Keeping a Foreign Fast
To fast or not to fast; that was the question. Last Tuesday, we celebrated Karva Chauth, a holiday where Hindu wives are supposed to fast for the whole day for the prosperity and longevity of their husbands. It’s no easy fast, either. A meal may be taken before sunrise, but following that the wife isn’t supposed to eat or drink anything, including water, until the moonrise, about fifteen hours later.
I’ve never fasted before, frankly, because I’ve never had a reason to. I didn’t grow up in a religion that included fasting as an act of devotion, and I never felt inclined to do so for personal reasons. So, initially I wasn’t planning on keeping the fast.
After about the tenth time that I was asked whether I was planning to keep the fast by Indian friends or family, though, I started to figure out that “Yes” was a much more acceptable answer than “I don’t know”. This is a funny thing about being a non-Indian married to an Indian man – As an American woman, no one really expected me to keep the fast. (I’m an American; it’s not part of my culture. Why would I keep it?) As the wife of an Indian man, though, I was expected to keep it. (I’ve willingly entered into this culture through moving to India and through my marriage, therefore, out of respect, I should adhere to some of the cultural norms, including this fast, which is one of the most important holidays for husbands and wives.) And finally, as an American married to an Indian, it’s especially thoughtful and meaningful of me to keep the fast. (I seem so culturally sensitive and aware, and so devoted to my husband to I participate in a custom that is foreign to me.) Confusing, isn’t it?
Ultimately, though, I decided to keep the fast. And, I decided to keep it willingly – I don’t want it to seem as if I was forced into. Amrit, his mother, and other friends and family never once told me that I was required to keep the fast; there was no pressure from them in that sense. And, to be honest, it would have been perfectly acceptable if I had said that I wouldn’t be keeping the fast. However, it was better that I was planning to keep it. Plus, I figured, if nothing else, it never hurts to endear myself to my in-laws through participating in this holiday with them. And, I would love for Amrit to have a long, happy, prosperous life, and am willing to do what I can to help towards that end.
The difficult part of the holiday, obviously, was the fast. By late afternoon I was hungry, tired, and cranky, and I still had hours to go. Fortunately, I had been given chai and juice by my mother-in-law during the day (just no water allowed), which was at least helping to curb any dehydration.
And, aside from the fast, the holiday itself was quite fun. The night before I went to a local market with my mother-in-law and one of Amrit’s aunts to buy bangles and bindis (the little sticky dots that Indian ladies put on their foreheads) and have mehendi, or henna, applied to my hands. The market was full of women having mehendi applied or buying their supplies for the next day, and the air was abuzz with excitement.
The following morning, I woke up at 4 am to share a hearty breakfast with my mother-in-law and Amrit’s aunt. It reminded me of the excitement of waking up early on Christmas morning. I spent the rest of the day trying to lie low and conserve my energy, though I did have to go into work for a few hours.
In the evening, we all eagerly awaited moonrise. When the moon came out the wives, including me, all performed a puja where we looked at the moon through a screen before seeing our respective husbands’ faces. Then, Amrit gave me my first drink of water, another part of the ceremony, and we all went inside for a delicious dinner that I quickly and appreciatively gobbled down.