As a child, I used to be fascinated seeing women – young and old – dress up in red, complete with red ribbons, sindoor and lipstick. Over time, a red paranda was added and today it has been replaced with red streaks in the hair. All this for the occasion of Karva Chauth. Although, these women would all be on an all-day nirjal (no water) fast, their excitement was palpable.
Being a south Indian, this tradition was alien to me. Then I got married to a north Indian – part Rajasthani, part Haryanvi, part UP-ite and a small part Sikh (phew). And so came my first Karva Chauth.
I was the first daughter-in-law in the family, so my mother-in-law was far more excited than I was. I was more stressed than excited. I had never fasted a day in my life and I was worried about getting it wrong! What if I forgot and drank water or ate something?
Another revelation was that in this family there was no system of Sargi (eating at 4am before beginning the fast). After midnight, there was no drinking water or eating anything at all till the moon decided to show up on the night of Karva Chauth. Not that I could have eaten anything at 4am anyway, so it was just as well.
The day dawned bright and clear. After the morning routine of getting ready for work, I walked into the living room to the smell of aloo paranthas and the sight of my father-in-law, husband and brother-in-law enjoying a hearty breakfast.
Once they finished, I was told by my mother-in-law that she would read the kahani (story-telling, which is part of the puja) for me before I left so that after 3pm, I could at least have a cup of tea. Now, normally the puja takes place in the evening but she made this concession for me as I couldn’t have come home because of my long office hours. Her only disappointment was me: I refused to dress up for the occasion since I had to go to work.
My day was uneventful and when I returned in the evening, the atmosphere at home was festival-like. I changed into a slightly dressier silk sari. And while I still couldn’t bring myself to embrace the bling, my mother-in-law was pacified. After the evening rituals, began the wait for the moon. This is the one day when Mr Moon is at his priciest best: He takes his own time to show up.
The hungry women who have fasted the whole day with great excitement make for an amusing sight when they begin to lose their cool with their husbands by the evening. Anyone who crosses their path must tread with caution as Mr Moon remains elusive.
That first year, my husband and I went for a walk to the crowded market nearby and on the way back, we spotted the moon and, thus, I broke my first Karva Chauth fast.
I hear many women talk about the gifts they get for Karva Chauth. In 26 years of marriage, I’ve never received anything material but I have got something much better: My husband has begun to keep the fast with me!