Thursday, October 9, 2014

Karva Chauth: The Bond that Holds (North) Indian Marriages Together!

The first year I did it with gusto. The second with some skepticism. When the date started nearing in my (now) third year of marriage, for the first time, I truly started to wonder "What does Karva Chauth really mean and why am I doing it?!" 
Unable to come up with a satisfactory answer, I started asking around - friends, family, mom, etc. their reasons for following a tradition that, at best, is limited to a really tiny population of women, from one part of one country, in the entire world. The answers I heard compelled me to write this post. I'm shocked, dumbfounded, and also offended. And I'll explain why. 

I'm not going to repeat the same-old "its superstitious and illogical" argument that I'm sure all of you know by now. I'm pretty certain that not a single person doing Karva Chauth in this age really believes it will make their husbands live longer. If you do, I have really nothing to say to you. Close this browser, and enjoy your life. But for those who made sure to emphasize their disbelief in this theory, please read on.

These are some of the responses I heard:

"There's no harm in doing it. If nothing, I'll lose a pound or two"

"It's one day my husband pampers me" 

"It makes our relationship stronger" 

"I do it for the fun and celebration in the evening when I break the fast with friends" 

"I get gifts and presents from the family and the husband" 

"Its just one more way of making my husband feel special" 

"My in-laws expect me to do it"

...and several more responses like this that were just difficult to believe. 

So what's my problem here you want to know?! Oh a million, but let me see if I can try and explain a few:  

The fact that a tradition that was started centuries ago has been distorted in meaning to the point where noone knows the original meaning, and are yet willing to follow it for reasons that at best, are selfish. You want a gift, go buy it for yourself. Don't manipulate your family into thinking you're doing something noble for which you need to be rewarded. 

Yes, fasting for a day cleanses the system, helps you lose pounds and helps you control your mind. But why add the tradition, culture, religious, or whatever else tag you're willing to give it. Why not just observe the fast for what it is? I read somewhere "Fasting is a great reminder of how fragile our systems are, and how much we depend on things beyond ourselves." I agree. Do it to be humbled by the knowledge of this fact. Why the fanfare of looking at the moon through a sieve, and then your husband, while counting seconds till you can get your hand on some food? 

Also, I'm extremely sorry to say that if you believe that doing Karva Chauth for your husband makes your relationship more special, there's something really wrong. Marriage is between people who trust and love each other in, and despite every situation. If your husband treats you as special on this day because you're starving to save his life, and doesn't on any other, maybe its time to talk about why. 

Want to make your husband feel special? How about setting aside an evening without looking at the phone or tv or laptop to just talk? Believe me its the most special thing you'll do for each other in a long time. 

If your in-laws are asking you to do it, they might not know any better. They perhaps didn't go to the schools you went to, they didn't talk to the people you talk to, they didn't have the internet to access information the way you do. Talk to them, explain it, reason with them. And if you're not willing to even try, if you'd rather continue to do things without raising a question, what is the difference between their generation and ours? 

It's also funny how many times I heard, "My husband is fasting for me too," as if that this supposed to suddenly infuse some sense into this senselessness. Firstly, doesn't inconveniencing your husband render this whole thing pointless? Okay, that's not the point. But why do it at all? Why don't the two of you just go to a movie, a restaurant, something! There are so many ways to make life interesting. 

A friend (who also doesn't keep the fast) asked, why am I taking this personally and that I should just let the women who're observing the event, do it. I'm glad she asked. Here's my answer to that: 

Because the Indian society is hard-wired enough to make men believe they're superlative. And we don't need yet another regressive tradition to massage their ego by making them feel they deserve this sort of attention. 
Maybe your husband isn't hung up on you fasting. Maybe he's cool, and casual, and whatever modern husbands do. But by not speaking up against something that needs to be stopped, aren't you supporting it? If your husband doesn't ask for dowry, but doesn't stop his parents from demanding it, would you still defend that by saying it hardly matters? So why is it okay for you to follow a tradition because you think "it's just one day of my life, kya farak padta hai." 

It isn't infact just about this one day. The question is, how far are you willing to go to do things that don't make sense, just because someone will feel bad if you don't do it, or that you believe, you're upholding Indian tradition. You're not. 
Women are now speaking up against changing their last names because its the 'cool' thing to do, so why not Karva Chauth? Because your own superstitious mind won't allow you to take the risk that something bad might happen? 

Some people don't like the fact that I'm opinionated. That I have views on what someone should/should not be doing. But here's the thing. History wasn't changed by people who were politically correct, who kept shut because it was 'appropriate,' because they didn't want to lose friends. I'm not trying to change history. All I'm doing is asking my educated friends to think about the broader consequences of their actions. It's not just YOU. What you do today, what this generation does, will decide where we are going to be as a country decades later as well. Its easy to say "India kabhi nahi badlega," "I hate how conservative my country is," "My family is so traditional!

But kaise badal sakta hai India when the reigns are in the hands of those who're too afraid to loosen it - for tradition's sake! India's patriarchal ways are crying to be changed. But we're too busy saying "Why should I bother as long as I'm enjoying doing something, and it doesn't inconvenience me!" 

I made a decision that I will not individually ask anybody about their decision to fast on Karva Chauth..Apparently it is rude to ask people about things they can't explain, especially about misguided or blind beliefs. So I won't ask ask you to justify your decision. But I do ask you to read this post, and think. For yourself. And irrespective of whether you do observe Karva Chauth or not this year, do try and be honest to yourself about your reasons for doing it.    


PS. The purpose of this article is not to put down those who observe certain traditions. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe ignorant. If you have a reason other than any of the above, or if you can point out to me why I'm wrong, I would be happy to stand corrected. 

PPS. If you still haven't got it, the title was sarcasm. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Pied Piper of New York

The Pigeon Man of Washington Square Park

"Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love."
~Mother Teresa

If you’ve been to Washington Square Park, it’s difficult to miss this man who’s seen there nearly everyday with a fan following largely comprised of pigeons, squirrels and other little birds. Of the several other eye-catching residents of WSP, this individual is a delight to watch. I'm not sure if he's homeless or just another guy who finds his peace amongst his tiny friends but there's surely some kind of peace that overcomes upon you as you stand there and watch the squirrels and birds come up right to him and eat out of his hand, as if he's one of their kind.