Are we superstitious?
K S S Pillai
It is but natural that one treads cautiously when it comes to the world after death. Various religions leave us in no doubt about its existence and the need to lead a virtuous life if one wants to enjoy heavenly bliss after death. Even the vocal rationalists among us would prefer a stint there, instead of taking a chance of being eternally fried in hell.
I am reminded of the exasperated outburst, between labored breaths, of a man on the death-bed at the pastor who had asked him repeatedly to denounce Satan. “How can I do that when I’m not sure which way I’m headed — heaven or hell?
The guy must have thought it prudent to play safe, rather than indulge in bravado, while there was still time before cotton wool was inserted into his nostrils. He must have got the silent endorsement of many of the bystanders who, despite being supporters of atheist parties, visit places of worship clandestinely, covering their heads with towels.
Most people believe in sorcery and witchcraft, too. Recently, when the deputy chief minister of an Indian state accused his rival, a former chief minister of that state, of indulging in black magic to bring about his death, there was a collective snort of disbelief, but we may never know how genuine it was. Most hard-core ‘rationalists’ concede in private that they do not doubt the existence of this ‘gray world’. They would not dream of antagonizing those who might be zooming across the night sky on brooms.
A beneficiary of the belief in this gray area is the astrologer. Even in the state of Kerala, which boasts of a high rate of literacy, the first thing the families do when there is a marriage proposal is to go to the astrologer with the horoscopes to find whether there is compatibility between the boy and the girl.
This practice, I am told by an astrologer friend of mine, is rampant even among some non-Hindus, though not so openly. A visit to the astrologer is considered normal on occasions like remaining ill for a long time, business going through a bad patch, marriages not taking place in time, or failing repeatedly in examinations or interviews.
Some ministers assume their office or occupy their official residence only at an auspicious time decided by the astrologer. When a death takes place, rituals are performed for a peaceful afterlife of the diseased as directed by the astrologer. Even non-believers do so, not wishing to displease the departed souls.
Then there is the ‘evil eye’ supposedly possessed by some. It was believed that an old woman in my village could wilt a robust tree with a single stare or make a healthy child ill if she remarked, “How cute he is!” The villagers used to take care to see that she did not cross their path while going on important tasks. As no one wanted to be in her bad books, they got rid of her hurriedly by giving her whatever little food or money she asked for.
Recently, I was in an automobile showroom and saw a customer taking the delivery of a swanky car. A priest accompanying the family chanted mantras while blessing the car and performing puja, sprinkled coconut water on it, kept a small idol of Lord Ganesha on the dashboard, drew a swastika on the hood with turmeric powder, and placed lemons in front of the wheels to be crushed when it was driven off. All this to drive away the evil spirits and ward off accidents!
(The author is a retired professor of English. Apart from Kashmir Vision, his articles have been published by The New Indian Express, The Deccan Herald, The Herald Goa, The Tribune, and elsewhere)