When I was a kid I waited eagerly for festivals. More people in the house, pichkari, pathaka, new clothes, cousins, sweets, fun, laughter. What was not to like about it?
But as I grew up, I started hearing things which made me cringe..
You are a girl! How come you are not interested in making Rangoli? What is a Diwali without Rangoli!
Do you know how to make any Indian sweets? This cake and all any one can bake…
You don’t observe any fasts!! How come? Sasural mein kya haal hoga!
I would see other women dress up, pray, perform rituals, and prepare special delicacies on these occasions. I started thinking it was unnecessary. I would especially rebel when somebody would say that I should do these things since I am “a girl”.
I hid during Holi, afraid the colors would cause an allergy on my face. Diwali was about complaining about pollution. I visited temples as per my wish as I did not believe in praying as an activity. To me it was something I did alone. Something sacred between me and God.
Last year on Ganesh Chaturthi, my mother had invited many people. I remembered how she had cooked so many things. How there was so much work at home. How I had worn a sari. How I had cribbed to her that there was no need to do so much at this age. How she had responded, “Yeh sab achcha lagta hai. Kuch utsah hota hai.”
This year the festivals came as they do every year. But my mother who keeps Ganpati at her home every year was suffering from a contagious viral infection. I was not supposed to visit her for few weeks. Ganpati Puja was preceded by Teej. Being the first year of my marriage, I was supposed to perform the Puja at my mother’s house. Again, this was also cancelled given my mother’s health.
During those few weeks, I would get up in the morning. Tired. The house helpers would show up at their wish, taking holidays most of the time. Doing the dishes became frequent. I dreaded weekends because it would mean brooming, mopping and laundry. When I was not at home, I would be at work. Another eight hours would be spent in meeting deadlines and working under pressure. The next few hours at home would remind me that few items from the grocery list were still pending. And that the plumber’s timing did not match with my office hours. Hence the leakage in the bathroom would continue….
The monotony of the daily grind was getting to me…
The things that I used to find unnecessary suddenly became a cause for a void in my mundane life. There was nothing to look forward to. I had always taken festivals for granted. I had never thought about what it feels like when you cannot celebrate because your family member is sick.
I was not the only one who missed the festivities at my mother’s house. One of my mother’s young neighbors said to her fondly, “Aunty last year we had such a good time at your place. The sweet you made, was just like my mother used to make! This year was so dull!’
And suddenly it all made sense to me. If women like me and her, who go to work, and have a decent number of friends can feel so empty due to lack of festival celebrations, what would it be like for women in previous generations who were confined to the four walls of their homes?
Thankfully, I have another family now. I celebrated the festivals at my in-laws’ place. My mother-in-law and sisters-in-law spent a lot of time cooking, cleaning and procuring supplies for the Puja. At workplace also, it was ‘Ethnic Day’ where all the women decided to wear a sari. It is difficult to wear a sari in office (for inexperienced people like me) but nonetheless it was worth the effort because it made us all feel good and gave us a reason to pose for pictures.
My cook seeing that I was depressed had prayed for my family’s well being. She handed me kumkum with much conviction:
“Madam, I got it for your mother from the temple. Very powerful deity Madam. You give it to her.”
To the absolute shock of my mother, I sent the kumkum to her and repeated the exact words of my cook.
Why do the women in our country put so much effort in following rituals?
If you had asked me this question until some time back I would have told you it is all futile. Most rituals do not even make sense. The feminist side of me feels that most of our traditions reek of misogyny.
Festivals. Rituals. Traditions. They play an important role in the lives of women in India.
I always tried to escape from such stereotypes. But the past month made me understand something. This is an escape in itself for women…
Maybe it is the time we get to look forward to something other than the daily chulha, chauka and bartan.
Maybe it is the only time we get to wear that sari hidden in our wedding suitcase.
Maybe it is about socializing and meeting family members who we otherwise do not get to see.
Maybe it is about a young woman feeling the warmth of her hometown in the food cooked by a neighborhood Aunty.
Maybe it is about appreciating that the elders in our family are still present in our lives to teach us a thing or two…
Maybe being a woman is about not being judgmental. Maybe it is about appreciating that while I may not like to perform Karwa Chauth for my beliefs, for another woman it may be the brightest day of the year.
Maybe each one of us is struggling in our own ways, and we are desperately trying to catch the one tiny little ray of hope and joy. And the least we could do is let everyone decide for themselves what is that ray of hope in their life…