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Karva Chauth: Desperately Seeking Romance... And Embracing Misogyny

20/10/2016 11:36 PM IST | Updated 23/10/2016 9:35 AM IST
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Yash Raj Films

Most women of my mother's generation never called their husband by name. Most women in my generation have not held hands with or made willing and happy eye-contact openly in public with their husbands, except to glare or signal something urgent. Many of us in any generation before or after my age cohort have not had a romance before marriage, and even less had a "love-marriage."

But to watch our films one would think every street corner had a dozen love stories blooming. Actually, they may have bloomed in secret, but the path of true love never did run smooth in our part of the world.

When women say they should have the choice to celebrate their marriage and the love in their marriage, do they know what their choice endorses?

Into this culture of romantic lack comes the glamour of married, fully legitimate and socially approved romance, with the filmy version of Karva Chauth. It is the stuff of dreams. What is not to like? And then, along comes liberalization and the big push on consumerism. A heady cocktail of unarticulated, burning desire meeting unlimited supply. A match made in consumerism heaven.

Thus unfurls the Yash Chopra-fication of an old, outdated, regressive and cautionary tale of patriarchal control.

Today, I wonder how many of the modern, financially well off women who fast and feast on this festival know the story that forms the bedrock of the rituals they follow in the name of celebration?

When they say they should have the choice to celebrate their marriage and the love in their marriage, do they know what their choice endorses?

The Karva Chauth story I know is a cautionary tale for women. It stresses in no uncertain terms how marriage was a woman's sole security and refuge, under the benign grace and fidelity of her husband.

This grace and fidelity, though, is most precarious, the story warns. It could be lost at the slightest slip. So you have to be very careful you never let your devotion falter, least of all in favour of your own physical needs or your parental family's "misguided" concern over you. Husband comes first, last and everything in-between. After all, you derive your existence and role and validation only as his wife.

So, the story goes...

Once upon a time there was a girl named Veerawati.

She married a brave and handsome chieftain and was delighted with all her finery and the position of a chief's wife. But this was a spoiled and pampered girl, the little sister of seven doting brothers.

The brothers often took her to visit them back in her parental home. And there, during her Karva Chauth fast, this girl was going to faint with weakness and hunger. Her brothers, concerned for her, tricked her into believing that the moon had risen, when it had not, and made her break her fast.

I wish we were a society more open to romance in our lives so we did not need the cover of filmy fantasies that falsify misogyny to fulfil our dreams.

Barely had she taken some food and drink that her misdemeanour brought a curse on her marriage. Her husband fell ill/was wounded in battle and fell into a coma; hundreds of pins were embedded in his body for some reason. Veerawati realized her mistake, and repented and prayed and begged gods and goddesses...and they said ok, he will not die but after many years, if you are good and fast well, he will awaken to life again.

So, began the punishment of Veerawati, and her penance.

She took care of her husband, fasted properly every year... and took out the pins which pricked his body. When the last pin was left, she went out to arrange for her fast...in the meantime, her maid came and removed the pin, and the husband woke up and in his confused state, mistook the maid for the wife (maybe it was part of the continuing curse of punishment for the wife). Darn!

Now, the wife had the husband alive, but he was not with her! The maid became the wife, the wife now was the maid. Still Veerawati devotedly served him as a maid, and sang a song all the time about the switching of two dolls... the chief eventually asked her what this meant, and she told him the whole story. Then finally, he recognized her, and all her seva bore fruit and the husband and wife were reunited.

Bad Veerawati. Bad brothers who led her astray from her devotion.

What do we choose when we sing this katha as we pass the thali around in the Karwa Chauth puja?

Are we Veerawati? Should we be? Do we want to be her?

If the modern KC-following woman has no truck with this story, I wish she would drop the Veera song and katha from her thali round and moon-gazing ritual. I wish there was no feet touching of the husband.

I wish we were a society more open to romance in our lives overall so we did not need the cover of filmy fantasies that falsify misogyny to fulfil our dreams.

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