Sometimes, rites are wrong

Sometimes, rites are wrong
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First Published: Thu, Oct 16 2008. 10 09 PM IST
Updated: Thu, Oct 16 2008. 10 09 PM IST
By the time you read this, I will have decided whether to fast.
Karva Chauth, the holiday invented by Shiva and Parvati, made popular by Bollywood, falls Friday…or Saturday.
It depends on whose calendar you believe. Some Hindu websites say 18 October. First, Karvwachauth.com listed it as 18, then switched to 17. The IndusLadies.com site is abuzz figuring out just what to do.
One newly-wed woman innocently asks the forum: “Karva Chauth falls on Saturday… I have a wedding to attend and I saw the moon does not pop up till 9pm. (My husband) tells me to eat right after sunset…please advise.”
The whole controversy took me back to a recurring fight between two close friends in my New Jersey school — both Muslim, except one was a Bora from Gujarat, the other a Sunni from Pakistan. Each insisted her day and way of celebrating Id was accurate and it always exploded on the day one broke fast and the other didn’t. The lone white Christian at the lunch table would finally ask, “Who cares?!”
They united on that response: “God cares.”
Over the last few years, my generation has appeared to be growing more religious than our parents. In this festival season, I wonder though if it’s that youth are actually less spiritual, more ritualistic, obsessed with getting dates, mantras, practices just “right”.
Why?
My theory is they cling to religion as a way of keeping them “Indian” at a time that the landscape of their country is changing into something more imposed — and imported. To be sure, there is an element of belonging, of show, of using authenticity to trump each other.
Non-resident Indian types have mastered that trick. To colleagues at work, Prathap becomes Peter and eats hamburgers. On weekends, he’s at the mandir telling everyone how the Durga idols need to be immersed in the Atlantic this year instead of being stored in the basement; practicality be damned.
I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with rituals. Interestingly, the questioning began during a visit to India in my teenage years when an uncle told me I should touch my right hand to my forehead and then my heart when I passed a temple.
“All temples or just Hindu ones?”
He pretended not to hear me. When I saw him using the same hand with which he prayed to throw Morton wrappers on the road, I decided to skip that gesture.
When I got married, I debated whether or not to touch my husband’s feet after garlanding, as is tradition in Assam. My parents left it to me. I decided to — but told him I would only do it once (and then wickedly added I would again if he died before me).
Besides my husband’s, I love touching feet. I consider it a pretty sacred, special act and the only way to express love and respect for relatives who are not the huggy-kissy type. I do not like perfunctory feet-touching, so if it’s an old person I happen to encounter, I don’t immediately dive. But most of my cherished and exasperating family do get the royal foot touch.
After my grandmother’s death in June, the issue of rituals has surfaced again and again. Recently, a family discussion ensued over just what to do with her remains. A few of us advocated taking them to our family home by the Brahmaputra and “releasing” her soul there; another faction wanted to do what they said was “proper” and send them on their way in Haridwar. My father, the eldest and a Buddhist by conversion, settled the affair and said we should split the ashes in half.
This time of year raises lots of questions for the level of religiousness we wish to espouse, personally, privately, publicly. To wipe the tika off before reporting to work or not? Will the candles in office offend non-Hindus? To sip water during the fast or endure?
As readers of this column know, my Punjabi husband and I fasted last year. But when discussing what we might do this year, he was uncertain.
“It’s your holiday,” I said. “I do it because it means something to your family.”
“You don’t have to,” he said.
He hasn’t decided yet, and I know my decision hinges on his. I touched his feet; he didn’t touch mine. But if I fast, I want him to join in. Those are my made-up rules; I am sure many won’t find them right.
As for that woman who fretted over missing out on the buffet line at the wedding on Saturday, she was informed that Friday was the more preferable option, sanctioned by the “Panchangam” blogger invoking “dharmashastra vakya” to determine the day.
“Wow… Yes, I will now fast!! ...great how things just work out for the best,” the new bride exclaimed.
But an admonition came none too soon from a lurking aunty: “please u should observe the same with reverence, as otherwise it is not worth it. doing it just because others wish it should not force u. these things r faith and one should observe with faith.”
Your comments are welcome at widerangle@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Oct 16 2008. 10 09 PM IST
More Topics: Karva Chauth | Bollywood | Durga | Columnist | Kalita |