What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist. -Salman Rushdie
I remember reading that if people of faith kept their beliefs to themselves and did not fly planes into buildings, the rest of us should not have any problems with their beliefs. That is true of course but it often doesn't happen that way. And when somebody has suffered a stroke, it is to be expected that various suggestions will come from all sides. It is also obvious that Jaya was the main target of fear and guilt induction.
So she will be told, 'You didn't pray hard enough.' Or someone will coax her into keeping some fast, promising her the moon and at the end of the period when obviously nothing happened, she will be told, 'You didn't fast properly.' Or some people will ask Jaya to do some PT at various temples and when she shows reluctance, they will quickly fire their dart, 'Can't you do even this much for your husband?' If god is part of the conversation, there is a social sanction to say whatever comes to one's head, the emotional state of the other person be damned. And this is to be respected! Jaya could listen to these snide remarks with a shrug in part because she knew that as far as I was concerned, these superstitions 'pass by me as the idle wind/ Which I respect not.' As Rajesh Khanna sang in one situation in the movie 'Amar Prem', 'Logon ka kaam hai kehena.'
In The Trouble With Testosterone, Robert M. Sapolsky writes:
But religion is not just a handful of precepts that form the dominating core of one’s particular beliefs.......Religion is not just a foundation of thought and faith. Nor is it just a set of moral imperatives, or a set of cultural values to be shared with a community. In its traditional, orthodox incarnations, it is also a collection of small habits, behaviours, and prohibitions, a myriad of everyday activities and sayings. “Religion is meant to be bread for daily use, not cake for special occasions,” said Henry Ward Beecher. If the devil is in the details, then so is God, and for the average practitioner, religion is in the rituals and rules of quotidian life.
A stroke is hardly an everyday occurrence so it is to be expected that the suggestions for propitiation will go through the roof. In the weeks following my stroke, Jaya was goaded by the exemplars of piety to do pujas, say prayers, keep fasts (it seems to have become a popular pass time nowadays), visit temples, etc., accompanied by accounts of their benefits and dark insinuations about the harmful effects of neglecting them. This at a time when she was struggling to come to grips with medical terms that she had never heard of and was shuttling between home and hospital because Sujit was less than a year old.
Then there were the horoscope aficionados. There is a mindset among many in India that if something bad happens to the husband, the wife's horoscope is to blame. Every other person found some lacuna in Jaya's horoscope which could be rectified by performing some ritual. I am quite sure that many of these same personages would have been giddy with delight at the wonderful things that they could find in it before our marriage. When it was found that Jaya was not too concerned about her horrorscope (termed by Jaya), attention shifted to Sujit. It was suggested that my stroke was due to some flaw in his horoscope.
I used to frown at suggestions that Jaya meet some godman. I was not going to agree to let her be another pawn in the spiritual supermarket. I had an idea of how these things worked. You will be in an environment where you will be surrounded by like-minded people and intense peer pressure can be exerted. You will be bombarded from all sides with stories of various miracles that are attributed to the amazing powers of the godman. You will be encouraged to participate in the group activities and the value of the group will be constantly reinforced. In this atmosphere of pressure to conform to the will of the majority, the emotionally weak will find it impossible to refudiate the tall claims coming from all sides. It is considered a virtue to target emotionally vulnerable people to sell them religion. Some of these hirsute weirdos may come home and give me lectures filled with terms of obtuse profundity like 'universal energy' and 'bad karma'.
When Jaya meets some new person who doesn't know us, she avoids mentioning anything about me as far as possible. If some stranger asks her, 'What is your husband doing?' she will reply quickly, 'He was working in Indbank.'Most people will not notice that she said 'was' and not 'is'. With luck, the conversation will follow the lines of 'ING Bank? No, Indbank. - Is that Indian Bank? - No, this is its subsidiary. - Is it the same as Indusind Bank? - No, this is different...' By the time all the confusion ends, Jaya would have excused herself.
It is easy to understand why Jaya was reluctant to talk about me. It will be déjà vu all over again - there will be the initial shocked reaction and standard questions which will eventually culminate in a suggestion of yet another quack or godman with miraculous powers (everybody knows one) who they will insist we meet. If they are told that many such people have been suggested to us before and we have met some of them, we will be told that those guys can only talk(!) while their person is the real McCoy.
It is not surprising that Jaya sometimes tells me that it is easier to take care of me than to deal with many people.Perhaps they were giving their suggestions with the best of intentions and only wanted my quick recovery but that doesn't change the reality. The path to hell is paved with good intentions.
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,Moves on: nor all your Piety nor WitShall lure it back to cancel half a Line,Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it
Most of these incidents happened a long time ago and Father Time has started erasing memories. (We all experience it in the case of books.) Jaya's memory is worse than mine which is good in a way because it means that she does not dwell on insensitive comments made long ago. The only problem is that it deprives me of some blog fodder. I also would have forgotten many of the incidents if I had not noted them down as and when Jaya and I remembered them. I came across this list of Propaganda and Debating Techniques and felt that many of these tactics had been used against us. Unfortunately, I can't remember the details of most of them.
When someone tells me about a godman with miracle powers whom I should meet, I feel like saying what Rhett Butler told Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.'