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Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Hungering for Love

I had never before heard of the Hindi custom, Karwa Chauth.

In a NYTimes piece under the Modern Love umbrella, (which often has pieces of monumental silliness, andwill feature crippling feats of verbal and mental gymnastics in an effort to avoid following a premise to its -- oh horrors!-- Politically Errant conclusion, but is usually entertaining,) an Indian-Canadian writer describes her mother's fasting to honor her husband.
When I was a child, growing up in a tiny Canadian mountain town where we were the only Indian immigrants, she used to tell me: “This is a day to honor my husband. Only when you are married will I tell you more.”

I used to think of that day as magical. But now that I am married, I am not so sure.

“It is good you remembered Karwa Chauth,” my mother said after I told her that I hadn’t eaten. I wanted to explain that I had not been fasting on purpose, only that I had forgotten to eat. But I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth....

After our conversation, I went over to our refrigerator and opened it. I imagined myself making [my husband's] favorite meals, but I grew exhausted just thinking about it — the hours of preparation, the mess I would make in the kitchen. I called him instead.

“It’s Karwa Chauth,” I said mysteriously. “I’m fasting for your good health.” It sounded glamorous, this declaration. Wifely. Though it was a lie, he seemed rather surprised and pleased. Maybe even touched.
The woman seems to love her husband, seems to respect if not share her parents' beliefs.
Yet she does not embrace the custom.
Why not?

She has trouble acknowledging that what her parents share might possibly be love.
my father calls it as he sees it. The trouble is, he sees only half of everything.

On the subject of marriage, my father has given me the same talk over and over: “In the first few years, a man will want to have sex with his wife to make babies. Afterward, his wife will no longer interest him. That is all.”

My parents have always slept with their bedroom door open, and for years my brother slept on a cot near their bed. I remember being keenly aware of the absence of touch between my parents. Once, when I was 19 and feeling emboldened by a women’s studies class I’d taken in college, I asked my mother if she still had sex with my father.

“Wouldn’t you like to know!” she cried out. But even as she avoided answering, I noticed her hiding her flushed cheeks — the smallest hints of her longing?
Perhaps the writer also is guilty of seeing only half of everything -- is it so impossible that her mother's blush is the smallest of hints of her continuing physical intimacy with her husband, despite his pronouncements, (which surely echo the received wisdom of his culture,) that she can't possibly interest him?

I wonder if there is a reciprocal abstention or sacrifice by men on behalf of their wives, and the love they bear for women?

Such practices could very profitably be adopted as a spiritual exercise by Christians, I think, (and have been, I think by some Evangelical and conservative Catholic men's movements.)

I think ritualizing such fasts would be a most excellent form of inculturation.

(I am not starved for affection, but I would most gladly fast for love of Himself. And for someone who loves food, sometimes to distraction it seems, a fast is a very deliberate thing.)


Vik Duggal said...

Great response to the article. It's unfortunate that author of the original piece did not read this.

Scelata said...

Thank you for dropping by.

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)