Karva Chauth: Another November Festival

November 15th word count 2491 running total 23330

Another festival which I was part of in 1964 is called Karva Chauth. Wives fast for a day, at the same time, wishing for the well-being of their partners. Women prepare special meals for the end of the day, wear new clothes, visit the temple and gather to relate folk tales.

On 1st November that year I was officially betrothed and, a week later, my mother said I should take part in the fast. I had not fasted before, did not drink enough water that day and became very weak. Added to this my mother chose this day to clean out the storeroom that my grandmother had used to store fuel which was dried cow-dung. My grandmother would bring the patties from the shareholding, carry them in a shallow wicker basket on her head, and dump them in the back room. It hadn’t been cleaned out for years and was full of tiny remnants which had been further broken down by dung beetles.

On Karva Chauth 1964, my mother sat at the edge of that room, filling a large shallow metal bowl with the accumulation of years of broken rubble in which the dung beetles had lived and raised their families. I hated beetles, they were huge, black and too quick, seeming to blindly come in my direction every time I saw one. Each bowl would be squirming with these, I could see them before my mother lifted the bowl on to my head and shooed me off. My route was through our living room, past the kitchen under the stairs, into the verandah, out the front door into the lane where everyone sitting enjoying the winter sun could see me, then into the empty space beside the wall of our house where I dumped the bowl of cow-dung into the corner. And returned for the next one.

When the room was cleared, my mother insisted we wait to see the moon before I could eat anything. The ritual is that you look at the moon through a large sieve. My mother gave me a steel tray and I stared at the reflection of the moon and I was supposed to see a vision of my betrothed (a man I had not met) in it. That was my one and only experience of the Karva Chauth fast. It was one of the worst days of those twenty-two months in India. When my betrothed became my husband he had no time for that festival. He said, ‘You don’t have to starve for a day to keep me healthy. What nonsense.’ There we are, one person’s esteemed festival is another’s nonsense

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