Politician performs the last rites of her late Union Minister father

Pankaja Munde performed her father’s last rites yesterday.

I am no fan of the party or the Munde family’s political career. But I applaud Pankaja for presiding over her father’s last rites in a highly publicised funeral. It is a welcome sign that a woman, who is a MLA herself, departed from the tradition of only male heirs putting their family members to rest. The funeral was not just a family affair. Munde was a Union Minister, the Ruling central party’s most important figure from Maharashtra and a massively popular mass leader. Whether you follow the man or his party or not, you need to acknowledge that his death, funeral and political legacy are highly public and politically charged issues.

In a relatively backward area like Beed, the political stronghold of the Munde family, this is a bold gesture. I am not saying that it indicates profound challenge to the patriarchal system, but it is a indication of our society accepting the woman as someone in charge even in most traditional rituals – rituals that are highly respected and sensitive to majority of our people.

No matter how much of relics of bygone past many rituals feel to some of us, the symbolism of the rites indicates power structure in our society. A woman can not be formally in charge of majority of Hindu rituals. Women are often either in supportive roles or subjects of the said rituals. If women loose their husbands, often they are totally excluded from these rituals- be it weddings or funerals or births in the family. This is obviously because a woman is deemed secondary to her male relatives and doesn’t have the right to preside over ceremonies. So much so that if you are survived by only a female child, in traditional society, you would be laid to rest by even a remote male family member but not your daughter.

Like everything else, even these rituals have been going through a massive reform for more than a century now. Pankaja’s move is a welcome change.

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Karva Chauth for small girls

OK, my own personal reservations about this festival ( is it a festival? or a holy day?) aside, what is with young, really young girls accompanying their decked up mums for Karva Chauth puja?
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There is a puja going on in my housing society, bhajan+ katha blaring out of speakers, for ‘matayee aur beheneee’ who are observing the day, as I type. While I was walking the dog, I spotted several bedecked and bejewelled ladies – the aforementioned matayee and behenee, who have assembled in this searing heat to pray for their husband’s long life. With lot of really small girls, similarly decked out, some even with Puja thaalis.

I know some of them and they waved at me. A neighbour stopped, looked at my dog with fear as if he was a lion and not a cocker spaniel as usual, and pityingly observed that she understands why I don’t fast, since my husband is a bengali. I didn’t bother to point out that I am a Maharashtrian, so I wouldn’t fast on this day even if I wanted to. It doesn’t matter, I could be from Tanzania and would still be expected to observe the rituals followed by my husband’s religion/ caste/ subcaste/ region/ subregion/ gotra blah blah..
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Anyway. So, I asked her ‘what are small girls doing in this celebration?’ She smiled benevolently at her own 5-year-old and said, ‘ It is good sanskar. How else would we get to teach our kids about our culture?’. ‘But what about boys’? I smiled innocently. She fidgeted and said, ‘ yeh to ladies ka event hai na?’ and disappeared.

Be it Vata-savitri celebrated by Maharashtrian women for long life of husband, Or Haldi-kumkum , I do not remember any boys assembled for any of these ‘lady events’. What are the male equivalents that boys and fathers go together? And I don’t meant cricket matches, I mean ‘gents events’ where boys learn about ‘our culture?

Is it sort of initiation into womanhood ceremony? Because I have seen this trend enough number of times, ever since I was a wee kid myself, to make it sort of mainstream little girl activity. ‘Learn how to pray for your husband’s health and long life: junior edition’.

Most of vratas and religious ceremonies uphold a very binary view of two genders and so there is really no point in questioning why only women pray for husband’s long life and not vice versa. It is plain logic. Women sacrifice. For families and men. Men living longer is more important than women living longer/ healthier. Since women have no true powers to protect their family, the best they can do is deprive themselves ( a.k.a sacrifice) and get to play the holy mother earth for all to see.

But it is very disturbing to see young girls of 3 and 4 in these gatherings. There is so much talk of what movies to show on general entertainment channels, violence in cartoons, access to social media for kids, exposure to technology and its effects on kids. So why is it considered to be ‘sanskari’ upbringing when we continue to expose our children to public spectacles of conservative ideologies that could seriously affect their future lives?

To be told that she is less important than the men is billion times more harmful than a few violent video games or nudity or bad language or any other ‘ non-kid-friendly’ stuff we routinely cry against.The dog wanted very much to attend the ceremony though, I had to drag him by force back home! I am assuming if he was a female, the women would have welcomed him to the Puja as a proxy daughter ???

PS. A lovely movie idea shared by a friend on FB: A woman stares at moon, turns into a werewolf and eats the husband!!

werewolf

Logic behind men sporting a Rakhee ??

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I was thinking today, why is it that a Raakhi is tied to a man’s wrist and not a woman’s?

If the festival is about ‘protection’ of sister by brother ( Raksha- Protection, Bandhan- duty), wouldn’t it be more consistent with Indian tradition to have the symbol of protection on the woman’s wrist? Like how it is almost always women in India who display symbols of marital status??

Raakhi is one of the Indian festivals where a man is marked by a symbol tied to his body, and not a woman. The brother is bound by duty and the thread is a reminder of this duty.

Usually it is the women who wear ritual specific jewellery, change their way of dressing post marriage, put on haldi-kumkum- sindoor in a particular way, display their marital status , and consequently, the status of their protection.

When unmarried, she is protected by father/ brother. When married, she is protected by husband. A woman’s body marks the symbols of the men who are responsible for her. Who own her, so to speak.

So by Indian traditional logic, wouldn’t it be consistent to have the Raakhi tied to a woman? More the raakhis, more Brothers, more protection?

Any thoughts?

Shaadi Ke Laddu…

I spent the last couple of days at wedding of two of the cutest and brightest people I know.

Weddings or Shaadis can be so simple and actually bring people together in a sweet way. We forget that in the Tamasha that Indian weddings usually are.

This wedding was a registered marriage with no religious rituals, followed by a reception and a fun party filled 2 days at a hill station. Everybody trekked, laughed, ate, drank and were generally in the spirit of bonhomie. There were people from diverse backgrounds, generations, languages and all.

The only common factor was well-wishing hearts and non-interfering, non- conventional attitude. Not everyone might have agreed to total lack of rituals, but they considered it the business of the couple who were getting married. Parents didn’t assert ownership on their children just because they were getting married. Friends didn’t expect lavish spreads and expenditure as the only sign of hospitality.

And the most important factor was that the couple respected themselves enough to design the shaadi as per their wish.

I haven’t attended such a lovely Shaadi in ages. Great fun!!!