When I was in school, Karva Chauth mornings would see teachers coming to school with henna’d hands and maybe wearing a new salwar kameez. Even the sternest of my teachers, I remember her well, a woman with a no-nonsense attitude and a startling sense of humour that allowed her to keep her cool in a room full of teenagers, even she arrived in school with a sappy smile on her face, her eyes a little dreamy as she took our classes. (Of course, that could also be hunger.)
While fasting in general is sort of silly—seriously, do you think your god cares if you’re hungry?—I think the whole conceit of Karva Chauth is that it’s a superiority thing. Wives fast for the long lives of their husbands, therefore if your wife doesn’t fast for you, she probably doesn’t love you as much as the neighbour’s wife loves him.
|PLOTTING YOUR MURDER|
So, why did a little Punjabi festival—brought over from the villages to the city—gain so much popularity across the country? The answer is Bollywood. From the first Hindi movie to show the heroine (faint with hunger, no doubt, on account of being such a delicate creature) gazing up at the moon through a sieve before allowing herself a bite of the feast she’s had to cook all day (all the while starving.) And the look of adoration on her husband’s face! Who wouldn’t want that? It’s like some sort of sadomasochistic Valentine’s Day.
It is sort of romantic, if you consider it from a child’s point of view. You are young, unformed, and callow and you’re learning about marriage, love and life just by looking around you. There’s your mother telling you with every gesture, how to be a good wife. You see how your father looks at your mother as well, such an expression of smug pride. Then you go to school and even your teachers are doe-eyed and giggly. In the movies, your favourite film star is dressed in her best clothes, maybe the hero is singing a song about how lovely she is. No one actually talks about how hungry they are. [If it were me, I’d be complaining the whole time, but then I’m the person the word “hangry” (a combination of hungry + angry) was invented for.]
There’s a Karwa Chauth story I read a while ago. A new bride is keeping her first fast—that slightly awkward phrasing is how it works, you “keep” a fast, like a vow—and she’s very weak and about to pass out with hunger. Her brothers are worried about her, so they pretend the moon is out already, and she eats something. In a distant town, her husband drops dead. It’s a pretty powerful piece of brainwashing. Eventually, she has to do a lot of running around and he gets restored to life, but not without a whole moral lesson being inserted in there about how women who don’t fast are the worst wives in the world, and basically murderers.
This morning, my young maid asked me whether I was fasting. “Uh, no,” I said, “I don’t believe in that stuff.” She smiled and looked down at the floor, and that would have been the end of the discussion, but I really felt the need to make my point.
“I see no point in fasting,” I told her, “In fact, it should be the men who fast, just to show their appreciation of us, don’t you think?”
Her head lifted and she began to perk up a little. I could tell this had never occurred to her before.
“I mean, we do all the work at home,” I said, choosing to ignore the irony of saying this to someone I hired to basically do all the work at home.
“Yes!” she said, “I mean, why should we do all the cooking and cleaning and go hungry as well?”
And so a young feminist was born, where she might have seen romance in the custom before, now she’s thinking of it in a wholly different way. At least, I’ve done my bit. Now in honour of all the women who don’t have a choice about whether or not to go hungry today, I’m going to eat some cake with my partner, and toast to our long and healthy lives.