The rituals of Karva Chauth are simple enough - a wife goes without food and water for a whole day for the well-being and longevity of her husband. When the moon appears, she looks at it through a sieve and then at her husband. She prays as she does this. The husband then gives his wife some water and something sweet to eat after which she can break her fast. With some modification to accommodate modern lifestyles, such as allowing some water and fruit during the way, this is how the festival is observed by most women who believe in it.
But simple as the rituals are, the questions around the festival are complex. The discourse around Karva Chauth involves a questioning of gender dynamics and power equations. Some argue on the unfairness of the fact that only wives are expected to fast. Are they immune to mortality or don't they deserve to live long? Why don't their husbands do the same for them? People with such questions are often labelled as feminists.
"Perhaps she [a wife] is trying to be more interesting than the six-inch mobile screen in her life partner's hands."
Some women, often labelled as "traditional" or "typical" brush aside these questions, as in their opinion, such an old tradition is beyond enquiry. According to them a woman is the foundation of the family and the husband is the man of her house, the real provider. She deserves a lot too but should respect her husband, just the way it has been idealised in Hindu mythology.
Yet, many Hindu wives in India today, who walk shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts in almost all areas of life -- career, paying the bills, sharing responsibilities and household chores, taking care of their parents and kids, and more -- can still be seen observing Karva Chauth.
I am one of them too.
I do not know how you will label me, in case you do. Am I the feminist who pays the bills and shares household chores with her husband? Or am I a "typical" Indian woman who at the end of the day submits to the belief that her husband is her God and fasts for him.
I don't know where I belong either. Here's the thing. When it comes to Karva Chauth, I don't see myself as either a feminist or a traditionalist.
Because between the feminist and the "typical" woman, there stands a wife too.
A wife who loves her husband and wants him to live long but who also believes that with changing times when both spouses work hard to maintain the marriage and family, conventional gender roles should not define who does what at home or at work.
A wife who is struggling to keep her marriage intact. There are so many distractions. The smartphone claims her husband's attention every few minutes and office gossip flows more easily than a heart-to-heart between the couple. Perhaps she is trying to be more interesting than the six-inch mobile screen in her life partner's hands.
So, actually she does not care what the world calls her -- a feminist or a typical Indian woman. Her dilemma is not to choose between the two labels because she is already dealing with enough others, at every step she takes. If she goes out to work, her time for her kids is scrutinised. If she manages that, her failure to attend all the family functions or prepare exotic meals everyday is commented upon. If she stays home, she is expected to ''understand and adjust'' most of the time as she is seen as not contributing enough, like her hard-working husband or the other smarter and multi-talented wives of her age.
"The focus here is on that wife, who may have her opinions as a woman, but at the end of the day, she prioritises keeping her marriage instead of getting into what should or should not be."
If she tries really hard, she can make her mind ignore the false labelling and move on with her head held high, without any guilt. But the problem is that she has a heart too. She gets hurt when her own family and friends judge her. Sometimes she disengages somewhat to protect her feelings, but her husband construes this as her lack of interest in loved ones. The matter escalates.
This is not to say that a wife is a victim and does not receive her share of rewards. A man may be contributing no less to the marriage. It is also not about who is right -- the feminists or the traditional/typical women. That is another subject. Even the origins and meaning of Karva Chauth is a separate discussion.
The focus here is on that wife, who may have her opinions as a woman, but at the end of the day, she prioritises keeping her marriage instead of getting into what should or should not be. I say ''keep her marriage'' because in reality she is living a relationship that is not as sweet as that between two lovers and neither is it as practical as that between two co-workers. Also, this marriage is being lived at a time when even as they move towards each other for a simple hug the couple are waylaid by technology, individual interests and a myriad other distractions.
I somehow feel that if I ask the wife in a woman, she would not really bother about taking a side between being a strong, independent person or someone who submits to a conventional gender role of submission. A wife would perhaps be only interested in living her relationship with the man she is with and experiencing love in her life, which is challenging enough in itself nowadays.
These are just thoughts which pass by my mind as Karva Chauth comes again. Had this article been about the relevance of gender roles in Karva Chauth, I wonder if the inner wife in any woman, regardless of her personal opinions, would be interested in reading it!