This Karwa Chauth, as married women around me dressed up in bright saris, gold mangalsutras, red bangles and henna-decked hands, all I could think of was, “Thank God I don’t have to do that any more.”
I kept that extreme starvation fast for ten years of my life, all through my twenties. And it used to be the most traumatic event of the year for me. I had nightmares all the time about accidentally breaking my fast by taking a bite of food distractedly. I hated the folktale that women narrated at the evening puja – I found it to be superstitious drivel. I also abhorred the whole concept of ‘sada suhagan’ – it is considered desirable for a wife to die while her husband is alive, else she would be an outcaste if she was widowed. As a young bride, this theory made me angry: Why wasn’t my life as important as his? Somewhere inside me, underneath that docile homemaker, lurked a free spirit that could not see the sense in starving myself for someone else. (I can’t even starve myself for myself.) And so this fast drove me mad: I hated having to do something I didn’t believe in.
Karwa Chauth represented everything I hated about marriage. Those were horrible years of my life; I imagined the world to be a cruel place, in which I was a helpless victim of my circumstances. I thought I had no choice in the matter of my own life. And so, this fast became a symbol of my own torture. That silly story ingrained in me that it was sacrilege to break rules and I imagined myself a fallen woman for even thinking of food. In starving myself, I felt I could not breathe. In dressing up as a newlywed and touching my husband’s feet, I agonised over having already committed the biggest sin in my heart – being untrue to myself. I was doing all this out of compulsion, not choice.
A month after I separated from my husband, Karwa Chauth loomed in my doorway like a hideous monster from the past. Will she keep the fast or not, gossiped the neighbours. I didn’t. My in-laws came over and beseeched me to do it for their son’s sake. But something inside me had already snapped. I had a saying in my own life. I had a voice.
It’s been six more Karwa Chauths since, and I have never missed it. Sure, there seem to be snide whispers somewhere, but my own happiness is now more important that someone else’s opinions of me. Even if God asked me to keep this fast for the love of my life, I doubt if I could do it now. There is just something that repels me about fasting for someone else’s long life and for me to die before them. It goes against my grain.
At the same time, as I write this, I realise it’s not healthy for me to have such strong negative feelings about this fast, or anything else for that matter. I need to let it go. Karwa Chauth, like my marriage, was a bad fit, and I am out of it now. It’s time to be free – not just of oppressive rituals, but of my own negative tendencies.
It is not the fast that enslaved me. The bondage is in my own mind. In looking through the metal mesh at the moon, I am not looking through prison walls. I am, instead, looking at the possibilities of a free, luminous me. A new perspective awaits.