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Last few days I have seen my husband in stress. This is only the second time in 15 years of our marriage when he has been so. I have chosen to be a good listener. There is little more I can do. And then as I watch him overwhelm with stress and lose his sleep, I invariably find myself saying small prayers for him. I know what worries him and I know it will pass. I know he will get past all hurdles, he is my hero. But I also say the prayers for God to be by his side to help him get past his worries unscathed. To help him get past them stronger than before. As I do that, I realise, that he is always in my prayers. I pray for his happiness and mine, his success and mine, and more than anything I pray for our togetherness. Because our happiness is inseparable. And that is the fact.
I have never felt the need to fast a whole day for him and institutionalise my love for him, but I did it once - just once! Love needs no proof. I know those who do Karwa Chauth or Teej, do not really go about proving anything. You just follow an age old tradition for your own satisfaction. I on the other hand question it. And therefore I don't do it.
Just so you know, Teej the lesser known cousin of Karwa Chauth is observed for the same reason as its super star, rolling in wealth and Bollywood charm cousin. It is observed on the eve of Ganesh Chaturthi. It involves a 24 hour fasting without any water or food. The fast is broken only the following day, after touching the feet of the husband. I have never touched my husband's feet, the inequality days are long gone! My mother used to observe Teej for my father and theirs was one of the thorniest relationships I have known. I would not be surprised if she resented it, all day long as she made hundreds of Perakia (Gujia) and Thekua (Deep fried Cookies made out of Aata and jaggery). The aroma of the frying delicacies is what enticed me to this festival. The day after Teej, my mother shared the prasad of Thekua and Perakia with the entire neighbourhood and vice versa. So we had the Thekuas and Perakias from everyone in the vicinity. With such strong cultural influence, not many women could have kept away from the custom. After all, who will stop a woman from making and sharing her favourite delicacies and letting everyone know that, her's is the best in the entire block. So in some ways it was a competition of Thekua and Perakia making, which included showing their grit in fasting without water for 24 hours. And all of them won, from what I remember.
I have observed Teej only once in 15 years of my marriage, I got taken by the charm of being a newly-wed and a chance of sharing my thekuas and perakias, like my mother did before. My excitement waned when I realised that, no one in my neighbourhood knew about Teej and my treats were the best merely because they were the only ones shared! And then after having fasted the whole day, I realised it did not strengthen my love for my husband, if anything, I looked like a desperate lover, badly in need of appreciation. Which I was definitely not! I felt a resentment for the tradition. And the next day when I went to work, I realised that, as an added jolt to my now waned belief, I could not concentrate at work. Not having eaten or even had water the day before, brought down my efficiency significantly. My husband was overseas at that time, so he was spared the soap opera class drama altogether.
Recently I discovered that some men, some of them my very good friends, fast on Karwa Chauth. For their wives, alongside them, to show that they care. Now that is really sweet of them. From how I look at it, it is a passive conquest against the age old tradition that people find hard to question, without getting a host of resistance from people close to them: Their parents, their relatives and their own spouses! And so they rebel by fasting themselves. A more active rebellion is when you discontinue a tradition, because it is antiquated.
A question comes to mind, why did our tradition introduce fasting only for women? Why did only women entreat the almighty to protect her family - husband, children, brother, father!? Why have men not been tied down by the same rituals? Answer lies in the roles men and women have historically played in the society. Women took to safer chores such as child rearing, farming and managing the household. (Yes farming was invented by women during stone ages, it passed on to men only later). She took these roles because, her longevity ensured her children's well-being. One parent had to be around for the children and invariably it was the mother. Men took the more risky pursuits, such as hunting, fighting wars, undertaking voyages etc. Their lives were constantly at risk, they literally flung themselves into the eyes of the storms. Their wives, their mothers, their sisters and the family at large were constantly praying for them to return home safely.
In today's world, the element of danger is equally distributed to men and women. The urgency for constant prayer for long life of just one of the spouses is diminished. Today we as a culture, men women alike, ask, why should only women fast for men? Why don't men fast for women? The fact is, fasting will do nothing more than it did in those 'Chronicles of Narnia' like or 'The lord of the Rings' like yesteryear. It only gave the satisfaction to the person fasting, that while her beloved was in the high seas fighting for his life and in some ways, fighting for their prosperity, she was risking her life in little ways that she could afford, by not eating a few square meals. While their men stood out at the battle field, drumming their chest and claiming that, a true man gets cut to pieces, before giving way to the enemies, what solace did the woman have, by not standing beside him and giving her life too for the same cause? Oh no she had to live for the family while the men folk died for it. And so she gave up food. Sometimes as a community measure, appeasing gods with their prayers and fasting. And poooof… with a wisp first and a bang later, these traditions of fasting came to life.
To these antiquated traditions, we are just surrogate mothers. We ask, what was the need? There is no need anymore. Really!