It’s that time of the year. Karwa Chauth, or the time when female members of the Married Mafia turn out in their designer best to starve themselves in the name of love, tradition, and Bollywood.
Can you even call yourself married if you don’t have a strategically lit photograph of an elaborate thaal of sargi from the mother-in-law (thanks a ton, Karan Johar) to show for it on Instagram?
What’s the point of suffering the ignominy of an itching-twitching nose just begging to be scratched as the mehendi artist painstakingly draws intricate designs on the palms while hiding the husband’s initials within the pattern with the precision of a RAW agent blending into her background? A photo of said undertaking will undoubtedly accompany a carefully written love note that has already been scheduled on Facebook. And another candid one describing how the adorably helpless husband “babysat” his spawn, earning him the ‘Husband/ Father Of The Year’ sash and crown, as the wife embarks on the hours-long journey of having her hands beautified with henna. Obviously.
The husband has already picked out a surprise gift from a list of pre-approved, tweetable, appropriately expensive, likely-to-inspire-envy gifts to spring on the wife as she coquettishly peers at him through the festively decorated net of the channi.
There will be Karwa Chauth parties in kitty groups, housing societies, and club houses. The dress code will be red and revolting, because why must Valentine’s Day have all the fun? It is all vastly fascinating to watch, especially if you’re not fasting and have bucketfuls of popcorn to chomp on, as you take in the spectacle that is the Karwa Chauth Pride Parade. Fascinating in the morbidly gripping way one is unable to rip their eyes away from a pustule being bled out.
Let me explain.
As the last remaining single woman in a family with exceptionally virile X-chromosomes, I have enjoyed a lifetime of cramming my face with halwa-puri-kheer as mom and sister, cousins and aunts, and even grandmothers, looked mutinously at the sky as if the sheer force of their withering glares could make the moon part the clouds and give a Shah Rukh Khan-esque appearance so they could finally, blessedly, throw some food down their gullets and into their starved bellies.
As a child, I knew that in the interest of my own long life, it was best to stay out of the way of my famished mother as she sat in a circle with the other women of the house, praying for the long lives of the husbands whom some of them actually wanted to murder right that moment. The men in the house took great pains to make themselves scarce, resurfacing only when it was time for their wives to eat, and they could pretend to be useful by ladling food into their plates to atone for the sin of being the reason they had to stay hungry. There was no pageantry or tamasha associated with the matter-of-fact way the women observed yet another senseless ritual they didn’t have the energy to fight. As an adult, I’ve watched cousins grumble about the regressiveness of Karwa Chauth, even as they ultimately got on with it. Because a lifetime of repeatedly hearing and internalising the message that god (a very petty one, if this is true) will bless your husband with a long, healthy life if you stay hungry on this one day can do a number on even those who recognise the inherent fallacy in the very idea of Karwa Chauth. If you believe in god, can you really risk pissing it off and snuffing the life out of your husband?
So, I get the quietly indignant way most of the women in my mum’s generation, and several women from my own, “celebrate” the ritual. What is far more difficult to understand or empathise with is the smug superiority with which Karwa Chauth, one of the most pungent, regressive, anti-woman flower in the ever-blooming garden of Hinduism, is adorned, tragically, by so many women of my generation.
These are the women who take endless delight in telling anyone who will listen that they’re fasting out of choice, not compulsion. Romance, with a dash of sanskaar and a side of tradition, is a dish best served under the moonlight, they tell us, misty-eyed, while luxuriating in empowering discounts. And how can the image makeover of KC be complete without husbands doing their bit. It’s not really regressive when the menfolk have volunteered to starve alongside their wives in a magnanimous show of equality, is it?
Yep, it absolutely is.
Take KC out of its shiny, tinselly wrapping paper, and all that’s left is a ritual that basically tells women, “Your life is worth less than your husband’s, so Missy, better start praying and pleading that you kick the bucket before he does.” Now to make this gloriously toxic cocktail even more socially potent, throw in some gimmicky catalysts that convince women this was their idea to begin with, and they chose to parrot this message thoughtlessly. The fact that men are now partaking in the madness is of exactly zero consequence here because they do not carry the baggage of the centuries-old message that their own lives are secondary to their wives’.
The only way to show a progressive attitude towards Karwa Chauth is by refusing to observe it — not because you don’t believe your husband will, actually, die prematurely (hopefully education has achieved at least that much), but because it tells women a disgusting story about the value of their own lives. Let’s leave the saath jeene marne ki kasams for mediocre Bollywood films, shall we?