Karva Chauth, an Indian fasting custom, has always fascinated me. It takes place in October or November (Oct. 17th this year). Each year, as I was growing up, I would wait for it, to watch my mother perform all the rituals.
As a child, I would hide behind the door and observe her as she got ready for the occasion. Each year on Karva Chauth, she would get up early. I could hear her and my father cooking up a storm in the kitchen.
Around 4:30 in the morning, she would eat puri (fried bread) and aloo (potatoes), and drink a cup of tea. While he went off to work, she began her fast. The fast would last all day and required complete abstinence from eating or drinking. It was a day in the Hindu religion for her to pray for her husband’s long life.
I loved the evenings, when it was time for her to break her fast. She would dress in all her finery and then ready her prayer plate. We would all generally head over to a friend’s home for the prayers. There, all the married women – in their gold and diamonds – would sing prayers and exchange plates. All the little girls, like me, would look on in reverence and respect.
To my childhood eyes, the women resembled movie stars. How romantic it was that they prayed for their husbands in this way. Once the prayer was over, we would head home for the final ritual. First my mother would observe the (almost always hidden) moon through a sieve and then touch my father’s feet in respect. He would then feed her freshly squeezed orange juice to break her fast. Afterward, we would all sit down to dinner.
Ah, true love, I thought.
As I grew older, I began to notice the custom’s prevalence in north Indian movies. I dreamed of the day I would be able to practice this with my husband. It seemed to be one of those things that would complete my transition into true womanhood.
I began planning weeks in advance. Since both my in-laws and parents lived in a different country, I knew there would be no one to help me decipher the customs here in the US. I was determined not to let that be an impediment in my perfect day, though. I researched as much as I could and called my mother many times to ensure that I had all the things that I needed.
The night before the big day. I prepared the puri dough. It was ready to be rolled out and fried the next morning. Ghee scented with cumin became my base for making the aloo.
Finally the morning arrived. I awoke at 4 a.m. Before my husband could say good morning, all four burners were going on the stove. Tea was simmering on one, aloo on the other, hot fried puries on another and warm kheer (rice pudding) on the last one.
I sat down at 4:30 and ate my meal with great pride. I was sure I was entering some secret of womanhood that had long eluded me. My husband merely smiled as he drank his tea.
Off to work he went.
I had taken the day off, as I had heard one was supposed to do. In the morning, I got my hair and nails done. The afternoon was spent meticulously applying henna to my hands and feet. As I waited for the henna to dry, I remembered the days my mother would do the same.
Around 5 p.m., I decided to get "properly" dressed. I had researched and found that on festive days women should wear solah singar or 16 adornments on their body, and I now had all 16 of them. I wore my wedding lehnga (gown) to mark the occasion.
Since we were new to the area, I did not know other Indian families nearby and so had decided to do the prayer at home. I began with reading Sanskrit scriptures.
Then the wait began for the moon. It hid until almost 9. Finally, I caught sight of it. I ran inside and got my prayer plate along with the sieve and orange juice. It was time. I looked at the wondrous moon through the sieve, dipped my hand in the glass of water on the plate, just as my mother had, and sprinkled the water at the moon. I closed my eyes in prayer and then bowed to my husband in a scene reminiscent of an Indian movie.
Then, as if to mark a milestone, I took a sip of the orange juice. Ah, I thought, this is what a true married woman feels like. I had done it. I had fasted on this very auspicious day to pray for my husband’s long life. I was truly a devoted wife at age 24.
Just then, as if on cue, the phone rang. My husband answered. As he talked, his expressions changed from a smile to giggles and then to laughter. "It’s your mother," he said turning to me. "She wants to know if you are all set for the Karva Chauth fast tomorrow."