My father-in-law was a doctor, however, my husband’s family was incredibly superstitious and indulged certain peculiar practices!
At first, I could not believe it either. But gradually things began to sink into my psyche. But let me start at the beginning. When I first stepped into my in-laws’ house after my wedding, I perceived that the ambience was slightly different from other homes I’d seen, including my own.
The lives of the four females of the house – my husband’s mother, sister and two maternal aunts – were steeped in superstition. Their sole ambition in life was to safeguard the health and well-being of the two bread earners of the family – my father-in-law and husband.
I was startled to discover that the father-son duo’s fingers on both hands were loaded with gems and semi-precious stones. Each of these stones was dedicated to the planets in our solar system in a bid to invoke their protection and blessings.
The reason behind this was that the old man, an anaesthetist by profession was a heart patient. He had suffered three consecutive heart attacks a few decades ago. On his part, my partner had encountered several rough patches in terms of career and finances. He also had acute hypertension.
As if this wasn’t enough, they were both made to don rings made of ashtadhaatu (an alloy of eight metals considered extremely pure). They did so without raising any objections. I was puzzled as to how my father-in-law, a doctor, a man of scientific temperament could adhere to such unscientific beliefs. While I wanted to know the reason behind his attitude, I could never summon the courage to confront him.
Meanwhile, the ladies also frequented mazaars (tombs/shrines) of a couple of renowned benevolent saints and religious leaders in and around Delhi. They would religiously procure prasad from these places and store it safely at home. If and when any of the two men fell ill, this prasad would precede the medication. Surprisingly, at times, there was no medication at all! It was truly a miracle that they recovered.
But wait, there is more! The two men also wore jaaler kathi (doughnut-shaped iron pieces with black silken threads passing through them) around their waists. This was done in order to ward off accidents and mishaps. I had never imagined the existence of such things because even the most superstitious and religious relatives didn’t use them. Oh, I must also mention the taabiz (amulets) they wore like arm-bands. I was pretty curious and sceptical about the contents and healing powers of any of these.
Will the wonders ever cease? A few years later after when my husband too developed a heart ailment, the ladies began indulging in more peculiar things. Twice daily they would burn joss sticks before the bevvy of deities in the prayer room.
Once the sticks were burnt out my mother-in-law and her second sister would gather the ash. They would then, proceed to smear it all over the forehead, torso arms and abdomen of both the father and son. Their action would leave me befuddled. How could a heap of ash act like an antidote to ward off sickness.
The proverbial last straw came when one day I found my infant daughter girdled with a jaaler kathi. I took it off on the sly. Upon discovery of the removal, the ladies raged, fumed, heaped obscenities and curses on me. They tried everything short of physical thrashing. But I firmly stood my ground.
Unfortunately for the family, their beliefs could not guarantee long life, luck and good health to their loved ones. One fine morning my father-in-law collapsed at the front door of our flat. A massive fourth heart attack took his life. As for my partner, it has been an unending saga of job changes and we still continue to battle financial crises.
Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum
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