Today is my first married Teej and my first Teej with my mother-in-law.
I first learned about the holiday when P and I moved from New York to Massachusetts in 2007. I’ve taken part in the festival every year since, generally by wearing red and fasting for 24 hours, and usually by dressing up in a sari and going to the local temple with several female friends (AS, S-di) at some point during the day.
This year Mamu is with us, so I am letting her dictate how we should celebrate the occasion. Last night she explained that I should wake up early, take a shower so that I am “pure,” then I should dress in red clothing and wear my bangles and green and gold wedding tilhari, then we would worship Shiva and Parvati.
“And fast all day?” I asked.
“Eh, fasting too difficult.” Mamu said. “You have to work, not so strict. Eat pure foods. Milk, potato, sweets, fruits. No salt, no rice.”
“But Mamu that seems like too easy of a fast.” I told her. “No salt and no rice is easy if I get to eat sweets and fruits all day.”
“In Nepal it used to be harder.” Daddy explained, “No food, no water. But now the rules are not so strict. No need to fast all day. Sweets and fruits are fine.”
“But potatoes? Eating boiled potatoes hardly feels like a fast.” I insisted.
“It’s okay.” They said, “Eat, eat.”
If one thing is true above all else, I’ll never starve as a member of the P family.
So this morning I set my alarm for 6am… and snoozed it until about 6:40. By the time I was conscious enough to roll out of bed and stumble into the shower Mamu had already beaten me there. So I laid down for a few more minutes and listened to the water, waiting for her to finish.
Then I showered, and dressed up in a red kurta top that Mamu and Daddy picked out yesterday. I selected ten of my red and gold glass wedding bangles, putting five on each arm, and slipped my green wedding pote with golden tilhari over my head. When I went out to the living room Mamu and Daddy were already sitting on the couch waiting.
“Come, come,” Mamu said, “Wash hands to purify, then we go to worship Shiva.” At the sink she asked me, “Where’s your tikka? No tikka?”
“Should I put?” I asked.
“Tikka put on. Small tikka. Very pretty.” She insisted. So I went to my bedroom and fished out a packet of small sparkly tikkas from my jewelry box and stuck it between my eyebrows. While I was at it I asked P to put a small dot of orange sindoor at the part in my hair.
“Good,” Mamu said, and we walked to her bedroom where she had a small altar set up on the dresser. She had folded the Nepali calendar she brought with her from Kathmandu so that a picture of Shiva and Parvati was facing upward. In front of the picture she had a cucumber, a banana and an apple on a plate. She lit two incense and said, “Today we pray for the long lives of our husbands,” and motioned for me to pick up the plate of fruit/veg. I circled it in front of the gods’ picture and then she gave me the incense she had been holding. She folded her hands in Namaste and whispered a quick prayer. After I circled the incense she took them back and stuck them in the cucumber in front of Shiva to finish burning. She then motioned for me to touch both the heads of Shiva and Parvati, and then touch my own forehead with my right hand, then motioned for me to touch the two images of Ganesh and again touch my forehead.
“Okay, finished.” She said, “You want boiled potato?”
She took me to the kitchen where she had two small boiled potatoes on a plate ready for me. I felt like I was cheating. I kind of like fasting. I don’t have many opportunities to do it and I like having a reason to abstain from food—it’s like a personal challenge, and it makes you think about what it is like for the people in the world who have to go without. It teaches you discipline, and gives you some clarity. I have great respect for people who fast for Ramadan. One day of fasting hardly seems like a sacrifice.
I guiltily took one of the small potatoes and took a small bite.
“How many?” Mamu asked, “Two? Three?”
“One is okay.” I told her. “Potatoes are heavy.”
“But I have many!” She said, lifting the lid off the pressure cooker to reveal another four or five floating in the water.
I compromised, “I’ll eat one now, and take two small potatoes for lunch.”
“And sweets?” she asked. At the Indian grocery store last night she had picked up two boxes of sweets—barfi and jelabi, and a canister of rosgolla. She thrusted three barfi into my hands.
“I’ll eat one now and take one for dessert.” I said.
“No… two. You want another? Three?”
“Okay, I’ll take two.” I packed a small lunch box with two small boiled potatoes, two milk barfi, and an apple. So much for “fasting.”
“No salt today.” Mamu instructed. “Only pure foods—ghee, milk, fruit, sweets, and potato.”
So now I am sitting in my office with tikka, sindoor, tilhari, red kurta, and glass bangles. In my own office it doesn’t matter so much… I’ve dressed “international” before, and it is more accepted by our student population (being that they too are international), but I have to meet with a domestic student today that the university administration asked me to take off campus for a serious issue tomorrow morning, so I am a little shy about meeting her all “Nepali-fied” and having her think I’m “weird.” I also have to host the campus religious diversity center open house—which I guess dressed in Hindu festival attire I won’t be too out of place, but I prefer my bubble of cultural diversity when dressed in this way.
The plan for the rest of the day is that once I get home from work I’ll dress up in a new maroon silk sari that Mamu brought me from Nepal specifically for Teej and go to the temple where P and I got married with Mamu and S-di.
So happy long life to my family, and happy Teej to anyone else celebrating today. Hopefully your MILs and/or significant others are helping you cheat with sweets as well today ;)