By Purba Ray Nov. 03, 2021
The festive season is a lot of fun, except for the women of the house who must labour through chores that they have been led to believe is not just their duty, but also some sort of festive privilege.
Diwali is my favourite time of the year. This is when I get to conquer new heights and discover ancient Milton jugs predating achhe din in my loft. As I slide into dark corners, under heavy furniture and return victorious, covered with cobwebs and dust, I let out a silent curse. I’m convinced it’s a male conspiracy to project the goddess of wealth as a cleanliness freak, who refuses to land on your balcony to bless you with a fat bank balance, till our houses are lit up and gleaming like K-pop star Jungkook’s face (the most recent Diwali update if you will). The burden of all this work, even the seemingly ‘enjoyable’ one, surprise surprise, befalls the women of the house.
Why else would we be saddled with traditions that demand women slog from dawn till night for every festival, celebration and event in a family while men have all the fun and yum treats! We are told, this is the least we can do for the well-being of our family and their weight. What’s not to like about waking up before dawn, deep cleaning the house for the deities who might just drop in for Diwali, preparing savouries and sweets, praying to the almighty before collapsing in a heap and then picking yourself up to serve your family!
The burden of all this work, even the seemingly ‘enjoyable’ one, surprise surprise, befalls the women of the house.
I’m sure a lot of women have convinced themselves this is how they can make themselves indispensable to their families. The ones who have opted for no-fuss celebrations are accused of not continuing the ‘cultural’ traditions and family legacy.
Festivals were handed down to us by our ancestors who had yet to discover Netflix and Twitter, as timely reminders of our heritage. Most of our festivals are centred around seasons, harvests, and pampering our million gods and goddesses. And what’s a festival without festivities? It’s like walking into a Gurgaon bar without the cardiac-arrest-inducing music, right! So our entertainment starved forefathers threw in a bunch of rituals that continue for days, elaborate meals and some fun pursuits as an afterthought to take the edge off. After all it is our culture and unique traditions that sets us apart and can be worn as a badge of honour.
Which is why regaling someone I’ve just met from another country with the complicated customs and hunger games we observe as part of festivities is my favourite thing to do. It gets even better when I tell them all the backbreaking hard work is the domain of women.
If a woman can carry the weight of her family’s honour on her unwilling shoulders, surely she will be totally chill when she is assigned the sole guardianship of cultural and religious traditions. We can’t give her the luxury of time and freedom and let her get fanciful notions like she is capable of taking charge of her own life, can we! Of course not.
Look, I am not the ungrateful type. Rather I’m glad for the existence of festivals like Diwali and Bhai Duj where we can meet as a family, argue passionately over political beliefs and then call each other names. But what I can’t stop admiring is the ingenuity of our forefathers. It didn’t take them long to grasp that festivals are a lot of fun when you don’t have to do all the hard work.
But what I can’t stop admiring is the ingenuity of our forefathers. It didn’t take them long to grasp that festivals are a lot of fun when you don’t have to do all the hard work.
Men were assigned the primary roles as priests who presided over the religious ceremonies and were lavished with gifts in kind and cash for their efforts. To make sure we are forever indebted to our ancestors for the fantastic arrangement, they assigned a bunch of festivals venerating the men in our life for keeping us either pregnant or safe – Rakhi, Karva Chauth, Jamai Shoshti, Bhai Duj to name a few. There are exceptions, but they aren’t everywhere.
A few will argue we have Durga Puja, Navratri, Kali Puja that celebrate strong women who don’t think twice before beheading annoying men. Now this is where irony climbs the Qutub Minar and dies a quick death. While religious texts extol the virtues of women and their power, in real life we are left with little choice to exercise them. Our menstrual blood that’s a life giving force also ostracises us and keeps us out of temples and religious ceremonies.
Perhaps things are changing. We are questioning the patriarchy that’s the driving force behind festivals. Many of us have chosen peace of mind over backbreaking rituals. We would rather post a million pics in glittery lehengas and Saris looking soulfully away from the phone camera while fancying ourselves as Insta models. We are as excited about Halloween as we are about losing more money at Tambola parties. Maybe it’s time we all agree that festivals are a lot of fun when the backbreaking festivities are shared equally by all of us. And if your man can’t make mithais, ask him to look up how to do Rangoli on YouTube and surprise the family. Let the artist in everyone present himself.
Nearly funny, almost liberal, rarely serious, Purba likes to keep a safe distance from perfection. Unfortunately she has an opinion on everything, fact or fiction, beginnings or ends, light or heavy, long and short.