CR’s post triggered lots of thoughts in me and brought back a few memories of my childhood.
To start off with, I hardly had widows in my vicinity as I grew up. There was one lady cook who used to stay at my maternal grand parents’ house was a widow. As kids, we would often visit our grandparents place. During one of the pujas or festivities, when I gave flowers to everyone and this lady, my granny shushed me away and whispered to me that I shouldn’t give it to her. I was at a very tender age to question the protocols. But it must have touched me somewhere unknowingly. I still remember a day when everybody in the family had gone to attend a function out. (I was left out at home with this lady, don’t remember why) I told her that we will play a game of marriage and that I would marry her. Then we made 2 garlands of flowers plucked from Granny’s garden and exchanged them. I told her that I would be her husband. 😀
I would wonder why most women I knew would ask God for only one wish – ‘To die as a Sumangali’. But I reasoned with myself thinking if this was their way of torturing their spoon fed hubbies who might not even know that raw rice needed to be boiled to make it edible.
SnS wrote a beautiful post on the several customs that a woman is exempted from during her periods.
I remember I always tried to have healthy discussions with Amma regarding this. Although there were a few advantages of these bans, I wondered how it mattered at all! She would not give scope for any argument and silence all attempts saying – ‘That is how elders have stated the rules. I can’t go against it’. Although there were no strict rules of using separate set of vessels or rooms during ‘those’ days, there were a few that irked me. First was that as soon as you discover that it was time, you had to take a bath which included washing your hair even if it was midnight! There was no geyser in our house which meant heating water in the kitchen in a vessel and taking it all the way to bathroom (which was located in our parents’ bedroom), taking a bath when rest of the world is snoring and then go back to snoozeland with wet hair. Another rule was that we were not supposed to wear a new dress during those days. There was an instance when Sis and I got into an argument with Amma as to what would happen if we wore it. She just declared ‘Rule is a rule’ which used to piss me off. Give me a logical reasoning and I could be sold but that was not to be. Then sis and I, being the smart chicks that we were devised a plan. One of us who was ‘clean’ (pun intended) wore the dress, removed it and then told Amma ‘She wore it once, it’s no more new. I can wear it now na?’ for which I guess Amma had to shrug speechlessly.
There are a few customs that openly show male dominance.
One of them, Amma used to follow which had a hilarious reasoning behind it. An ash gourd had to be cut by male species only. Although she would do the peeling and chopping, first cut had to be inserted by a MAN. Why? You ask! Apparently if a female cuts it, a child would come out of it. Can you believe that? There were times when Amma would have forgotten to get it slit by the men of the house before they left home in the morning. She would keep it uncut. Sis and I would say – ‘Give it to us. If a child comes, we’ll raise it.’ She would reply – ‘You do whatever you want in your own houses when you are married. Let me follow what I believe in’. Yeah! I don’t buy that she actually believed a baby could get conjured from an ash guard had a female hand cut into it.
There is threading ceremony for boys in the family which is observed with huge pomp and show. I would question why girls were exempted from it. But our elders were conditioned to pass the ball they received from their ancestors to their heirs. No questions were asked and no answers would be given.
During the wedding, there is a custom called ‘Kashi Yatra’. Here, the groom is dressed in saffron clothes, acts as if he is fed up with life and is going to Kashi leaving behind all worldly pleasures (and duties). The bride’s father goes to him and pleads with him not to go and offers his daughter to him. When I was small, it used to be entertaining. How these otherwise serious elders actually enact a drama. But now on hindsight, I find this custom meaningless. I wish it was the groom who would beg and plead to the bride’s father to agree to get his daughter married to him.
In my in-laws’ place, they have this custom of covering one’s head with a veil to ensure husband’s longevity. Luckily, Ma herself doesn’t believe in this custom but when we attend family functions or visit relatives, we are supposed to ‘ACT’ like a husband’s-well-being-is-my-motive-of-life wives by not letting that piece of cloth slide from heads. I wonder why this torture a wife has to endure when the husband is smoking away to glory and digging his own grave!
I don’t even want to start on religious places that do not let women to enter!
If we have overcome the taboo like Sati, we might as well hope for better with passing years. But then, we sure have a long long way to go.