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Thursday, February 14, 2013

My mother’s Valentine’s Day

By Monita Soni

My mother celebrates “Karva chauth” in lieu of Valentine’s Day by fasting for a happy married life.

Karva is an earthen oil-lamp and chauth means fourth in Hindi. This romantic “fast” falls on the dark-fortnight, in month of Kartik/November. This day coincides with wheat-sowing in the Northern plains of India and in bygone days men left home on military campaigns and long-distance travel around this time. Women fasted and prayed for their safe sojourn and a good harvest. 
 
Mom prepared in advance, buying cosmetics and bangles, clay karva lamps, matthi and feeni. In the wee hours of the morning, I would creep out of bed with her in an excitement to eat sargi “feeni”-vermicelli cooked in milk and sugar. I took a spoonful, it melted on my tongue but the unfamiliar odor of clarified butter was not appealing, so I stuffed my mouth with cream cakes instead and watched her as she ate a paratha and drank a cup of milky tea. We would go back to bed, on reawakening I would eat breakfast but she did not eat or drink during the day. I wondered how she stopped herself from drinking water. She kept herself busy by applying henna and painting her nails. Sometimes she read a book or went for a movie with her friends. She was not supposed to do any housework but she cooked a full meal for us.
 
In the afternoon, she wore a red saree and applied make-up with special emphasis on a vermillion bindi and bangles.  She shaped a lump of dough into lamp, and placed it to on her thali with rice, sindoor and incense sticks I attempted making a few lamps, but they were floppy. The neighboring women would come over with their puja thalis covered with colorful handkerchiefs. One lady told an interesting story of Veervati, the beloved sister of seven veers or brothers.  There was a rhythm to this narration. The narrator paused seven times in the story and the ladies rotated their plates (feras) during the pause. I was supposed to keep up with the count but I would get distracted by watching the rotating thalis and wondering what kind of home-made sweets they held. They sang songs that warned against forbidden activities like weaving, knitting, sowing, pleading, or awakening a sleeping husband. In the seventh round all the restrictions were lifted. The women paid final homage to Gauri, the Mother Earth and got up. The room bustled with their excited chatter and chinked and rustled with new glass bangles and sarees. 
 
That evening we were the “Moon spotters”.  Glued to the night sky we wished the clouds away so mom could break her fast early. On seeing the Moon my dad would bring mom on the terrace. She viewed the reflection of the Moon and offer sweet and water to the Moon.  As she prayed for dad’s long life, he offered my mom her first sip of water. Very romantic! Although there is a sexist element in the fast this ritual is believed to strengthen the bond of marriage. Some husbands fast with their wives and also shower them with gifts.  It is believed that the fasting woman has the power to confront and defeat Yama, the God of death.
 

About Monita Soni:

A pathologist in Huntsville, Alabama, diagnosing cancer in her day job. Reading and writing poetry is a passion that splashes her literally with a sparkling abundance. She is inspired by great twentieth century poets (Robert Frost, Keats, Browning and Tagore) and ancient Sufi poet like Hafiz, Rumi and Faiz. Her writing style weaves eastern and western cultures. You can hear her commentaries on WLRH Sundial Writer's corner.

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