The Annual Karwa Chauth Conversation

A: Why over think it? Just do or not, it is up to you. (She said…)

B: Is it really? Is it really up to me or do I think I am exercising free choice but am really responding to my conditioning? Because that often looks just the same as choice.

I may think this is fun, but I have been told it is fun. I may think this is good, but again, that’s what I’ve been told. How would I know this for myself?

A: I feel good, so I know it is good. I dress up, apply mehendi, feel pretty, and share a ritual with my married friends. (Let’s ignore the widows argument today, anyway it is a day to ignore widows, and let them feel excluded and miserable, right? Tradition). So, we are all having fun together, and I choose fun.

B: Really? That’s your argument? Toys and trinkets? And pretend games? Adults anyone?

A: It is a moment of bonding with my family, with my husband. We feel really close after we do the ritual with the moon and everything.

B: Yaar, what does that have to do with fasting? Any ritual you set up, you can condition the family to feel good about it. Try charitable giving and bonding over it. Or climbing a mountain (yup, the religionistas figured that out too, most temples and abbeys are on mountain tops). Set up an apple pie ritual, or a eating kheer together annual ritual. Or being unusually kind to each other and not fighting one day of the year. Each of these works. (And guess what, each of these has been incorporated into the day just to reinforce the conditioning. Smart design.)

A: I want to fast okay!! Do you have any problem?

B: Nope, not a bit. You can do what you want. But just don’t call it free choice.

It is participating in a drama, a ritual, a delusion. Something one sets up. Go on, do it, have fun. But don’t claim it as free choice. Because you cannot ever know whether it was truly free or not.

A: Do I have to prove that it was free choice?

B: No, and that is the beauty of it. It is fine to go along with a delusion, an act. Who am I to tell you which delusion to choose — the one of choice or the one of tradition. Go, go on and have loads of fun. Share some pictures too!

A: So, what what this whole argument about then?

B: Just don’t call it choice.

Thing is: the only way you can prove choice is by breaking away from tradition. If you occasionally perform the fast, and sometimes don’t, just because you don’t feel like it, then you are exercising choice. But again we can be sure only when you don’t do what is expected. When you do, then how will even you know whether you are giving in to pressure, conditioning, or even the feel good of rejoining a tribe?

It’s like this: you see an advertisement for an icecream or coke, and you want to have it. To indulge is to respond to the stimulus, not to exercise free choice. But to not have it is an act of choice.

A: So, I am not having food that day. I am choosing not to have food though others are eating. Even by your argument, I am exercising choice.

B: No, you are joining the tribe and tradition of those who deny themselves on this specific day. Do the dressing up and fasting on any other day, if it is by choice. Or never. But to join in, is not provable as an exercise of choice. To deny yourself denial on this day of denial is definitely proof of choice.

A: I don’t need to prove myself to you or anybody! So what if I conform? Or behave according to my conditioning?

B: That’s what I said earlier. Go, do what works for you. Do it and be aware of the consequences. Some will be good, some less so. Do it as a political move, as a chessboard move in your life. Do it because it makes you glow for a minute. Do it because it works, not because you claim freedom. It may be many things but it is not an exercise in freedom.