At my engagement, my mother was coming holding a plate with sweets towards me, when I overheard a voice of a distant relative suddenly stopping her in her tracks “No, you don’t go there – give it to me, I will give it to the priest” (the unsaid message was clearly “You are a widow – not auspicious”). Immediately, Ma’s face crumpled a bit but she stopped anyhow – for my sake.
Two things stopped me from physically assaulting that person in the middle of the function. One- a cousin who took a look at my face and forcibly held me back. Two- the priest (God bless him) who had heard this exchange quickly and pointedly said “YOU GIVE IT- You are her mother”.
My blood boils every time I think of that episode.
I cannot think of ANYONE in the universe who has my wellbeing more at heart than she does. And therefore cannot think of anyone who can be more auspicious in my life.
For the last eight years, ever since my father died, there have been sundry instances like this –the raised eyebrow, the whispered comment, the disapproving look. All of which I’ve ruthlessly annihilated. We have endured enough devastation at his death - without having to face THIS particular ordeal. So prima-facie, I don’t hear anything in this strain anymore.
But I suspect some instances still occur (which Ma hides from me). Fortunately for my peace of mind, she is temperamentally an upbeat, positive person; so she just shrugs it off.
And I know it’s not just my acquaintances - One very distressed friend told me that at her wedding, her mother was made to stand almost at the end of the hall and not participate in anything. Ironically, her wedding rituals were performed by her uncle – a widower, who sat with a supari (in lieu of his wife if you please) next to him for the ceremonies.
Someone else’s Gruhpravesh; the widowed mother was not invited at all – because the in-laws were against it. In that girls place, I would have probably boycotted the function altogether!
I find this absolutely appalling – that people, so called urbanized, educated, sophisticated people, can be so utterly blinded by superstition/rituals/whatever-it-is.
Maybe the more visible customs (the shorn head variety) might have disappeared. But there are other customs which still seem to have sneaked into this century – the whole taboo on brightly hued saris, glass bangles, participating in religious rituals. The raised eyebrows when the person laughs out louder-than-permissible-volume, or goes for a movie or even indulges in rich foods (yes, various levels of this still exist believe me.)
The movie “Dor” has depicted this with sensitivity and pathos – when the young widow Ayesha wots-her-name spontaneously breaks into a jig on hearing a popular ditty - and the sudden belated recollection that she is not allowed to dance anymore.
No one who has not suffered the loss of a spouse can probably understand what the woman is going through. And to add these subtle reminders everyday is just utterly insufferable.
The religion does not propagate this – I remember asking a priest once and he had said that most of the taboos are man-made. These are rituals which seem to have sprung into being maybe originally protecting women from unwanted advances (if they were drab and insignificant as possible, no one would look at them twice) or maybe from the insecure wives of men-with-roving-eyes
But the fact that they exist even today – I think is a matter of great, great shame to us.