Superstitions, traditions! What’s the big deal!

 

VatPournima

Vat Pournima is a tradition which to me was an occasion for ladies of the house to come together and have fun, in olden days. But in our society there is a confusion about such harmless traditions and Superstitions. 

Narendra Dabholkar was a medical doctor, rationalist and author from Maharashtra, India. In 1989 he founded and became president of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti. Triggered by his murder on, 20 August 2013, the pending Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Ordinance was promulgated in the state of Maharashtra, four days later. The next year, in 2014, he was posthumously awarded the Padma Shri for social work. 

Superstition is a pejorative term for any belief or practice that is considered irrational: for example, if it arises from ignorance, a misunderstanding of science or causality, a positive belief in fate or magic, or fear of that which is unknown. “Superstition” also refers to actions arising from irrationality. 

The word superstition is often used to refer to a religion not practiced by the majority of a given society regardless of whether the prevailing religion contains alleged superstitions. It is also commonly applied to beliefs and practices surrounding luck, prophecy, and certain spiritual things, particularly the belief that future events can be foretold by specific (apparently) unrelated prior events. 

Why is it so important to have Dabholkars among us? World over there have been superstitions galore and in large country like India which has strong beliefs, that too based on religion, which give unnecessary importance to such practices. Dabholkar, Kalburgi and others have been speaking openly against Superstition and Black Magic. But forces which strongly opposed such thoughts, murdered them! 

On one of my WhatsApp groups, there was a discussion on this subject. This group is made up of my friends who were together in Elphinstone College in mid-sixties of the last century. Elphinstone college in those days was famous for very bright and sharp students who were in top 5% of their respective schools! Two things, “Sharp and bright individuals and belief or practice that is considered irrational, don’t gel or combine,” can never go hand in hand; irrational beliefs and practices arise from ignorance, a misunderstanding of science, a positive belief in fate or magic, or fear of that which is unknown. Mind you, all these friends were also from science faculty and all did quite well in their life, professionally.  

There was an argument on the subject superstitions on the WhatsApp group, which needs to be analyzed. No one was for superstition but there was a thought process which suggested that if someone wants to follow a tradition which he or she is following on their own without forcing others to follow, it should be ok. What is wrong in this logic? What is wrong in following a tradition? What is a tradition? Tradition is the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way. People forget that many traditions were formed when knowledge of science of human race was poor, and there was a strong grip of religious people on the society, who ensured that traditions continued, for personal benefit of religious people. 

Should educated, elite people follow a tradition, though it is does not harm others, even if it is based on irrational thought process? Does modern education not teach us to be rational? Why do educated people argue irrationally? Whom should we call educated? To me an educated person is one who takes benefit of education to improve his thought process to think rationally. Look at a few examples about traditions that we follow. Taking dip in Ganga water in Varanasi, (What is today’s water quality) the way society looks at ladies who are going through their monthly cycle, the way ladies are not allowed, by tradition, to the cremation grounds! There are hundreds of such traditions which are based on old irrational thoughts. 

I wanted to understand the logic behind the traditions, so I thought let me understand a couple of traditions, the Garbhadhan Sanskara is the first of these. This is supposed to be a tradition, that needs us to perform a ritual for newly married couples. This tradition supposedly helps the couple to produce virtuous progeny! Really? Garbhadhan Sanskara is a very old tradition. In olden days, there used to be child marriages, between the ages of 8 to 13 years, even before the child reached puberty. These kids obviously did not know much about marriage. So probably they also taught the newly married couple about the birds and the bees! But in today’s times, when people get married after the age of 25, in cities, does it make any sense to follow this tradition? Today videos related to sex are available on your cell phone, if required! Garbhadhan procedure requires the lady to share the details about her menstrual cycle, with a Jyotishi, who is unknown to her! Come on who will do this? They will take advice of doctors. What about the couples who remain childless? At the time of marriage nobody knows if the couple will have children! Does this tradition have any meaning, though it does not affect public, in general! 

Another “tradition” I was reading about is called Sarpa pooja. Main center for this is near Nasik, called Triambakeshwar. People from all over India come here. It is supposed to be cure all pooja. Five years back the priests would charge Rs.2500/ per pooja which lasted for 6 ½ hours with a 15-minute break! Followed by lunch, cost included. The detailing of this pooja was in the hands of the priest who had never seen you before in life (would never see you again, anyway) based on your horoscope. It is supposed to cure all for bad vibes in your life which included difficulty in business, not able to conceive and what have you! This pooja is performed publicly for upto 25 couples at a time. Would you want your personal things handled publicly? If not done at a time, priests would have needed 25 days for 25 couples, but business sense makes them to do it in public, to hell with your privacy concerns! On a related blog site, I found that there was one person, supposedly a client, who was answering everybody’s queries. Probably he was a paid person under the garb of a client. Very few openly said that it is B… …t! But one or two did!

What is a society? It is made up of all the people like you and me. You and me are looking for leaders in the society who can work as beacons to the society in thinking rationally, working against things which are not good for society. Similarly, my group of Elphinstonians has done better in life than many others, so I am sure other people from the society are looking at people from this group as leaders who would be rational. The examples I have given above do not affect any other person directly or indirectly. But are those “traditions” not irrational? If the so-called leaders behave irrationally, then how the uneducated will improve and come out of rut? Oh, I used the word educated but what is educated? My friends have taken elite education, but are they showing educated behaviour?  

What I have observed is that when people follow traditions linked with religion, they are afraid to ignore them. These traditions have been promoted from olden days by priests, it was their livelihood, it has been their business. The priests who charge Rs.2500/ per pooja, perform it for 25 couples a day. Cool 60 k per day! Not bad! They have created fear in the mind of people, if you don’t do this, that will happen. If you have this problem, perform  that pooja. Poojas after all are cure all!  

In certain cases, the irrational behaviour is due to events that might purportedly happen in life. I know of someone who died at the age of 75, a normal death due to old age, multiple organ failure. He was an atheist. Initially his close family decided not to have any rituals on 10th and 13th day. But his other family members insisted that a pooja, udak shant, must be performed. Same pooja was performed at two different houses they owned as the body was taken to these two homes, before cremation. Reason for this shant, there was a marriage in the family in near future, and they did not want ill effects of shadow of death to fall on the auspicious occasion of marriage. This was simply because of fear psychosis! A natural death due to old age is a bad omen, says who? Oh, tradition! I agree that it is a sad event! This irrational act of double pooja was due to fear of the unknown. The family is an educated family. If the pooja is not performed something may go wrong, why take a risk?  This brought to mind a Shloka from Bhagwad Geeta!

वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय  
नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि।  
तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णा  
न्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही।। 

As a human being puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” 

I and many of us treat Bhagwad Geeta as the ultimate teacher in life and death. The above Shloka clearly says that soul is immortal! So how did the tradition of treating death as an inauspicious event start? Business needs or marketing gimmick? 

 

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Plastic Bags! To be or not to be!

First time I came across the word plastic, was when a cousin of mine, who has settled in England, had come to India. He still lives there. I was in school in those days. He was in plastic industry and would pronounce plastic as “PLOSTIC”. All of us were highly impressed by that word. Little did I realize then that plastic will become so important in our lives. The real usage of plastic bags started world over in late 70’s, of the last century. All the super markets and Mom and Pop stores started giving plastic bags when purchases were made. Initially, it felt fancy that we had to stop using our own cloth bags. Over a period, the whole world became so much dependent on these bags, that other types of bags were passé.

As per human nature, people started manufacturing thinner and stronger bags. Thinner and thinner bags have really started causing problems of disposal. Thinner bags clog things easily and due to light weight float around. From 23rd June 2018, Government of Maharashtra has put a ban on usage of plastic bags for many usages. This ban is not only for vendors but for users like you and me. If you and I are found using plastic bags in public, we are liable to be punished with fines. There are a lot of discussions going on, about what is right and what is not right. Opinions floating are that, what government has done is correct, maybe a little tweaking will help, to blaming government for trying to cover up its failure of garbage collection policy. As usual the answer is somewhere in between but for me it is 80% towards first opinion. There are bound to be teething problems whenever new things are attempted.

I have tried to gather information without going into technical stuff. Here is some information about plastic bags. Since the studies of such nature are more prevalent in western countries, more information will be available from those countries. But to me India with such a large population must be up there in usage of plastic bags, also popularly known as carry bags.

  • Plastic bags are produced using petroleum, natural gas and other chemicals. Its production is toxic to the environment.
  • Plastic bags were introduced to supermarkets in 1977.
  • 160,000 plastic bags are used globally every second!
  • 5 trillion plastic bags are produced yearly. Side by side, they can encircle the world 7 times.
  • In 2008, a sperm whale was found beached in California. It died due to the more than 22 kilos of plastic found in its stomach.
  • Plastic will only start degrading after 700 years and will only fully degrade in 1000 years. This means that all the plastic that has ever been produced has not degraded yet.
  • Plastic bags remain toxic even after it breaks down. It doesn’t biodegrade, it photo-degrades. It means that after it degrades, it breaks down into smaller and smaller toxic bits of itself – and bleeds and contaminates the environment.
  • Thin plastic bags tend to spread all over, due to breeze, very easily even while they are being taken to the dumping grounds.
  • An average family will use 60 plastic bags on four visits to the supermarket.
  • Only 1 to 3% of plastic bags are recycled worldwide.
  • Plastic bags cause the death of many marine animals when bags are mistaken for food.

As far as India is concerned, the opinion that garbage collection should be improved to avoid plastic bag menace, does not hold good. Rather than talking of failure of garbage collection, we should look at our social behaviour; as a society we have very low discipline level. Dumping things in rivers has been our culture. The flowers used for Puja are next day thrown into river as “Nirmalya”, there is a tradition of dumping dead bodies in the river Ganga, after cremation we dump the bones in water bodies like rivers. With this kind of “tradition”, it will be impossible to expect people to behave and dump their garbage in dumpsters, if found on roads. Clearing the dumpsters full of garbage is another story!

I was traveling by train in Northern India. One could easily judge if we were nearing a station. A km or so before the stations, dumped plastic bags in hundreds, were visible on both sides of the track. Garbage disposal discipline, anyone?

I feel that government of Maharashtra is going in the right direction.  What can we do to support his movement?

  • Start by bringing your own Eco-Friendly bags.
  • Return all plastic bags with you to the corporation ward offices.
  • Patronize businesses that support the effort to reduce plastic bag usage. Don’t get mad at them for inconveniencing you if they don’t give you a plastic bag.
  • Spread awareness by not accepting plastic bags from retailers and reminding them that it’s toxic to our environment. We did that yesterday when a vendor was giving us to carry stuff, in a legally allowed thick plastic bag. We thanked him but used our own cloth bag.
  • Let’s start educating our children about the plastic bag problem so they will continue the efforts and go green themselves.
  • Stop using plastic carry bags altogether.

As the charity should begin at home, socially correct things, which will be good for all, should start with us. Honestly speaking heavens are not going to fall if plastic bags are not used. Till late 80’s plastic bags were a novelty. Everybody was using reusable bags made up of cloth. Even in those times, people bought fish, chicken and mutton when there were no plastic bags around. People were required to buy milk, cooking oil! They took the containers with them! To get food from outside, people carried their tiffin! Home delivery food business will obviously find a solution to overcome the plastic bags ban, after all they want to run their business! In olden days, during heavy rains there was clogging of drains, mostly due to tree leaves. Now majority of the clogging is due to plastic bags.

Some people have been doing a good job. I went to Pune zoo years back. Even in those times, they were environment friendly. At the gates, they would check the bags and would not allow visitors to carry any food stuff in plastic bags. For those who wanted to carry plastic water bottle, they would take Rs.10/ deposit; this would be returned on way out, when water bottle was displayed.

The need of the hour is to look for better ways of handling life, in absence plastic bags. There are ways of making bags which can be recycled. We must find ways to mass produce bio degradable bags, at low cost. I remember carrying cloth bags to get things from market when I was in school and college. We did not have to remember to carry the bags with us. It was a way of life. Humans want a steady state in life, change is always resisted. Going back to olden way of life is generally thought to be a retrograde step. But in this case, I think it is leap forward. It is path breaking stuff and let us all support the good path being trodden.

Confluence of Goodness!

अगर धीरे चलो
वह तुम्हे छू लेगी
दौड़ो तो छूट जाएगी नदी
अगर ले लो साथ
वह चलती चली जाएगी कहीं भी
यहाँ तक- कि कबाड़ी की दुकान तक भी
छोड़ दो 

These are a few lines from the Poet Kedarnath Singhji’s poem नदी. नदी means a river. The poet has used the river as a metaphor for background support that we get from different people in our life’s journey. Our life’s journey begins with our coming into this world in the mother’s womb. Beginning of our existence is not known even to our parents for some time! In normal course, no couple is thinking of a child being created, when they are in an intimate embrace. It is the nature that supports you during this phase of anonymity. This is our first river in the form of Amniotic fluid in the mothers womb! How can someone support you, help you, when they don’t even know that you exist?  

In the lines above, the poet says that you go with the river, you meander with its flow and it will let you go where you want to go, it will follow you, where ever you go. Her support will be unstinting, with no returns expected. You need to understand it’s rhythm. The poet has explained it beautifully and says that if you take the river to a scrap collector, it will go with you. If you go to flea market, it will follow you. A flea market (or swap meet) is a type of bazaar that rents or provides space to people who want to sell or barter merchandise. Used goods, cheap items, collectibles, and antiques are commonly sold. This is how unstinting the river support is! But you take up wrong way of  life and the river may break its umbilical cord with you.  

In many cultures the river is like one’s mother, caring, supporting, she is always there in the background. A child is tethered to the mother. This is world’s closest relationship and mother always wants to keep on supporting the child irrespective of situation, age. This is the everlasting or evergreen relationship. In this relationship virtual umbilical cord always remains in place, at least from mother’s side.  

In our life, we have many people supporting us, they are there in the background. They will go with you even on the rough path of your journey! How does this happen? How are such relationships formed? Mother child relationship is the most natural relationship, it just exists like the universe. Bearing and giving birth to a child is nature for female species; this closeness creates such a close relationship between the two. In this relationship nothing needs to be done to attain the level of closeness, it just happens. But for other relationships this is to be nurtured over a period.   

As our journey starts from childhood to adulthood we meet different people. We meet them in different situations, under different circumstances. We live with siblings in our home but as we grow older, each develops into a different person and has own personality, own thought process. Do siblings always have very close relationship? They grow up in the same house, they grow up with the same background. But are they behind each other to support? Not necessarily. Except for parents all other relationships need to be cultivated, nurtured. One cannot assume that others will be there in the background to support you like the river. 

Why is river important in life? The river encompasses our lives, it absorbs whatever we throw at it. Its water body is big and fluid all the time; so, it has a great absorbing capacity. Its flow purifies all bad things dumped into it. Similarly, our mind should also have fluid thought process, it should be able to absorb new things, it should be able to absorb changes in the way situation demands. It should be able to throw out bad things from our life. Our mind, like river, has incredible capacity to take good or bad things. Our mind should learn the process of turning bad into good, like the river.  

In our life, we have many sets of rivers in the form of different persons like friends, acquaintances, relatives. To absorb good from these people, is in our hands. There is a saying that birds with the same feathers flock together. Similarly, good will always prefer to be with good; the good have power to absorb bad! In Varanasi, there is a tradition to dump dead bodies in the river in the river Ganga; we dump drainage water in the river without treating it. But the flow of the river, and the volume of water (which is the goodness) takes care of these things and water remains pure!  

Friends, life is full of things which are good, bad and ugly. But if we as a society, get the humans together like confluence of rivers, bad and ugly things will get defeated. The society, a group of people, a colony, people in a building should come together and form river of goodness, there will be confluence of these rivers and we will be able to create a quietly flowing big river of goodness.  

 

 

False Pride 2!

In my blog False Pride 1, I had mainly written about attitude and behavior of the people. One of the most important aspects in Indian ethos, is that many old practices and traditions have continued. We have songs, poems and writings about clean and beautiful rivers with lovely birds; we have sayings like “cleanliness is godliness”. But this is one area where we have failed miserably.

                                          जहॉं डाल डाल पर सोने की चिडिया करती हैं बसेरा, वह भारत देश हैं मेरा।

Roughly translated, the song praises India, “The place where Golden Sparrows live happily on trees, this is my great Country, Bharat!” The song also says we are peace loving and truthful, disciplined people. Sometime back a satellite was sent in space and was given the work of checking on our great Bharat! They got many high-resolution pictures. And lo what did they find? All the scientists were flabbergasted while studying the photos. The photos were taken by special laser and X ray vision.

All over India they saw bits of paper lying all over and flying in the wind, of course Kachra! All over India they also found a lot of chits of paper neatly bound and stored. They thought that Indians love cookies and as they analysed the data further, they were surprised that cookies were metallic as well as paper cookies! When this data was given to Indian Government, they found that it is hoarded money and gold!

We as a society are proud of our culture but en masse we break rules, we cheat. It all starts with our daily routine. It is about morning ablutions. Even in the year 2018, our government is still required to run advertisement informing the importance having toilets inside homes. In olden times, as there were no pucca homes, using places a bit away from home was natural, though a bit risky. This practice continues even today; in certain parts of India it is macho to say that we have toilets in home but we still go in the field. It is so manly!  But what about women folk?

Our holiest of the river is the river Ganga. It is said that if we take a bath in the river we will be purified of all our sins. Maybe it is possible, I have never had a  bath in the Ganga but I am told that it is very dirty. Many towns, cities dump their drainage directly into Ganga, the tanneries dump their waste in it. Even today the dead bodies are dumped in the river with a belief that the person will go directly to heaven, due to this final holy dip! Successive governments are allocating large funds to clean Ganga but the problem is unresolved due to unclean minds of the people.

Pune, the city where I live, has a pair of rivers called Mula/Mutha. We have the same problem of drainage going in the river without treatment, by design; corporation has not built many sewage treatment plants.  The river Mutha is so small that the water that generally flows, is drainage water. While doing survey of the river bed, while designing the path for Metro, the team leader during the visit asked, “Where is the river”? The municipal corporation shows total apathy, people also add to this apathy. The building and road construction people, dump their rubble in the river bed. There is no check on them, they are never caught even though this is done openly. While driving on any bridge on the river, we see people throw the old flowers and pooja material  in the river. It is supposed to be the correct thing to do so, as per traditions.

Then of course, we have mass looting of sand from rivers, ores from mines mafia. We have sandalwood loot from jungles. There are people who steal electricity en mass. People in certain areas just don’t pay electricity charges; when authorities come to cut their power, they are beaten and forced to go away. I read in today’s newspaper that for high school 12th grade exam in UP, 1 million examinees just did not turn up. The reason? Government has taken strict measures to ensure that the education mafia is checked. Proxy candidates appearing for exams was the norm, hence the absenteeism, now. In Marathwada region of Maharashtra, some years back it was suddenly seen that students became brilliant, their pass % almost reached 90% plus. This was simply due to lax supervision. Once government ensured that district collector was personally responsible they had to make sure that there were no malpractices;  result % of pass students went below 40%.

You go to any major city in India. Vehicles are parked in no parking areas or on footpaths in droves. Signals are similarly jumped en masse. Once the traffic policemen go home in the evening, the traffic boards of “One Way, No Parking, Even/odd date parking” exist just for the name sake. Two wheelers are meant to carry two people, we ride 3/4 at a time! Helmets are mandatory for two wheelers, majority simply don’t follow the law. We see auto rikshas ferrying 12/15 children for school, when the official capacity is 3!

Where is this leading? How to prevent this? Who are the people breaking law? It’s you and me! It is rich and the poor! It is people from city and villages! It is educated and un educated people!  All break various laws en masse! Many of us are proud of breaking laws. We sing paeans of our heritage, our culture, our traditions! These traditions came into being when people lived in smaller places, villages; there was no population pressure. Why old disciplined culture from villages not transferred to large cities? In fact, this same lack of culture from cities is now going back to smaller places. Probably, in olden times, people respected, each other, helped each other because most knew each other. In the anonymous culture of large cities, people just don’t seem to care or bother about others. But again, some of our brethren who live in foreign countries, merge seamlessly with local culture where they normally live; once they are back in India, they are back to their normal Indian behavior. Does this mean that they behave differently in foreign countries not by choice but because they are forced to so?

We have a great culture, which goes back to thousands of years. We have great traditions. I am not able to understand why these changes have happened in our mass behavior in cities as well as in villages; the foreigners politely say, ” Oh, India is a different country!” What is the way out of this? How to coax masses to behave in orderly disciplined way? How to make people understand that cheating in every thing is not the correct way? People say that this should start from school level. But we read of big scams where teachers never go to schools, to get the grants, higher number of students are shown on the roll! Teachers take the profession because many of them are not good enough to do anything else. There are institutions who do not pay the salaries to teachers for months together.

I will tell you story of my cousin. He is a PhD from IIT, Kanpur. After retirement from industry,  he taught his subject in one of the engineering colleges. Then he wanted to move to another city. His college offered him to stay on their payroll. Well they needed a good PhD. They offered him Rs. 1,00,000/ salary per month! So where is the catch? The management told him that they will withdraw Rs. 80,000/ every month using ATM card. He did not join back!

I am not a pessimist! But these are some problems for which I do not see any solution in near future. Do you?  What is it that we are proud of? My beautiful, lovely India is only in songs!