Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Choice Factor




It is that time of the year. The crisp air holds the promise of festivities. And if Dusshera is past, can KarwaChauth be far behind? As evening haze envelops Gurgaon, a strong whiff of KarwaChauth emanates from mushrooming mehndiwalas, sweet shops and bangle sellers.

Hailing from a family where women were unfamiliar with KarwaChauth, I wasn’t really excited by the idea of fasting, or decking up for a story session as a young bride. Given that my mother-in-law, bless her soul, was kind enough to respect my choices, I decided to test KarwaChauth waters with selective participation. Fasting entailed taking fruit and water, and prayer at moon sighting was personal, minus the customary story session. At first, the idea was to test my patience and tame my food temptation. Over the years, I have embraced the festival and many other rituals that were not a part of my growing up years. All because discretion trumped traditional expectation. And no, Ekta Kapoor had no say in my celebrations, if anything, her portrayal of KarwaChauth on television was a deterrent.

The trigger for writing this post is the fact that the rituals of the kind Karwachauth entails are held in contempt by some who call it ‘sexist’. Regressive. A few months ago, a noted journalist called the festival of Rakshabandhan ‘nonsensical’. The basic concept of the festival, according to him, was flawed because his sister was capable of defending herself. Another feminist activist tweeted that Rakshabandhan should be renamed Snehabandhan for the sake of gender equality. For me, Rakshabandhan was a celebration of sibling bonding and it did nothing to make me feel inferior on the gender platform. As long as festivals come with a discretionary choice, taking the nomenclature literally appears trivial to me. Moreover, in the world I live, sisters are a constant pillar of emotional strength and brothers seldom rush to rescue distressed sisters.

Coming back to KarwaChauth, it is interesting to note how Gurgaon couples have devised ways to celebrate the festival that appears punitive for women. From being an attention seeking dominant partner, the husband is gradually emerging as a supportive friend. Guilty of being placed on a pedestal where he is the deity and his mortal wife prays for his long life, it is actually amusing to see the sheepish grin on his face. So the guilty partner has devised ways to make up for the guilt. Pampering the wife by buying gifts is one. Keeping a partial fast in solidarity is another. Going out for dinner is equally effective. And so is spending the entire day together. Showered with all the attention, many women feel equally special, if not more.

Triggered by market driven consumption forces, most festivals and traditions will survive the test of time if the inherent idea is to respect free choice. Most urban working women, I find, are free to drink water, eat fruit or not keep a fast at all. And yet, in today’s age women download apps where they can see their husband through a virtual sieve. Interesting, right? From what I observe, it is not an Indian phenomenon alone for my US based sister-in-law and her friends adhere to strict fasting and celebrate most rituals.

Given the patriarchal society we live in, disapproval from feminist voices is welcome, but it is also true that bright spots are visible amid pervasive darkness of sexism. I see change when an Indian politician has to apologize to a porn star. I see change when an AAP advertisement depicting a homemaker performing household chores is slammed for perpetuating stereotypes. I see change when a woman officer leads the Guard of Honor for the US President. The lady is an officer first and then a woman -a woman free to celebrate or ignore KarwaChauth.

Whether it is Rakshabandhan or KarwaChauth, most festivals are about celebrating relationships and not about celebrating gender one-upmanship. This is not to blame feminists because from an historical perspective, Rakshabandhan and KarwaChauth might appear regressive, and rightly so, but from a discretionary angle the celebrations are gently tuning in with contemporary sensibilities.

Soon we will celebrate Bhai Dooj, which, I am hoping will be more acceptable to activists because it is devoid of Raksha. They can always rename BhaiDooj as Bhai-Behen Dooj. For the sake of equality, of course.

50 comments:

  1. I feel festivals like these are reminders how much we cherish our loved ones. Diamonds, a dinner out at a fancy restaurant, a sari that cost a King's ransom help the economy as well as the relationship.

    For me it's the simplicity rather than the jing-bag associated that makes it so special.

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    Replies
    1. Exactly, it is a celebration of relationships.

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  2. A wonderfully reasonable voice, Alka. Good mix of personal experience and observations in the world around you. The thing about rituals and celebrations is that they evolve and change with time, changing requirements and changing mindsets, and the change is both in the form as well as the meaning which we assign to a celebration or ritual. That's what makes a tradition, any tradition, living and breathing. Most of our Indian festivals are like that. But then our ideologically wedded feminists and modernists may not understand such nuances. O well... But thank you for writing this piece.

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  3. I think it is a matter of choice - some do it, some don't and the festivals are just a way of bringing different relationships and times in picture.

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    Replies
    1. You've summed it up nicely, thanks Jas.

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  4. As usual a very balanced piece Alka. To celebrate and not to celebrate certain things is something very personal and I wish we woudld not bring feminism and equality into anything and everything !

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    Replies
    1. Actually, I was pissed with renaming Rakshabandhan as Snehabandhan. I mean, why take everything so seriously, chill na. And for once look at the doughnut and not the hole.

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  5. I was nodding through each word. Incidentally I just put up a post on the same topic as well. Glad to know that our thoughts resonate as was expected. Well written!

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    Replies
    1. Ha ha, really. Great minds think alike. Will read it in a bit.

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  6. I think for me it all boils down to, well, as you say the choice factor...Women or men should be allowed to chose if they want to do something or not...When it comes to Karwachauth, the same applies....As long as one wants to do it out of free will I think we should not judge ..But the moment it comes as a line that needs to be toed to the tee, that's where my problem lies...

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  7. A post that sums-up what our festivals stand for...and what we make of them. There are always people who go against the customs and we ought to ignore their 'regressive' thinking.

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    Replies
    1. Ha ha, a smart way of turning the table, thanks Alok.

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  8. Well elucidated and eloquently tackled Alka! Honouring tradition and rituals is actually regaining popularity and followership as people are realising that these are what keeps our culture alive.

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    Replies
    1. Change seeps gradually and we have learnt to tune traditions with modern sensibilities.
      Thanks, good to see you here Kala.

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  9. I have seen Karwa Chauth only in movies. Then came your line "Ekta Kapoor had no say in my celebrations, if anything, her portrayal of KarwaChauth on television was a deterrent" Ekta Kapoor, Karan Johar...they are repelling people from celebrating traditional festivals aren't they ? :D

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, their portrayal is so garish and so over done.

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  10. To me fasts do not mean anything,i have my own way of respecting relationships.I did keep strict Karva Cauth for many years but now i have excused myself.It is too taxing,i can't stay hungry for long.

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  11. I am a big BIG fan of festivals , I do beleive in them because they are one moment when families get together.. or maybe its because I am far away from everyone that i feel that way. BUt it makes me mad and angry against the so called keeps of our society and religion etc etc etc ...

    I also feel that we need to evolve with time and so should the festivals because when they were created those were different days different times .. things have changed drastically ...

    Bikram's

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  12. Like they say, each to his own. People do it if they can, they don't do it if they can't. Festival season is just a reason to celebrate, be happy, have the family together. Life is small and let us make it happy by celebrating. This media makes a big issue out of everything. Rakshabandan had been there for ages. Why name change it? karwa chauth had been there for ages...do it in your own style na...Becoming a sensation is fashion these days. Speak stupid statements and people become try to become popular. Celebrate in your own style and have lots of fun. happy Holidays, Alka dear.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks sweetheart, happy hols to you too.

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  13. Enjoy the festival,Alka! Each one has his/ her own way of appreciating or denouncing the traditions in this ever changing world:)

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  14. People have too much opinion. As you said, Raksha Bandhan is all about sibling bonding and that goes for all festivals.

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    Replies
    1. In our bid to critique, we ignore the simple joys.

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  15. Feminism has attained a totally wrong construct now and the little pleasures are often a thing of the past. I agree with your voice about festivals being a thing of discretion and fun and not to necessarily throw contempt on everything we do or do not do.

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    Replies
    1. I an attempt to find fault, we forget simple joys.

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  16. I totally agree that we should only keep to the spirit of the festival and not go too deeply into it. Also, these are but social customs that change, evolve and metamorphose into different avatars over the ages. In our lifetime itself we have seen so many changes and all for the better taking place in such matters. I don't fast and my rituals are strictly devised by and adhered to by me. I don't force them on my family and the daughters who are free to follow theirs :)

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    Replies
    1. So good to see you here today. You were always the voice of reason.
      Let's celebrate the positivity instead of looking for negatives is my simple point.

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  17. i have noticed it too, the chemistry b/w husbands and wives and of course, the much hyped 'karwa-chauth' is changing and now, even husbands fast for their wives, which i find cute!

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    Replies
    1. Exactly Anika, we've forgotten simple joys in our bid to look for negativity.

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  18. Oh yes, my North Indian friends here observe the ritual very diligently. I too totally support customizing a ritual to suit yourself! Every ritual has evolved from some point in time, so why not refine it further to do what is comfortable to you and your loved ones?!

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    Replies
    1. Exactly, plus to each his/ her own.
      Thanks Roshni.

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  19. beautiful articie. 'most festivals are about celebrating relationship and not about celibrating gender one-manship.' a well balanced
    thought. respects tradition and also calls for achange of attitute .

    surendra verma.

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    Replies
    1. Always happy to see you here.
      One can either look at positives, pick the best from our traditional heritage and change it according changing modern sensibilities or discard everything by labeling it regressive. Indeed, many rituals are inherently regressive but one has to wonder why more and more women are embracing Karwa Chauth despite feminists labeling it as regressive. I guess, to each his own works best.

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  20. A very balanced article Alka. Yes, everybody should be 'free' to follow their choice. Whether we follow something ourselves or not, we definitely cannot impose our views on others.

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  21. "Whether it is Rakshabandhan or KarwaChauth, most festivals are about celebrating relationships and not about celebrating gender one-upmanship."
    This line of yours sums it up! Apart from an article on Huffington Post, this is the only other article/ post that I have read which is so balanced. I totally agree with you about descretion to celeberate the festivities and add your twist to it. I have seen even the most high powered women keep the fasts, as a matter of choice and not because it is imposed on them. I believe that it is a day where the Husband cherishes the woman in his life. And, for me, this festival always, always makes me go gaga, because of all the jing bang (mehndi and getting ready) associated with it. I do it because I like it, and not because my Husband wants it. It gives me a chance to feel loved beyond the ordinary!

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    1. Exactly Sakshi, we do it because we like it. We pray for the family and celebrate togetherness. I remember reading your article on the same line last year.
      Funny and surreal that Sagarika in today's TOI talks about calling Bhai Dooj as Behen Dooj. Even at the cost of bragging, I can't help but pat myself for imagining the arguments that would fly!
      Thanks Sakshi.

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