I’m a feminist, fasting for Karwa Chauth — here’s why
My husband and I are not people you’d identify as religious, or even superstitious. We don’t believe that doing puja pleases any God — though we do it sometimes because it sure does please our grandmother! Black cats have crossed my path on mornings that have led to fantastic days, and if sneezing before you leave the house is inauspicious, then my allergy-prone husband’s whole life, every single beautiful day thus far, has apparently been inauspicious.
We are firmly and happily rooted in the real world, and have fortunately found enough meaning in our real lives — trying to create value, doing some good deeds if we can, enjoying our time, being happy — so we don’t quite go looking for ways to justify or enhance our existence on the basis of supernatural logic.
I’m doing the annoying “we” thing in this article because Karwa Chauth is about both of us. It is supposed to be a day in which I pray for his long life by fasting until I can see the moon and his gorgeous face.
I also have to read the story behind Karwa Chauth, which I did this morning, and it kind of goes like this:
A woman had seven brothers who loved her and wouldn’t eat before she did. On the day of Karwa Chauth she was starving and her brothers wanted her to get on with it and get some food. She said she wouldn’t until she saw the moon. They created a fake moon and she didn’t realize it wasn’t the real deal so she saw it and decided to eat. She sneezed at the first bite, got a strand of hair in her food on the second bite, and got the news of her husband’s death on the third bite. I was like, that escalated quickly. But moving on, she decided to hang with the corpse for a whole year, and fasted the next year, and apparently her sister in law had to slash her little finger and drop some blood into the corpse’s mouth for him to come back to life. So somehow the moral of the story is that we must fast for the long lives of our husbands.
First of all, assuming there is actually a God who features in this whole scenario, I trust him or her to be good. “Go hungry today or I’mma knock off your husband sooner than I must” is just cheap evil and no God of any worth would do that.
Now that I’m done judging this unacceptable behaviour, onto the key question — do I want my husband to have a long life or not? I definitely want him to live at least longer than I do. Every time I think of the most sincere hope I have, I remember these Punjabi lyrics that basically translate to “every day I ask for your wellbeing, there is no other wish I make.” So yes, I really do care about his health, and life, and general wellbeing the most. That said, do I believe that skipping my meals will help this cause? LOL, no. Does he believe that I’ll do him the slightest favour by fasting today? LOLOLOL, no. Do we both feel that this is a patriarchal, misogynistic tradition? Of course.
I might have found this romantic thanks to its portrayal in Bollywood movies, but I’m not sixteen anymore.
“Apni maang suhaagan ho… aaa… aaa…
Sang hamesha saajan ho… aaa… aaa…”
Now, the kind solution of “equality” that people have come up with is to make your husband fast with you — and I even convinced him to! I decided that we’re just going to look at it as a day of detox, in which we can have lots of healthy juices, but then I figured he’s going to be at work, and will not manage to get juices at regular intervals, so I changed my mind and asked him not to fast. He’s been skipping his workouts and I’d rather have him eat a good meal and get a good workout for his long and healthy life.
Besides, you may not believe it, but my husband wants me to live a long and healthy life too! So he’d rather have me eat proper meals and take the medicines I have to take after lunch and dinner at the right times as well. Now, I’ve been told by my culture, “pati parmeshwar hota hai” (the husband is equal to God) and I must obey him… but I’ve been told by my traditions to fast. Oh, the quandary. LOL.
Jokes apart, in conclusion, I’m still fasting. I’m not working a crazy job right now that needs me to keep my energy up all day, and I figured a day of having juices can’t hurt me. Squiggling on my hand with Mehendi last night is the closest I’ve been to being artsy lately, so it’s kind of fun in some ways; although unlike the husbands they show in the movies, the one I have is not going to come home extra early today, and he’s definitely not going to bring a gift or be more romantic than usual, so those perks are out of the window.
While I insist that our lives should be built upon our own beliefs and values, tweaking plans for a couple of days in a year a little bit, just out of respect for our families who hold a certain faith isn’t usually too difficult. If it does get in the way of something important for you — sure, do things your way. But fasting today is not going to bother me in any way, and it complies with what all of the elders in both our families would like, so I play along quite happily.
As a feminist, by fasting today, am I giving in to patriarchy? Not really, because my reason for doing this is far from the fact that I am being forced to or something. Am I maintaining status quo on the matter? For now, I guess so. There’s a thing called peace and the happiness of my family which I value more than rebellion for the sake of rebelling. Of course, that still means I’m guilty of keeping this tradition going, but this is where it stops, because I’m certainly not going to ask my future kids to fast for any reason, including Karwa Chauth. Besides, if it is inconvenient for anybody — including me in the future — they absolutely need not stick to this. All of the non-Hindu couples in the world seem to have husbands living, I’d say just about as long as the guys whose wives fast for Karwa Chauth, but data tells us they live even longer.
Fun fact: the male life expectancy in India (with an 80% Hindu population) is 66 years and globally (with a 15% Hindu population) it is 71 years, so maybe the fasting technique isn’t working so well after all.
Now, if you will excuse me, I’ll go pack a good lunch for my husband, and have me a yummy glass of water.