Fasting is a trend now from a health point of view. You have the 16:8 fasting and different varieties depending on whom you follow. However, before making fasting scientific in the manner it is being made today, it was an age-old ritual followed in all traditional religions if I am not mistaken. Patterns may vary. Be it Lent before Easter, Ramzan/Ramadan before Eid or the number of fasts in the Hindu tradition especially in India, for every occasion and region for instance the two Navratris, Chhat pooja, the 41 days fast during the Sabarimala season and many more which we might touch upon as we progress. Actually, our forefathers were more aware and mindful of their bodies and hence these traditions were made as a maintenance practice for our systems. They added a religious connotation to it so that people would follow it. Faith can move mountains!
In this blog, I shall cover my relationship with fasting. Now, why would I want to write a blog about that?? Well, I have an hour to kill before I can eat Sabudana khichdi (a savoury preparation made out of sago pearls) and quieten my rumbling and grumbling tummy and I cannot seem to think of anything else at this time! I am keeping an Ekadashi fast today. This fast is done on the eleventh day after the new moon as well as the full moon and I have started this fast recently. This, in fact, is my second fast. I have been on fruits and since I am not too fond of them, I haven’t really feasted. Fruits, milk and milk products are permitted for those who are new. Unfortunately, I am not keen on milk either though I’ve been eyeing chocolate and wondering whether that is permitted. The heavyweights in the tradition (who are actually light weight) stay on without water. This is a common Hindu tradition, the “Nirjal vrat” and women are adept at it. Other religions follow it too and now it is also practiced from a health point of view.
Anyway, from the time I can remember my parents used to fast, my mother on Mondays and my father on Tuesdays and Thursdays (earlier Fridays) and then since people had problems inviting them over for parties, their lifestyle being such, my mother began fasting on Tuesdays instead of Mondays. So, the “T” days were days with no non- vegetarian food. My mother just stayed off non-vegetarian food but my father just ate one meal. My brother and I were never told to fast.
When I joined college, which was in New Delhi, I realised fasting was a trend. I had friends fasting on Mondays for a good husband (either someone in mind or just in general). The Monday fast was kept for Lord Shiva and typically for sixteen Mondays. There are rules for every fast and depending on your level of endurance, I guess, you chose what you could do. Another fast is the “Karva Chauth” fast which married women keep for their husbands to ensure their long life but in college, unmarried girls kept it too, even those who had no one in mind. I used to look at them uncomfortably but they seemed to enjoy it so when the festival of Janmashtami (Lord Krishna’s birthday) came and everyone was going berserk planning their fast I got tempted. I decided I’d keep one too on fruits and milk products. I always knew this but, on this day, I it was confirmed that among the few things I couldn’t do, one was to starve over long periods. My head started aching as it is aching right now. “Never again” I said to the Lord after the completion of the fast, asking him for forgiveness. He must’ve smiled his naughty smile in Heaven.
Fasting stopped but something else began! Dieting! I have been dieting on and off since grade 6 but things just got tougher once I got out of college and decide to apply for the Armed Forces. My overweight tendencies have kept me on a diet, perpetually, the worst being the General Motors diet. I have done it many times but successfully only once and I did lose 4kgs which came back before four days were over. My system does not understand moderation. I can abstain for short periods but temperance is not for me (and that card is what I always pull out for myself in tarot). Yet, you can cheat while dieting not while fasting so I was still okay with dieting (as though I had a choice) but fasting was a done deal.
Never say never! I should’ve known that for I’ve been made to eat my own words a number of times! I fell in love and the first time I skipped a meal was to talk to my person of interest. I got past the rest of the night with great difficulty; my stomach making me pay the price for my heart’s folly!
It is in desperation, that people turn to faith, to prayer and to fasting and so did I, when things weren’t working out. I remembered my friends from college and decided to do the 16 Monday fast. I did not breathe a word to anybody. I thought I’d feign indigestion if someone forced me to eat at work. As luck would have it, on my very first Monday, I had to go on an outstation commitment. I was only on water since there was no fruit at hand and I was to have lunch on return. That would be my only meal. It turned out that lunch was meant to happen at this “new” place due to unforeseen delays, only, there was no lunch. Now, in flying, you need to be alert and I decided it was going to be difficult to pull through the return leg if I didn’t eat something. The captain was also hungry and he had contacts so we went unannounced to his colleague’s place and this was almost close to four. His magnanimous wife offered a huge plate of grilled fish for each of us but there were no accompaniments since we reached unannounced. It smelled so delicious. The captain asked me to dig in, with a grin. I did. I apologized to Lord Shiva. I tried my best. He understood.
Sure enough, I didn’t marry the man I kept the fast for but for my sincere efforts he gave me my husband who has kept me happy mostly (and always instrumental in my giving up the General Motors diet, without guilt) though every time he drives me up the wall, I think of that grilled fish!!
Fast forward and I was blessed with my son who was in trouble from the time I conceived him and for days and months and years after he was born! I was advised by my father-in-law, to keep a fast for him till he was eight. An anxious mother always listens. Then my daughter came along and though the eight years passed in time I kept the Thursday fast for both kids and then Monday fasts resumed as apology and gratitude for everything.
Many years later, absentmindedly, I popped a chicken popcorn, I was frying for the kids, into my mouth on a Monday. I didn’t realise till much later. Guilt inevitably followed. Fear had come between my God and me. That just didn’t work for me. I love Lord Shiva and I respect him but I don’t ever want to be scared of him. He doesn’t want it either. I gave up fasting on both days for good. “It felt awkward” is an understatement, but I had to do it. I wouldn’t let fear come in between my devotion. I did keep my 41 days Sabarimala season fast till then but that year I didn’t do that either. I would fast when I was called to but no more patterns for me.
In the past four years, I have been practicing spirituality and I have been meditating. I am ready to further my practices but the two hindrances are meats and fasting! I can abstain for a while but when I have to cook then it becomes difficult to look the other way and worse, cooking separately for me pretty much seals my day as Kitchen Queen. Still working on that. However, this Ekadashi fast has been explained by Sadhguru in a way that has appealed to me. Let’s see how long this fasting lasts.
Before I sign off, I’d like you to know that I did take a break in between to eat my meal and it was good (I feel like Garfield, satisfied but looking otherwise) but more importantly, I’d like you to take one thing with you from this blog-no matter what your religion or faith, do whatever you have to do but do it without FEAR OF PUNISHMENT. Believe me, NO GOD wants to instill fear, only humans do!