Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Indian Mom in Indian TV Ads: Then and Now

So the Indian mother has been promoted in her position in TV ads over the past few years. No longer does she don only sarees and worry about washing clothes and utensils. She is seen wearing modern attire, taking care of all responsibilities from children to work, single-handedly. But I guess we still need some more time before we can truly accept the modern working mother.

I remember this ad of some hair oil where one mom uses an inferior oil which takes very long to use. Since she is working she doesn't have much time, and thus does a shabby job of making her daughter's hair which subjects the latter to ridicule. The daughter taunts - ma if u were not working and had time I wouldn't have to go through this. Soon the mom discovers the better brand of oil which works well and takes little time. She switches and voila! The daughter's hair looks awesome and she is popular. She says then - now you can go back to work ma without guilt because my hair is now perfect!

Wow. Daughter's hair the yardstick for a mom's performance? A mom made to feel guilty for choosing to work instead of taking care of her daughter's hair so she becomes popular? Of course there are ads showing mom to be a successful working woman, whether working from home or as a pilot/entrepreneur etc. But such ads are far and few. Many moms are shown still more into housework and kitchen, even if they're wearing pants. The modern moms are more worried about keeping their husbands interested by trying out a variety of fairness creams and beauty regimes. Times are changing, even in our ads but still, we have some way to go before we can truly accept and appreciate a working woman who is also a good wife and mom!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Legen...wait for it.. Dary Karwa Chauth of North India

I still remember it as if it was just yesterday that I witnessed one of the most important festivals in North India - The Karwa Chauth. It is the day all married, and some unmarried women, fast for the health and long life of their husbands (present or future). Legend goes that there was a woman called Karwa who snatched her husband's life from the jaws of God of Death Yamraj himself, such was her love and dedication for him. So every year, millions of Indian women around the world fast and pray for their husbands with the same love and dedication.

My mother is a Jain and was never obliged to perform the Karwa Chauth, especially because she never had any in laws to enforce any rituals. However, she and her sister were very fond of the festival and ever since they got married, they have observed the fast, come hail or high water. To add to it, they don't take the easy way of fruitarian fast, but go the whole nine yards in observing a nirjal or non-water fast. As a kid. even though I never fasted with them, it was an exciting and fascinating day for me as well.

The preparations of Karwa Chauth began a couple of days in advance. Fruits, mithai, mud karwa etc were bought and decorated. Mehndi was applied the night before - my favourite part and a way to participate. Mom woke up at 4 am on Karwa Chauth day to have sargi (I woke up too in excitement). Then she would wear her finest silk saree, apply the solah sringar and get ready for the day ahead (while i wore my best suits and bangles and bindi). We then went to our mausi's place where her daughter and daughter-in-law would also join us, along with another few relatives. We would sit around and chat all day, having fun catching up. I would be the only one having lunch, not enjoying it at all.

In the evening the puja would begin. All married women would sit in a circle and start narrating the story of Karwa, and queen Veervati who was a devout wife observing karwa chauth but tricked into breaking her fast early by her brothers who couldnt see her starve. As a result her husband dies - the story narrates her grief and her resolve to redo the fast to get her husband back and how she painstakingly but surely succeeds in the task. It was an engaging and fascinating story that I had memorized in the first few times I attended the puja. During the puja the women would break for singing a couplet every now and then and pass their thalis around till every woman got hers back.. it was a beautiful spectacle of shimmer and colour!

By sunset the puja finished and so did the patience of the fasting women. Everyone was now waiting with bated breath to see a glimpse of the moon. The fast is broken by looking at the moon, offering water to it from the mud karwa and then breaking the fast. It is known fact the moon rises most late on Karwa Chauth day when millions of women are begging it to oblige them with its appearance. Many times its been hid behind clouds and women have had to break their fasts by looking at its pictures. We kids were made to run up to the terrace every 15 mins to see if the moon had risen... though the exercise was exhausting, it was exciting as well. We wanted the moon to rise ASAP as well - we were just as hungry as the fasting women, at the thought of a yummy feast awaiting us, with just the moon between us and the food.

Finally the moon would do everyone a favour and relent with its appearance. Many sighs of relief, feet touching, first sip of water and bite of food later, the fast would finally come to an end and we all finally got some really awesome dinner! We went back home, sated, after a long day of hard work! :)

I have never fasted in my life, especially the women-fasting-for-men ones. Am an agnostic feminist and don't believe doing any of this would make any difference to my husband. But I do love all the festivities and traditions of karwa chauth - the dressing up, the mehndi, the meeting relatives, the excitement, the food, the community coming together and celebrating as one. And today I really miss being part of all the fun. A Happy Karwa Chauth to all the lovely women out there!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Anand - mayi Durga Puja of Anand Lok

It seems like only yesterday that I was in Delhi, living in the great Anand Lok society, with my family and the bestest of friends around. Most of us have lived there for over a decade, and thus the bonds forged are for a lifetime. Personally speaking I think the biggest agent of this assimilation was definitely the most celebrated event of the year - Durga Puja. It was during these 5 days that we all came together - across regions and religions. Children spent more time with parents watching the cultural programs, childhood sweethearts got some extra time hanging out, participating in morning and evening events made our friendships everlasting.

Anand Mela:

The hoopla started on Panchami day, the day of the Anand Mela. It was one of the most anticipated days, with games and food stalls by the residents, dotting the pandal gardens. We all prepared for it weeks in advance, planning who will put up which game, gathering all the material, deciding what the prizes will be. Lucky 7, lucky dip, glass pyramid, candle lighting,.. so many games to choose from!
The mum folk would have a similar preparation and discussion, albeit for their food stalls. Given the diversity of the people, we always had food from all corners of the country, from dahi bhallas and chhola bhaturas to idli dosa coconut rice, shrikhand and dhoklas to fish tikkas, momos and chowmein to a variety of homemade sweets - no one cooked food that day!

After a fun filled evening followed by tons of yummy food, the revelations closed with a few rounds of tambola. Grannies, uncles, aunties, teens, kids.. all sat down with 1-2 tickets each and waited to call for a line or go boo whenever someone else was a game for the whole community and much enjoyed!
On that night also, came our dear Durga Ma, to get settled in the pandal, ready to be revealed the following morning.

Aartis and bhog:

Starting shashthi, the day Durga Ma was revealed,, every morning and evening, the pandit would do the puja and aarti every morning and evening. Residents and visitors would keep visiting the pandals during the day to pay their respects. Chubby aunties in beautiful sarees spent all morning and evening doing puja and aartis with the pandit. The amazing smell of the aggarbatti etc used wafted into our houses and reminded us of the pujo everyday.

The other highlight of the day was, the Bhog. Starting shaptami, for 3 days, there was a bhog arranged every afternoon. It included typical bhog items, like khichdi, luchi, paayesh, rosogulla, paneer etc. The food was simple yet tasty, to us at least. Almost everyone came down for lunch, and met their friends and neighbours. Even though we ate outside under the sun with no air conditioning, the communal meal was so much fun we did not even realise the heat. Although later it was turned into a buffet style meal, it was the best earlier - serving style. All the elders would sit, and the bhaiyas would lug around huge buckets of food, serving people on the tables themselves. We lil ones were incharge of setting the banana leaf plates, plastic cutlery and glasses, and serve mishti or water. Although it was hard work feeding hundreds, it was so much fun we forgot about our own hunger!

Morning events and Evening shows:

From Shaptami to Navami, for 3 days we had morning events. All children had school holidays and were sitting at home making their parents' lives difficult. So the committee started games and competitions, We had games like 3 kegged race, egg race, lemon race etc for all age groups. We also had competitions like fancy dress, art, dancing etc. We also had block-wise teams for quizzes, tug-of-war etc. What fun! It was amazing to see kids wake up and get ready to go on a holiday by 10am!! We had prizes for 1st 2nd 3rd positions but everyone else got consolation prizes so no one felt bad!

In the evening we had a cultural show which ended late in the night. Again from the elderly to the uncles and aunties and of course kids, we had performances from everyone - across music dance, singing, plays, etc. Everyone came dressed up to attend the show every evening, and food was available for purchase outside the main pandal. Months in advance we all would start practising, to perform in all 3 languages. Mind you we were very professional - with experienced directors, elaborate sets ans costumes :) These shows over the years provided amazing opportunities to witness extraordinary talent everyone had!

Bijoya Dashmi:
Finally the festivities would come to an end on Dashehra when we would bid goodbye to Durga Ma amongst fanfare, gulaal and emotions. And the only thing that was on every one's mind was... how will we wait for another year for this to come again!! Sigh those were the days.

Ive been away from home for past 8 years. But still every year I tried to attend Puja in Anand Lok. But now that all the people in our gang have moved out, the place seems empty and different now. Almost unrecognizable. The fervour and excitement of our times seems missing. Youngsters shun the events and festivities, preferring to gather in some shady corner and using the opportunity to drink, smoke up etc. The uncles and aunties of our time have grown older and taken a bow from participation. What used to be a community event where everyone volunteered to do everything, has now become a commercial affair where professionals cook, serve food, setup games and perform shows. Its no longer the Pujo I used to know. I guess that's life. I do hope some day my children are able to be part of something amazing like this in their lifetime, like I was. It surely is a memory to cherish forever!!