No Scream for Ice Cream

by Sahadev Komaragiri

SunI do not know how many people observed this unique religious practice but here is what my mother used to do. Every morning, the first thing she would do, after touching my dad’s feet, is rise and offer pranams to Surya Bhagawan, the Sun god. She would not touch any food until she sees Sun in the open skies. On the days when it was cloudy and overcast, she would just wait until the Sun is visible before she eats anything.  Sometimes it would be very late in the afternoon before the Sun god showed up. I remember being on the lookout for Sun on several occasions. As soon as I find him…

… I would rush to inform her about it. She would come out to offer her prayers and then return back to her chores. Sometimes, by the time she stepped out, the Sun would disappear into thick clouds. She would leave disappointed after she enquired if I am playing any pranks on her. If it were some place like Cleveland, OH, USA, she would have spent days without eating anything. During a couple of Shivratri festival days I joined her in her fasts. It was tough and I used to frequently enquire if it is okay to have a banana or some juice. She would just smile enigmatically and I would walk out, albeit disappointed, but not unhappy. As we were growing up she told us all that we should skip eating rice on Saturday evenings. We happily participated in adopting such practices.

Hinduism promotes austerity as one of the key required components for spiritual growth. Austerity involves denying ourselves some of the luxuries bestowed upon us. These austerities help us in withdrawing ourselves from the external world and into our inner selves. A simple prescription is fasting during festive seasons. Such an occasional fast, even if it is as simple as skipping a meal, gives us a boost of self confidence that we can overcome hunger. Similarly staying awake for over 24 hours during Shivratri teaches us the ability to overcome sleep even if it is for just a day. Depending on our ability and interests we take up higher challenges in these austerity drives.

One of my aunts gave up eating rice when her husband fell ill. She vowed that she will never touch rice until he gets better. He never got better and passed away a few years back. For several decades and to this day rice is not part of her diet. She reminded me of Gandhari who refused to see the world that her blind husband was unable to see.

IceCreamOne craving that I had the most difficulty in containing is ice cream. There was a time when it was extremely cold and there was 6 feet of snow on the ground. This was in Cleveland. I was out with another ice-cream-fanatic friend of mine to have a large scoop of ice cream. Many of my friends who invited us to their homes for a lunch or dinner invariably offered ice cream. My liking for ice cream attained legendary proportions. People thought I would be offended if they do not offer ice cream. In the year 2013, things changed.

On my first visit to Rishikesh, my first view of the beauty and spiritual splendor of Mother Ganges inspired me quite a bit. I could not resist my temptation to give up something to signify my first visit to my eternal mother. As a gift, that I should offer mother Ganges, I wanted to give up something that I really liked. It is also a Hindu tradition. When I asked myself about what I liked the most, the answer that kept coming back to me was “ice cream”. I spent a lot of time thinking about it and finally decided that it was time to let go. For me it was as difficult as it was for a monkey to let go off of a banana. But it had to go.

On one of my trips to India, I bought a gold coin for my mother. I offered it to her as a token of my affection. She never had the desire for such luxuries and she never asked for that gold coin. Many years earlier she gave up her jewelry for a family cause. For me, restoring her right to wear some modest jewelry again was the right thing to do.  She was extremely happy. She confided to me that her joy is not because she will be able to wear gold jewelry again. It was not even because her son attained the financial ability to afford that gold coin. It was because she now has a grown up boy who thinks of the joy of others in the family. It was a very emotional moment for me.

When I offered to give up ice cream for the rest of my life, I know that mother Ganges did not ask for it. I know that she would be happy that one of her own is ready to give up something that he likes so intensely. For me, it is a beginning of a journey where I develop the ability to give up things that belonged to me and therefore the ability to surrender a deep attachment.

What did I learn from this exercise? I learnt to say no! I became brunt of many jokes. People started coming up with some creative ways of preventing my future visits to Rishikesh. But at the end of the day my decision was respected even though some of my ice-cream-fanatic friends felt like if I have deceived them and left a permanent scar on their lives. One of my friends joked that I should have given up rasgulla. I replied, in jest, that I eat rasgulla so rarely that if it is offered to me I would not even remember I have taken a vow to not eat it. It was an oops moment for me when I was told that kulfi contains ice cream!! No harm done. I did not have kulfi in the last one year anyway.

It has been nearly an year, (November 2, 2013 to be precise), and I have thoroughly enjoyed this ice cream free life. This successful adventure led me to think of a few other things that I can live without!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Partha October 30, 2014 at 4:55 pm

It is interesting that the two examples you mentioned are women who gave up something. Isn’t that more common in our cultures? The instances of men giving up something (in the contexts that you mentioned) are so rare and few. Brings into question the concept of austerity and sacrifice and how it is not gender neutral.


Sahadev Komaragiri October 31, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Dear Partha,
Very good observation. It is true that it is the women who are the torch bearers of our culture and heritage. It is because of them the world is a better place(at least the way it is now). Regards.


Mangapati Rao January 13, 2015 at 2:37 am

Very good article. In earlier days there were 3-4 persons in our family who observed the Surya Chandra Nomu. They will not have food if they do not see the Sun God. My Mother and mother of Seshagiri Rao brother also. It used to be 2-3 days some times in our native place Makkapeta in rainy season or cyclone time. I too was worried about her lunch on many occasions. As you mentioned and observed by Partha, ladies mostly give up any thing for the sake of family. But unfortunately they are less recognised. They deserve more than what the society is giving in return to them. Have a nice day.


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