Friday 17 October 2014

The fault in our laughs, on Karvachauth

Let me begin this post by a status update Sfurti Sinha shared on the morning of the Karvachauth fast. 

Whether I am fasting or not - NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. Whether my husband is fasting or not - NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. My life is mine, not yours. You are not in my marriage. Freedom and equality in true sense means choosing whatever I want to do, whatever makes sense to me. There is a fine line between having an opinion and sounding judgemental. Your opinions should be the basis your life, they shouldn't sound like a judgement on others.

On a day when she had much else to take care of, Sfurti was ‘driven’ to vent publicly thus. If I wasn’t around in the same place last year, I would not have understood why. But I was. So in a way, I have been meaning to write this post since a year now. I waited because I wanted to see if rituals other than Karvachauth garnered loud amused laughter too. Not that I noticed any and certainly not equal in magnitude to the humour that surrounds a woman observing a fast for her husband. 

Here is me now, thinking aloud.

Humour is important. We have all read its various forms in different genres of different media. For instance, Theatre has used ‘uncomfortable laughter’ in the audience as a way to hold a mirror to their lives – political, social and even marital. Slapstick comedy shows a man slipping on a banana peel with similar intent; it could be you up there. Scatological references make us laugh because shit and spit is best seen on the other’s person. On television, we see stand-up humour including in its funny tentacles commentary on the government, the news channels and the entertainment industry.

While humour in the various arts was named and came with a larger purpose, the picture in the tweeting-updating social media is often like a mock-epic of what was once classic. ‘Art for art’s sake’ is no crime, but then really, what may be the point? Except wondering at the end of a virally-sharing day - whose line was it anyway?

On Karvachauth day, it doesn’t take much to realize that loose laughter is not just directed at the patriarchal ritual of fasting for a husband. The butts of the jokes become the women following it. Those laughing? The women who do not believe in it, of course. While what’s between the husband and the wife stays where it is supposed to, between them, everything else associated with Karvachauth occupies centre stage and space in the minds of those who have half-baked ideas about the ritual and none whatsoever about the fasting woman’s idea of it.

Thinking …

Is poking fun the best way to ‘guide’ a woman out of a deep-rooted patriarchal discourse? Isn’t it as unfair a ‘peer pressure’ as was given to her by those who made her embrace those traditions in the first place? How does our lackadaisical ‘promotion’ of an antithetical thought-process towards a redundant tradition differ in lack-of-substance from the stoical one of far Right. Are we, in our fun and games, creating but a poorer alternative even if at the other end of the spectrum? It is for this reason that I liked #FastForHer movement. It did nothing to do away with the day. But for now, it got men into the fray. A constructive step towards re-examining the necessity of it all by being a part of it. From inside the circle. A much better, more understanding way, to reverse trends. More sensitive too. 

Because …

We are not providing that line-towing woman sensible alternatives to a symbolism codified over generations, one she has believed in and which provides her with comfort. A kitty of jokes may get us a few giggling followers, but nothing more. The shell we want to break is built on three very thick layers – obedience, belief and comfort. If we are so desperate to break it, we'll need to know more about it.

But, why do we laugh?

Are we, in the larger scheme of things, trying to show her sense or poke fun at what we see as obsoleteness that she surrounds herself with? A bid of one-upmanship and modernity, maybe.  At the same time, furthering lines of difference based on our ideas of modern and ancient, tradition and revolution. Disservice is what we are doing, by making her feel outdated, conscious, stuck and worst of all outcast in lobbies which don’t fast. When the idea of feminism grew this mocking army amidst all the painstakingly-built theories and practice I know not, but I wish we remember what the movement we so glibly use essentially stood for. One word – Choice, as Sfurti’s status above signifies. 

Interestingly …

The tray that a woman carries for her Karvachauth puja holds a few symbols of matrimony. Most of those objects are found in most women’s dressing drawers that you and I anyway may use as a matter of routine, or during festive times. The difference is, she wants to spend a day with them while you may freely reserve the biggest bindis for your designer saris or Durga Puja times. (Yes, you may include that idea of a parlour visit in this, which for so many is one of the greatest social outlets in a year). To not eat is not so much of a suffering as it is made out to be, that too by those who are eating their three meals anyway. Concern doesn’t mock. It helps. But first, it has to try to understand what is wrong to understand the ‘victim’ of it all.

Did you who jest know … 

We don’t have to dress up as brides on Karvachauth. We don’t need to use sieves to look at the moon. Henna is not compulsory and neither is touching the husband's feet. I blame popular media for propagating limited understanding of this tradition. Which does mean, more groundwork needs to be done before the laughing party decides to become a mouthpiece carrying the cause of fasting women on its shoulders.

Manjulika did this for her mother-in-law.
Tanya created 'American Karvas'.

I think … 

Humour cannot alone help cut through years of nurture. Not even shake the idea of obedience to elders and fear of Gods; especially for rituals created around husbands’ well-being, because they are based on a relationship. It also will never stand ground against the idea of Choice, which women like me make when we decide to fast or not fast. If we are to liberate minds, we need to show them how our freedoms are worthy of emulation. In all the mindless cackling, the voices of sanity who seek to deliver women from coerced and oppressive rituals get drowned and lost. 

We need to question traditions to see how they affect gender narratives and we need to reinvent some of them to better suit the changing times, or do away with those which we no longer agree with. How we do it is the point, and the key to it is in each one of our hands or in our homes.  Read these lines shared by Hrishikesh Bawa:

Fasting does not lead to anything … Love and respect for each other is more important," said a woman’s mother-in-law to herI think a hero is not just the guerilla rebel. Sometimes, she is the one who is a part of the system too. Likewise, the one who impulsively jumps out of the ancient window might just have been a hasty fool.

This was probably my last year of observing this fast. My husband’s tank of patience with it is full. I no longer have to give company to my mother-in-law – in deed or in spirit – by not eating with her and enjoying the evening katha too. Next time, I will probably go to the other side of the fence, well aware of what made me follow the Karvachauth ritual and promising myself not to forget it. Perhaps, that will help me remain sensitive towards those who wish to do as they please.

Because you know as well as I do how private choices get played with on public trampolines all in the name of jest.

[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts. The prompt for today was - Community Service - Your entire community — however you define that; your hometown, your neighborhood, your family, your colleagues — is guaranteed to read your blog tomorrow. Write the post you’d like them all to see.]


  1. Choice. I'd like to think that when I am gone, my kids will remember me as the guy who always said "It is about having choices in your hand, not letting someone else choose for you". I will trot this out whenever it is time for them to pick courses, make life decisions etc.

    As far as Karva Chauth goes: ah hmmm. Here is a Punjabi husband's warped view on it. It means not a jot to me. I did not ask my (albeit Bong) wife to follow the ritual nor did I ask her to to quit. The choice was hers. She quit after year 1 and hasn't acknowledged the day in the last 29 years. The mirth and mockery must be a recent phenomenon, for that wasn't the case when I was in India.

    You make a good point, the peer pressure being applied is essentially no different to the pressure to conform applied by the other side.

    Personally, I do not believe in rituals, except the ones that dictate leg goes first into my pants, which leg the sock goes first, and which side of my face gets the shave gel first. Just the serious stuff, you understand?

    1. excuse the typos in the last line - a "which" and an "on" are missing.

      We're finicky, that way.

    2. Are you sure you will trot this out when it's time for them to pick courses? Hm! I wish I could say this with as much confidence regarding my child. He's 3.5 years already and has NO direction in his life!! :D
      Kudos to your wife. She seems to have arrived at a personal decision much faster than so many of us. 'The mirth and mockery' is recent and an off-shoot of our distorted sense of progressiveness. Also, an arm of 'my way or highway'.
      I totally understand what a grave and serious man you are, Slo. I really feel lucky to have 'found' a reader such as your shaving gel ... er .. I mean you! :D

    3. uh - Did already... son #1 is 5 years out of University. Younger one is in first year. They picked, I sat on the sideline pontificating... No. I will and do totally stand by it. Choice wins.

      Which is why I boil all religion down to lifestyle choices, stripped of rituals, stripped of constraints, stripped of dogma, stripped of gods and godesses, stripped of the unexplainable that is brushed away as "because that's the way it is".

      Logic, rationality -> Choice.

  2. You know, I used to try and fight such fights many many years ago in online forums before the present-day social forums :) It is in a way somewhat frustrating to see that not much gets ever changed as far as societal attitudes go when it comes to anything that has to do with women's choices. Black and white - that's the only way majority would like to see and categorise things. Grays don't interest anyone. Social media has actually worsened the problem, with all its silly humor and jokes, as you correctly point out.

    But what I feel even more strongly about is the fact that there still persists much lack of information/knowledge about the deeper spirit behind any rituals or traditions our society ever came up with. Or any interest in even researching/discovering if there was any deeper purpose or spirit behind any of the rituals. Was this Karvachauth really about praying for husband's life or was it more about women-camaraderie? Did it have anything to do with any connection between lunar cycle and the cycle of Nature's creative force? What about any connection with agricultural/harvesting cycle? Even what is the deeper reason for fasting, any fasting? People who are quick to mock at something or condemn or criticise something aren't bothered with any such research. It is very easy to make fun of everything traditional, it takes effort and sincere quest to know why some traditions existed and what traditions need to go and why.

    Personally, whether I observe the fast is immaterial, but as a woman I applaud the choices of women who do and also of those who don't, whatever their reason may be. Even if their choices are dictated by peer pressure (to observe or not to observe), I would rather have people figure out their own journeys of coming to terms with their choices.

    I avoid all such stuff on FB, and now you know why. Because when I start talking about this stuff I can go on and I stop now :)

    1. Except societal attitudes donning more contemporary exteriors, nothing get changed as fast as we may like to believe or even wish, Beloo. You are right. Grays don't interest because we expect a B/W world which is easier to categorise, live in and label accordingly.
      "People who are quick to mock at something or condemn or criticise something aren't bothered with any such research." - Just what I am saying.
      Good to know you believe in giving people their personal spaces, Beloo. In all this cacophony, some of us feel more lost than found when it comes to rejecting/accepting certain rituals.
      You are free to go on and on in this space, Beloo. Thank you for a wonderful comment to this post.

  3. I told the daughter-in-law to keep it when she wishes, avoid it if she did not think it made sense. She kept it for two years and then gave it up. Its cool. I am a big fan of her getting decked up, and I love it when she goes the whole hog, mehendi, churi, make up, jewelry. But it is strictly up to her. Son concurs. As for me? I don't believe in it.

    1. You are a cool cool mom and mom-in-law, Ritu. Lucky family!

  4. Sakshi, big hugs to you for writing this piece that I have been waiting for you to write. I completely relate to this piece because I have experienced it all last year with you. Progressiveness to some means making fun of others. People do not understand the difference between being helpful and being hurtful. I am completely fine with people who are working hard to pull us out of outdated and meaningless patriarchal rituals and traditions. What I do not understand is the way they try to. Honestly, my last year's experience is what kept me aloof from social media this Karwachauth. I am one of those who observe the fast. It was neither mandated by my parents or my in-laws. In fact both these sides do not have this ritual. I found the whole idea interesting and I do fast in my own way which is slightly different from the order prescribed in texts and by elders. But what I'm trying to highlight here is what Sfurti said. It is purely my choice. Nobody is forcing me to. I also know that me remaining hungry and thirty in no way can save or lengthen my husband's life. But I do it, because I wish to do it. Period. I am sure you'll be bashed the same way I was bashed last year for having supported the fasters and being a part of it. But I am also sure that you're strong enough to handle such a crowd. Kudos!

    1. Even if you had not added your comment to this piece, I would have known your thoughts exactly. You are a fine example of a woman who hasn't been given the ritual by the family but who found meaning and significance in it of your own accord. How a woman's wish gets curtailed by those trying to help is saddening.
      I don't care about bashing. Like you! :)

  5. I went back to read it again and was reminded of my brother-in-law. He came from a fairly conservative family, was a high ranking army officer and spent a large part of his life on peacekeeping missions with the UN in troubled spots around the world (some really unsavory areas).

    His comment "When people in the US say that women in places like Afghanistan etc are backward and they want to get them to revolt against the burkha, they don't seem to realise that it isn't totally about free will and yet it is. For that is the only thing they have known and is ingrained in them through generations. You cannot expect them to become comfortable suddenly without a burkha. It isn't about revolution but evolution. it is NOT like they are dying to ditch the burkha and start out on miniskirts and bikinis"

    1. Very interesting idea, Slo. I have myself read about women preferring to wear a veil for it makes them feel protected and freer inside it. Goes to show when we take up cudgels for a cause, we should know the mind of the people we are trying to 'uplift'. Else, it's only asking them to leave one school of codified thought in order to enter into another. A thought-process cannot be initiated by jokes or by coercion.

  6. I don't care what others say. I am not answerable to anyone. As you say, the market forces and television have painted the ritual with regressive shades.

    1. That's the right attitude to have, Alka.
      Thanks for reading!

  7. It is your belief, it is your choice and nothing else...why poke fun...why so many jokes are circling around. As per me I do not fast as it is not a ritual for me since I am a Bengali and I believe if you follow something follow it completely so, I may goof up that is why I don't. Now again I do not roam around with white and red bangles because they strike every time I type and I am super conscious about them breaking. I do not eat before my husband....sounds regressive? well on the other hand I never changed my surname So, it is the matter of choice and about not being bothered about what the world says

    1. Perfect example of how the only person directing your personal choices is you. :)
      Kudos, Datta!

  8. As usual beautifully written !
    I am a south Indian so we dont celebrate KC as a ritual. Last year I was a newly wed and my first KC day was just like any other day. But this year I have friends who celebrate KC, few who dont drink even water and others who eat dry fruits and drink water n tea etc... I was invited to celebrate the evenin ..
    I am diabetic so faasting is out of question.. So i decided to eat fruits and drink tea,water and not eat a meal. Since I did it so did my husband on his on own will.
    It was really fun evening .. we followed their rituals and where we live catchin a glimpse of moon is impossible...
    But the point is some ritual which might not mean much to me...means something really strong to others so I am at liberty to choose to do but not at right to make fun of it !

    1. I like how you just defined two types of liberty - liberty of making a choice and that of taking liberty with another's choice.
      Very good to see you reading me, Ananya. Thank you!

  9. Sakshi well written piece on KC! In fact last year I had even commented on the fact why there are no such hue and cry over the chatt pooja celebrated by women of Bihar and UP and of course Teej -- both are much difficult fasts as compared to Karwa Chauth where we eat our sargi before the sunrise and then after praying to moon have a proper dinner.

    1. Interesting point there, Swati. This is exactly what I wanted to observe in the world that I live in on FB. So you too have noticed! :)
      I am glad you liked this and even more that you agreed!

  10. An interesting and fresh perspective on Karwa Chauth. I believe it's a matter of choice but the post makes us think on its essence in a very healthy way.

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