Archana Naresh — Photo by Pradeep Tewari
Kill me but make me beautiful
Thanks to the influence of films, fashion and television, women all over India are celebrating various rituals connected with suhaag and ceremonies linked with marriage, says Vimla Patil
Women all over India celebrate Karva Chauth, which comes on the fourth day after the autumn full moon. Married women of all ages fast for the whole day and only after sighting the moon on the eastern horizon, take their first sip of water from the hands of their husbands. To celebrate the sighting of the moon, they gather in well-decorated halls or homes of friends or relatives and share a memorable feast of sweets and savouries with their families. Legend says that Draupadi first observed this fast for the safety of Arjuna when he went to war with the Kauravas. Women all over India exchange gifts, dance to modern bands playing popular songs from films and remix albums.
Though Karva Chauth is essentially a North Indian festival for married women — who pray for the welfare and long life of their husbands on this day — it has become almost a ‘national’ festival for Indian women because of its attractive and extremely ornamental portrayal in popular films like Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Hum Aapke Dil Mein Rehte Hain. Ever since Bollywood films became virtual ‘wedding videos’, the observance of karva chauth has been glamorised so much, that women of all communities and regions in India have taken a fancy to it and celebrate it in a ‘filmi’ manner, dressed in the typical Punjabi red and gold chunaris worn over bridal ghagra-cholis or sarees. In more recent times, popular TV serials like Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki and Kasauti Zindagi Kay have also popularised Karva Chauth celebrations.
Women’s festivals are not new to India. Haldi Kumkums, Haritalika, Mangalagauri and Vat Savitri are celebrated in Maharashtra and other southern states by women to pray for the welfare of their husbands. South Indian women celebrate Haldi Kumkums and Nombus for the same purpose. Gujarati women play the dandia and wear bridal finery for Navaratri Rajasthani women fast on Teej and was their bridal finery to celebrate the festival of Gangaur. Bengali women wear shakha pola — white bangles made from conch shells and red ones made from acrylic — to symbolise suhaag and celebrate Durga Pooja with a bath of sindoor and bright coloured auspicious sarees with red borders.
However, the great leveller for Indian women from the North to the South have been films, fashion and television serials. Wedding planners and contractors, jewellers, bridal shows and costume designers have contributed to this all-India revolution, which has made women everywhere — including in foreign countries where large populations of Indians live — celebrate their festivals and weddings with common features.
The Maharashtrian woman’s black beaded mangalsutra has become a national symbol of a married woman all over India. Weddings in all films are shown to include a ceremony in which the bridegroom ties the black beaded necklace around his bride’s neck. All present-day brides, therefore, buy a mangalsutra and the ceremony is included in all weddings. So are bangles or chudas, which could be Punjabi, Uttar Pradeshi, Maharashtrian, Bengali or South Indian in origin!
Wedding games and events too, have been regimented. Hiding the bridegroom’s shoes, playing with a ring dropped in red or white-coloured water, imprinting vermillion footprints of the bride of the floor when she enters her new home, mooh dikhaya or ‘seeing the bride for the first time’, the bride and groom sharing a sweet, holding a mehndi or sangeet parties — all these are customs from various parts of India. But they have now been incorporated in weddings everywhere, thanks to films and television. The exchange of festive and fast ideas also is noteworthy. If southern women observe Karva Chauth, women from the North have discovered. Vat Savitri — during which women worship the banyan tree to pray for the safety and growth of their families. Ganpati and Gauri, earlier worshipped on a grand scale by Maharashtrians, are now worshipped all over India. Durga Pooja ia no longer restricted to Bengal. Baisakhi is celebrated all over India.
Women’s events have become so attractive that in the recent elections in Maharashtra, haldi Kumkums were used as a platform for voters’ gatherings. Family planning, wealth creation, social progress and health issues are often intertwined with ‘women’s festivals’ for better reach and effectiveness. Is it right for films and TV serials to create such a strong impact of tradition and custom? As long as modern celebrations do not segregate widows and single women and give them a second-class status, the tool of ‘celebrations’ is good for bringing women together as equal citizens of India who must join mainstream social, political and economic activities. Women in India know that decorating themselves is their birthright and the market they create for clothes, jewellery, bindis, mehndi, services, etc gives employment to thousands of craftspersons, weavers, designers and embroiderers, caterers, decorators and florists.
It is a trend to take coaching for competitive exams. One can however do without it if one works hard in the right direction and trusts one’s capabilities, says Archana Naresh, the only candidate from the region — Punjab, Haryan, Himachal pradesh, J&K and Chandigarh — to have cleared Indian Economic Service examination.
Ranked fifth in this UPSC exam, which had just 13 seats, this 25-year-old research scholar from Panjab University attributes her success to consistent and systematic study and support of her teachers and parents.
Archana, who put in 16 hours of study for about six months to realise her dream, says: "Most students don’t even look at the syllabus before applying for coaching. They mistakenly assume that tuitions will give them an edge over others and help them solve all their doubts."
Sporting a brilliant academic record, which includes topping BA (economics honours), standing second in MA economics and passing the NET and JRF with distinction, Archana chose not to go in for coaching after taking a close look at syllabus. She felt she could handle the course on her own if she studied methodically.
Archana, however, struck success only in her second attempt. "It was disheartening not to have made it in the first go but I just laboured more the next time and concentrated on areas where I presumed I’d faltered." Her father, Dr Naresh, Professor and chairman of Bhai Vir Singh Chair for Modern Literature at PU, too encouraged her at each step.
Regular attendance of classes helps like nothing else, admits this research fellow. "I always took even the mid-term exams in college seriously. These not only served to lessen the workload for the finals but a good percentage also fetched us cash coupons to buy books. Yes, there were students who depended heavily on 10-year question papers and at times even scored well but I always chose to study the entire syllabus. And, may be, that benefits in the long run."
To prepare for the IES exam, which includes one paper each of general studies and English and four papers of economics, she banked on her postgraduate course and the Internet, and regularly scanned Economic Times, Yojana, and a number of other periodicals and magazines. For the interview too she decided not to take training, depending on her teachers to answer her queries and discussing current issues with her father.
Probably it is the confidence level that is assessed at the interview, says Archana, who was fielded questions pertaining to economics and her academics. Though she couldn’t answer a couple of questions, she admits, the interviewers seemed impressed with her educational record.
At present pursuing her PhD in "rural and urban migration," Archana, who likes to spend her spare time tending to stray dogs, listening to ghazals and watching films, is awaiting her letter of joining before she goes to Delhi for training. Upon finishing the training, a part of which would be at the IAS Academy in Mussoorie, the IES candidates are attached to various ministries like agriculture and finance.
She opted to take the IES instead of the civil services exam simply because, she rues, there is too much political interference in these services. Even as she hopes to excel as a technocrat, her advice to other aspirants is: nothing comes easy and hard work alone brings results.
Kill me but make me beautiful
Andrew Osborn on how a faulty cosmetic surgery procedure cut short a young life.
FOURTEEN months after what was supposed to be a minor cosmetic surgery, the country's most promising beauty queen has turned into a comatose vegetable. The court ruled that plastic surgeon Igor Vorobiev and anaesthetist Yuri Sviridenko were directly responsible for the appalling chain of events which brutally curtailed Ekaterina Sumina's modelling career and normal life.
Both men were given six-month suspended sentences and banned from practising for a period of one and a half and two years respectively. Sumina's relatives said the punishment was far too lenient and vowed to appeal. They had wanted damages to the tune of some 60,000 pounds but were awarded nothing. Sumina, who was twice crowned runner-up in the country's Miss Russia beauty pageant and had a clutch of offers to tread the catwalks in New York, Paris and Milan, decided to go under the knife — not for the first time — in July last year.She was 23 at the time.
Determined to shed what she claimed was excess weight from her slender waist, she signed up for a liposuction operation at the Laser Centre, a cosmetic surgery clinic in her native Samara.
The procedure was supposed to take 40 minutes and she told her husband Sergey that she would be out within three hours and home that night for dinner. She ignored his pleas to forego the operation insisting it was no big deal and lied that her parents (who knew nothing about it) had agreed.
The operation went badly wrong, though, and her heart stopped beating on the operating table after she was given a powerful cocktail of anaesthetics, including Novocaine.
The clinic had failed to test her tolerance for the drug that dramatically increased the strength of other substances with which she was administered. After a panicked interlude of least five minutes during which Sumina was clinically dead, the frightened medics hooked her up to a respiratory ventilator. According to experts they unplugged her, prematurely, some 15 minutes later.
Despite the fact that her condition was still serious in the extreme they then went ahead and performed the liposuction procedure though they would later claim they had done no such thing. Some 12 hours later her unmoving body was transferred to a local hospital; she was comatose.
The plastic surgeons were quick to tell her husband and parents that there was nothing to worry about. There might, they admitted, be short-term memory loss but she would soon regain consciousness.
But the hospital staff told a very different story. It wasn't so much a question of when she would wake up but whether she would live at all. Sumina suffered irreversible and massive brain damage and has been in a coma ever since. Dubbed 'Sleeping Beauty' by the Russian press, she is cared for in her Moscow flat by a team of medics. Her eyes wide open yet lifeless according to her husband, she is given a little orange juice each day but little else. Experts says she is unlikely to ever wake up.
Incongruously her 'vital statistics' and photographic portfolio were still posted on the internet yesterday. The plastic surgeons who carried out the operation deny all responsibility and say they too will appeal the ruling. "It was just an unfortunate incident and Sumina had undergone several operations at our clinic beforehand when everything had been okay," Nikolai Lysov, the clinic's director, told daily Kommersant.
"I would argue that if the patient had died there wouldn't be such a scandal. In other clinics the same thing happens (people dying after cosmetic procedures) all the time."
— The Independent