Monday, December 17, 2012

The dark side of superstition

This is about a time about an year after my stroke. At that time I used to lie on the bed most of the day watching T.V.  I was not reading any books and there was no computer at home.I had no idea what I could do. I was thinking more along the lines of an Amitabh Bachchan quip in this song - 'Arre yeh jeena bhi koi jeena hai, lallu?' (This is immediately followed by one of my favourite songs which conveys a very different mood.)

There is a Malayalam movie on Asianet every afternoon which  I used to keep.This was not because I was particularly keen on watching it but I knew that the nurse would be interested in watching it. This would keep her awake so I would not have to strain too much to call her if I wanted to pass urine. Cunning devil, no?

One afternoon there was a movie starring the Malayalam super star Mammooty. I was not paying much attention to the movie initially. After some time I started becoming interested in the plot and started watching more earnestly. The story was as follows:

The Mammooty character (let us call him Kumar) was a respected school teacher in a typical Kerala village. He lived a normal life in a joint family and had a wife and 2 kids. The family had some hereditary disease like Huntington's Chorea. The family belief was that some goddess had put a curse on them which meant that 1 member of the family in every generation will go mad.

In this generation, it was the turn of an elderly uncle to go mad. He was kept in chains in a separate room. One day he suddenly died. After the cremation, the family waited and wondered who the goddess would choose as her next victim.

One night, Kumar had a bad dream and screamed in his sleep. Everyone rushed to his room to find out what the matter was. He assured them that he just had a bad dream and he was all right. Everyone looked at him suspiciously. They suspected that he had been chosen by the goddess to go mad. By the next morning the news had spread through the grapevine to the whole village. Kumar was blissfully unaware of all these developments as he made his way to the school the next day.

He was puzzled when the owner of a tea-stall where he used to stop regularly seemed to be in a hurry to get rid of him. The people he used to regularly chat with seemed to be keen to avoid him. In school, the students passed mocking remarks which he could not understand and his colleagues were avoiding eye contact. This strange behaviour went on for some days and Kumar began to suspect what the problem was.

His father-in-law heard the stories, decided that he cannot let his daughter and grand kids stay with a mad man and took them away in spite of his protests that there was nothing wrong with him. This broke him completely and he stopped caring about anything. He stopped talking to anybody and just stared silently when anybody asked him anything. He looked dishevelled and roamed around like a zombie. Eventually, he was kept in chains in a separate room like the uncle who had died. After many days, his mother took pity on him, mixed poison in his food and killed him.

I could picture myself in the shoes  of the Mammooty character. Jaya has been an indefatigable gatekeeper keeping out many superstitious beliefs which she knows irritates me, as also the suggestions of those who read nothing but know everything. I live among liberal believers and my heretical views don't provoke the kind of ostracizing seen in the Bible belt of the US. Jaya has also been able to ignore the various emotional blackmails that came her way.

I kept a watch out for the movie in various channels because I wanted to check if I remembered the facts right before writing this post but I never saw the movie again. I still don't know its title.

PS: It is not just about superstitions, it could be about something as simple as signing a piece of paper. Once, an Ayurvedic doctor gave some powder and said that a little bit of it should be mixed with milk and given to me everyday. He said that it contained silver and proceeded to extoll the virtues of silver as a curative agent for various neurological problems. Jaya asked him to write the prescription on his letterhead with his signature on it. He brushed this off as unimportant so his suggestion was ignored.

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