The great buffet was laid out at one of my dad’s army parties. I reached for the ‘gosht-biryani handi‘, and took a sumptuous helping. To my horror, five aunties standing behind me gave me the dirtiest possible look as if I were committing a crime. One of them (the bravest of the lot) then screamed out, as if giving cue to the rest, “you’re eating non-veg during Navratras???” At once I felt a rush of angst, embarrassment and anger. I ignored and walked passed and gave them a look which said, ‘Mind your own business.’
As I sat with my plate on one of the tables, from what I could catch, I heard the same ladies whispering to each other. Each of them gesturing in their own way, on how inappropriate it was for me to be having what could not be had during a vrat.
Somehow I mustered up all the patience to keep quiet and ignore them. And soon I couldn’t help contemplating. Why do humans try so hard to ‘impress’ God so to say? How does fasting for those nine days help anyway? If you’re a bad person the whole year-round, does fasting for those few days make you a good person? Do you fall into God’s bad books if you don’t keep a fast? And most of all, how did these fasts come into existence anyway?
All these questions hovered around in my mind like a rain-filled black cloud. And suddenly a more dominant thought bubble struck me like a lightening bolt. At once I got up from my table and went straight to the table with the obnoxious aunties, and with a straight-face addressed my question to all of them, “So tell me, aunty, if you’re so staunch about keeping the fast, what is the reason behind these fasts? What event or story in mythology led to the concept of keeping the nine-day fast?” To my delight, none of them could give me a satisfactory answer.
Without saying a word, I went right back to where I was and went back to my cluster of thought bubbles. And so my thoughts followed. Okay, so maybe it does help, but how would eating different foods (and not really abstaining from food as such) help?
I believe there are so many ways in which you can actually make God happy. Like maybe, respecting the things he created. Wouldn’t it be a greater service to him that you’re appreciating what he’s done and helping him preserve it and care for it?
For instance, I truly believe that if I do things like treat people well, care for animals and plants, not waste the food I’m given to eat, respect my own body by taking good care of it, and so on, I am indulging in a much greater form of worship than anything I would do in a temple or by keeping a fast, because I am respecting God’s creation and what God has given me.
I instantaneously got up for the second time and ranted out my exact thoughts to those aunty-jis (‘ji’ being a deliberate addition), only to leave them dumbstruck and gasping for words.
I felt victorious and at the same time a feeling of sadness crept into me thinking about how blindly we follow our so called ‘traditions’ without knowing its roots, and thrust it upon others as if there are no two ways about it. And how the words tradition, religion and worship have been abused down the centuries and have been used as excuses for many unanswered questions.
I don’t think things would really change. But I still hope they do someday. I’m not really against fasting and all the other arbitrary traditions there are. It’s just that, if you are following something, shouldn’t you know why you are doing it in the first place? Doesn’t it bother you that you’re doing something without knowing why? It’s almost like telling you to write a review of a book you haven’t read yet.
With the same dismal thoughts, I finished what was there on my plate and grudgingly resigned to the thought that I don’t think I can live to see the day things do change for the better.