I wouldn’t say it is a new phenomenon yet it is not too old either. Every other day is a day which seems to be the observance of one religious fast or the other. No, it is not about Mondays being reserved for Lord Shiva, Tuesdays for Hanuman ji and Ganapati favouring Wednesdays…Or come Navratri, when many of us fast the full nine days or believe that a couple of days of fasting are of binding high priority. Will attempt to analyse this abstaining from food for such `n’ such occasion in order to usher in health, wealth or whatever one aspires to benefit from but…but for now, my pen insists on telling quite a hilarious tale before me attempting to do so! Two thickly humid Mondays ago, a dear friend quite at the end of her rope phoned, and in a voice dripping wet with both indignation and helplessness, tells me that her recently employed maid, would, in no time at all, eat her out. (Of course, cannot go into the entire story despite it being riveting, out of the ordinary enough to make it to one of the short films on Disney hotstar or any other platform since the narration would gorge into most of the space.)
Well, this 40-something, all of four feet ten inches, has the appetite of a farmer, having, in the absence of an ox to plough the fields from dawn till sunset, breaking only to consume a hill-high pile of rotis accompanied with no `daal’ or `sabzi’ but onions and green chillies, possibly some chutney. Of course, this maid’s diet comprises of whatever is made in Natasha’s kitchen—paranthas, curd, eggs, toast, rajma-chawal…needn’t be further detail-centric. She thought this lithe-bodied person might have worms, so a deworming course was administered! But no, the ravenous belly still couldn’t get enough—-her hoggishness continued unabated. Then it struck my friend that it had to be diabetes.
No Sir, reports revealed that she was as sound as a bell, right as rain. Now better entreat my pen to get to the point, since going by this speed, the allotted wordage shall fall short, throwing things hopelesly out of gear! The talk was of religious fasting, and so no further swerving. Natasha’s maid, Prabha fasts on Mondays, donning a high hat and holier-than-thou look. Fast, honestly?! The morning begins with dunked in sugar milk-tea, an hour or so later, the same thick coagulated beverage, in a tall, broad-rimmed tumbler, appropriated as one’s own, tagged along with five to six boiled salt-free potatoes.
And before heading off for her siesta around 2ish, armed with a banana, another glass of chai! Evening tea on the anvil on return. Pooja at 7 o’clock sharp, followed by a robust meal, post breaking the fast, with my friend’s family yet to have their dinner. Cross my heart, this is not overplaying, exaggeration or puffery! The truth, and nothing but the truth. Natasha has never-ever cared to pause over what her household help’s diet consists of but…but here it is right in your face, visible to a blind bat! Fortunately, her woes will end on the 1st of October—Prabha, being given a notice. Nearer to home: my own Keshkali has, for over the last few years, been keeping, holding rather `honouring’ every earthbound fast. This one is for the `sons’ (daughters are `paraya dhan’), the other one is for the husband, and so goes the merry-go-round.
The last one was on the 17th of this month where 16 ghaddas of water had to be poured overhead to beckon the Goddess of Wealth, if I heard correctly. In her case, this multiple fasting is serious business. A different matter that because of paucity of food she slows down, more often than not, doing things in reverse order, first making the tea followed by toast or thinks it’s perfectly natural to clock in half-day, to return to her home, so as to perform the requisite rituals. I might not think `fasting till the cow’s come home’ will work like the swish of a magic wand, setting my life straight, creaseless and carefree, footloose and fancy free but for those who have a water-tight, deep-dyed faith in them, I remain mindful of their unflappable allegiance to their belief…yet, faith is a personal matter and don’t you think it should not spill into everyday life?! Maternity Leave, Medical Leave, we are well acquainted with but whoever heard of religious leave?! Of course, one of the reasons, for most, of plunging deeper and deeper into ritualistic customs is our daily Soaps, where nearly every day some ceremony, poojan or haloed festivity is a routine affair, naturally performed with splashiness—fairy-lights twinkling on the walls, marigolds strung over windows, the floor carpeted with roses, women dolled-up, hair coiffured, with jewellery, especially the neck pieces and `tikkas,’ putting Maharani Gayatri Devi’s heirloom in the shade.
This reminds me of the Soap, `Anupama’— everyone is jobless yet the razzle-dazzle of rituals is cream puff. The symbiotic relationship between reel and real life! To tread another road—Raja Ram Mohan Roy, care to remember him? Born in 1772. Two and a half centuries ago he could see the disquieting matters that were, with each passing step, back-peddling Hinduism and India. He, a strong proponent of education, firm in the belief that girls needed to attend school, that Sati (where a wife had to be burnt alive on her husband’s funeral pyre, having no business to live sans Pati Parmeshwar!). He galvanised marches and protests, demanding a law for banning Sati. That was the breaking point for Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s Brahmin Mother—she disowning him! Did I mention that Roy was dead against the caste system? As was Swami Dayanand, the founder of Arya Samaj, a dominant and social reformer who was thoroughly against polytheism, child-marriages, Sati, hollow ritualism…Should not the differences between ritualism and spiritualism be driven home?! Both, not even different sides of the same coin! To footslog back to `fasting and feasting’ and `fasting and holidaying’. Fasting is a call for abstaining from food, not wolfing down `fast-legitimate’ edibles, correct?! And honouring the fast, but believing that it comes along with the birthright of a work-free paid day?!
(Dr Renée Ranchan writes on socio-psychological issues, quasi-political matters and concerns that touch us all.)