A recent tragedy in the life of a celebrity got me thinking about our country, our culture, our customs. We, as a society, as a culture, are tradition-bound in most aspects of our life. There are norms for most events from birth till death; there are traditions that we need to follow.
Traditions are like a guide that show us the path, the road ahead. The customs, the rituals show us the right way to handle situations. And to that extent, they are required and are an integral part of our lives.
As an individual, too, I am a stickler for culture, for traditional practices as I feel that we as a country have a rich heritage that needs to be preserved. Yes, we may become modern, more advanced but we should not forget our past, our history as there is a lot to learn from it.
Very few countries in this world have the fortune of having a rich cultural heritage, and we are one of them. So we must keep it alive and going.
But does preserving culture and tradition mean that we have to follow all the practices blindly, all the customs without considering their significance or repercussions? Or can we be flexible and adapt some of the traditions to the changing times?
Yes, I know, adaptation could open up a Pandora’s Box and, in some cases, could mean letting go of the past, the heritage. But that much of a leeway needs to be given.
Any custom or ritual that is impractical, harmful, restrictive or insensitive, should be dispensed with. We should be mindful of the impact of such traditions. And therefore perpetuating an orthodox practice just because it’s always been the way cannot be and should not be encouraged.
So when I saw Mandira Bedi breaking the age-old tradition of having a male member perform her husband’s last rites or not conforming to the traditional form of attire during the ceremonies, I could only applaud and appreciate the woman.
Why did I do that?
To begin with, I believe that you need guts; you need the courage to go against a custom. Having grown up in India, most of us know what the deal is in case of such a situation. The customs and the rituals to be performed are known, and even if they are not, there are people there to remind you. But when you choose to do away with them, it is a conscious decision; it is a choice and a difficult one at that. And you need the courage to do that, and if you are a celebrity, it can get even more challenging as your decision will not remain hidden and will be in the public eye. And to that extent, open to judgement.
Then you also need the sensitivity and presence of mind to take the right decision and make a wise choice in the event of such a devastating occurrence.
Her husband’s death was sudden and a shock for everyone. It would have been so easy to go with the flow and let others decide for her—decisions like who would perform the last rites, decisions about her form of attire and so on.
That going with the flow would have probably resulted in letting her ten-year-old son perform the rituals as it is supposed to be a male thing. But that would have traumatised the poor child even more. Losing a parent is never easy, and for a young kid, it is life-changing, to say the least. The child at such a time needs all the emotional strength and support possible. The trauma, the torture cannot be made worse by making the child go through the rituals and practices which such a situation demands.
How can a young child be expected to understand all the traditions and follow them? And therefore, I feel that the mother in Mandira decided not to let her son go through the trauma. Instead, she chose to perform the rituals herself.
Kudos to you, woman, kudos to you, mother.
I am not aware if the family has any other male member who could have worn the mantle of taking care of the rituals. But my point is that even if there was someone, how would that have made a difference? A wife decided that she wanted to give the send-off to her husband? It was a choice she made. She wanted to be with him for as long as possible. So why not? If she broke a tradition to do that, so be it. Let us respect her decision, her choice, rather than questioning or criticising, which many people have been doing.
Also, so what if she chose not to wear the traditional form of attire? So what if she decided to wear a pair of jeans and a t-shirt? Does that make her grief any less?
Wasn’t her grief, her pain evident on her face?
So rather than passing judgement and criticising her actions, should we not just accept her choice and let her be. We can’t share her grief, but can we not respect her choice? Can we not understand the tough decision made by a woman in grief, by a mother in brief?
My appeal; let us try to empathise and understand.
It isn’t that difficult to do that.