woman does not fast on this day, her husband is sure to die soon. I don’t think many people believe it, but they still do it to follow the tradition/socialize/buy new clothes and look pretty/make their mothers-in-law happy. Although I have been a witness to this tradition all my life, this time I got a whole new perspective on it. My grandma-in-law called and gave me a blessing very commonly bestowed on married women in India. “Sada-Saubhagya-vati” which literally translates to “may you be ‘forever fortunate'” and implicitly means ‘may you always be married and die married’ or ‘may you die before your husband does’.

The oddness of this blessing had never struck me before. Living in the US has altered my perspective on certain things and this new attitude will probably make it hard for me to adjust when we go back home. However, that’s a different post altogether so let me just stick to the subject here. So for the first time in my life, I saw this tradition in a whole new light. Basically, it is all about making sure the wife dies before the husband so that she does not have to face the misfortune of becoming a widow. I can see where this is coming from. In the past, widows were not considered worthy of a decent life, not allowed to wear anything colorful, no jewelry, no makeup, were treated like servants and survived on leftovers. To me it seems like it must have been long ago because I have not met anyone who went through that, but I would not be surprised if it still happens in small towns, villages and remote areas of the country. Heck even in the modern day, in a metropolitan city, life would not be easy for a single woman. The question is – does that justify staying in a bad marriage? I’m sure there are millions of women in India who are beaten up by their abusive husbands every day and still fast to pray for his long life. That is how we have been trained to think and behave since centuries. The degree may vary based on your social, financial and academic standing, but the belief is still there. A woman is responsible for everything, from keeping her family healthy and well-fed, to making sure her husband outlives her, and more recently, providing a second income to the family all at the same time. And this notion is so ingrained into us that we never even question it. We just assume the responsibility and keep teaching our daughters the same things.

After this enlightening experience, I will never think about Karvachauth in the same way, ever again. Depending on who you are, you may be thinking I am crazy or you may be nodding your head in agreement, or something in between. Like always, I’m not trying to prove a point, just sharing random thoughts. So thanks for listening!

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