Fasting for a day

BY: Saurav Dhungana
September 24, 2013 · 6 minute read

How my desire to understand the ancient culture of my land led me to try fasting for a day with my mom and taught me where true happiness really lies.

We all love our parents, right? After all they brought us into this world, fed us, educated us, made us who we are. But, I think I’ll be speaking for a good majority of us when I say that our relationship with our parents changes as we grow. As young kids we are totally dependent on them; as teenagers though we start to drift away and our friends become the center of our lives. Then comes university where we will invariably move out to whichever city/town our university is in. This is more common in the western world. After finishing that, we get a job, settle down and visit your parents mostly only on holidays like Christmas (or Dashain for us in Nepal).

Having been born and brought up in Kathmandu and going to college here, I always lived with my parents. I know this will sound alien to the western reader, but thats normal in this part of the world. This is only where the differences begin to appear though. My generation, which grew up with strong influences from the west, has had to balance between these two worlds. At often times this can lead to real confusion as to which world we really belong to.

I wouldn’t call my parents super religious. But, like any normal household we celebrated our Hindu festivals (the majority but by no means the only religion in Nepal), went to temples, did the pujas etc. Being a rather inquisitive child I loved our mythological stories and knew most of the main characters/Gods and was rather fond of all the customs and rituals. I was also lucky enough to study in a very good private school, where english was the langauge of teaching. That meant, I was well acquainted with the western (esp. American) culture as well. However, despite being born to a place with such a rich culture, I mostly didn’t care to understand it’s origins and philsophies. There was hardly a spiritual side to me. Infact, I was so influenced by the west that I knew more about western art and literature than our own.

A couple of months ago though, after coming back home from Europe, I’ve felt the need to discover my spiritual side. I’ve been visiting temples more often, observing the various religious rituals closely, trying to read books on the origins of our culture, and even tried to conduct a whole puja while my mom instructed me. Already, in this short time I’ve developed a sense of self-identify, learned to appreciate my family more and cherish the small moments in life.

I’ll talk about one of the more memorable of these experiences that I had. Also, I will refrain from using the word Religion any further, as I’ve discovered it doesn’t describe our Hindu customs. I’ll rather just refer to it as our culture. Hinduism is an amalgamation of philosophies and customs rather that a strict religion.

Fasting has always been a big part of our culture. But, unlike some other cultures it’s almost always the women who are supposed to practice this ritual. I’ve grown seeing my mom taking these religious fasts several times a year as far I can remember. However, when I heard about one such festival coming soon, I began to see the problems with this custom. Isn’t it kind of unfair that it’s only women who have to sacrifice eating for a day? I talked to my parents and other people about this, and I always got the same answer.

That’s how our culture is.

Not satisfied with those answers and may be wanting to make a point, I decided to take the fast myself. My parents didn’t actually take it seriously and offered me breakfast after I woke up that day. But, I had already made up my mind to do this. So, I refused to eat and said I’ll only eat in the evening like my mom was going to do.

Saying that you won’t eat the whole day and actually going through it was of course a totally different matter. I quickly found out that I was not quite prepared for how hard this was going to be. Already during the morning I was starting to feel really hungry. And I had the whole day to go with only water to drink! My mom tried to convince me to stop this and eat. I could see how worried she was. But after a while she stopped that; realizing I wouldn’t give in. So, we started talking. The first thing I asked her was, “How have you been doing this for so many years? Don’t you feel hungry?”. She smiled to me and said, “This is our culture son. I’ve always done this ever since I was a girl.” Right then I realized how strong my mom really was. Yes, she was as hungry as me, but she never complained.

I wouldn’t say I had drifted away from my mom as I grew up. We were always close. However, before that day we hadn’t had a good hearty talk in a while. Also, me living in the west where you are rather independent from your parents had made me wonder if I could ever live with my parents. Thankfully, that feeling didn’t last long. But after coming to Nepal I was too caught up with work related things to really reconnect with my parents. This time though, we kept on talking and it was wonderful. I asked her a lot of questions about her childhood and how she views our culture. It was fascinating to listen to her stories and views. This little decision to try fasting with her had taught me a lot about my mom. I learned to respect her even more. I remember what a difficult child I had been. But she’d raised me with great love and devotion.

Later on in the conversation, she also said how happy it made her to see me do this fasting ritual with her. She told me that she was hungry too but somehow me doing the same made it easier. Wait ! - I said to myself. I had just made the fasting easier for my mom. I know of no words to describe the feeling I felt at that moment. I don’t think I’d been that happy - ever. It all became clear to me. My first duty in life and my greatest source of happiness will be to bring smiles to my parents’ faces. Everything else in life will fall into place after that. So, simple yet so fundamental.

Now, I’m not going to spend a lot of time criticizing the fasting ritual of ours. I will once again say that only the women having to fast seems utterly ridiculous to me. If it is to be done we should all do it. I for one have decided to continue fasting whenever those festivals come about. If nothing else, it is a way to support my mom. Besides, fasting is said to be good for your health if you do that a few times a year. I recommend all the other men out there do the same as well. Next time your mom, wife, sister or aunt takes a fast, join them. We should all be in this together.