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Life is a series of unfortunate events where happy moments are interludes. While some suffered more, others suffered nonetheless. For quite some time now, I have been mulling over the mystical belief of the evil eye. The ubiquitous Nazar amulet is no less than a historical artefact that has been around since the dawn of civilization. Rejecting the belief is equivalent to rejecting the cultural heritage that we have grown up in. A phone call from a professor on a cosy Sunday afternoon emboldened my theories and conclusions of the belief in question.
Entertaining the idea of Atheism for quite some time now, I have lived quite a secluded life in my mind. I have lived in silence to not attract the ire or scoff of the people around me. But the inner turmoil always gets the better of me when confronted with a situation now and then. On a Saturday morning, accompanied by my parents to take care of the baby while I attended classes, we left for college. On our way, the haat(market) fell. My parents decided to take a halt as there was still time for the class to begin. I have found the huge playground and the area around the CM house vibrant since childhood. It is a stop, mostly, for daily wage workers and grocery sellers putting a wide variety of produce on display. To my left, the playground hosting a cricket match gathered some crowd and to my right, under the shade of a tree, some score or two daily wage workers sat with their shovels in wait of prospective clients. After taking a quick look around, I was excited to bask in the morning sun anticipating the chilly classroom for the next 3-4 hours. As I put one leg out of the car, my mother huddled towards me saying, “Get inside, there are a lot of people. Do you want your daughter to get an evil eye?” Seconded by my father, she continued: “Stay inside. You don’t know what kind of eye people have.” Disappointed, I replied, “I think, the sun and the activity around will do good to her. For her, it will be a sensory blast.” But my mother was not to be convinced. This wasn’t the first time. I have been asked to be mindful of the evil eye every now and then. Also, I have often been asked to not share photos of her, or put her on display on social media platforms. I always felt that it is better to post a wholesome picture of love than to paste an emoji on the baby’s face or craftily hide the face to tease the netizens. But such an act only attests to my already drawn conclusion.
Later, in the day, the class got concluded way before time to shift us to the seminar organized on ‘Health and Wellness.’ With a heavy heart, I entered the compulsory seminar while pushing the prospect of leaving early with my daughter aside. Sitting in the first row, faced by the professors of the department, I saw the speaker get up to introduce himself. As my eyes were fixed on the wristwatch, I did not pay attention to who he was. Extolling the wonders of the 5000-year-old Indian knowledge system, he briefed that health and wellness are the important foundation upon which development and progress stand. Motivating students to pursue their dreams and firing them with passion, the session ended in thunderous applause. As the Q and A session commenced, I looked long and hard at the title of the seminar. I didn’t want to be the reason to prolong the seminar but I couldn’t hold myself back from asking, ‘Does an evil eye affect our health and wellness?’ He answered in affirmation. “Our eyes are powerful.” He also gave an example of a Japanese scientist who conducted an experiment with two glasses of water: one glass was given a good glance and the other bad. The latter glass, a few hours later, turned greyish owing to the negative glance thus changing its molecular structure. Coming back to my row, he enquired whether he satisfied my query. To which I answered: ‘More often than not, people resort to ‘nazar utarna’ rather than doing what is right. The Department of English is the most unconventional department where everything is put to critical enquiry. The students are left to think and we don’t follow any rules….” And as I was elucidating further, I was interrupted by one of the professors saying, ‘How can you say this?’ But smilingly gestured to meet her after the class as the session was in progress. The speaker keeping the time constraint in mind offered me the chance to call him up as he knew the enquiry couldn’t be put aside for its seriousness. Coming across as cocky to the rest of the students in the class, I bowed in respect and excused myself to leave early. Feeling flushed, it was, indeed, after a long time since I was in such a session. It took me back to my sophomore year.
The next day as I was making the bed, I got a call from an unknown number. Dismissing it to be one of the policy calls, I hesitantly picked up ready with my auto-generated answer. As I opened my mouth to speak, I heard a familiar voice across the line “…..Ankita… I hope I am not disturbing you on a Sunday…” I was startled. Did Ma’am just call me up?! Anticipating a scold for maybe ruffling a few feathers, or unintentionally pulling a stunt of one-upmanship with the speaker, I greeted her and meekly replied, ‘ No.’ I heard her smile in her motherly warmth and asked me to not take it otherwise for she wanted to clear that the Department of English does follow rules. In my defence, I answered by saying that in the spur of the moment, I couldn’t frame my sentence correctly to deliver the intent. But, to put the Department in a tight spot wasn’t my intention. Instead of using the word Department, I should have used the word ‘discipline’. Hearing this, she again smiled and continued that the knowledge of scriptures had been unmet in our society. The evil eye is true and she was saying this from personal experience. I felt a bit let down. For someone so knowledgeable, how could she come to such an observation? I questioned her saying that by acquiescing to the belief in the evil eye, was she not unconsciously siding with the witch-hunt in the past? The evil eye, unfortunately, is mostly associated with women. She countered it saying that the witch hunt was conducted by land mafias to grab a piece of land. It can’t be singled out for one reason. After that, we both reached a dead end. After a pause for a minute or so, she continued, “Ankita, my husband and I were both earning when I joined the University. People used to point out, ‘Oh, wow! Double-income!’. I don’t know but when I lost him to an accident my mind keeps going back to that” I felt an instant remorse for even raking up that hurtful memory in her and kicked myself for not knowing. But as soon as I heard her personal account, it felt as if the entangled threads were untying themselves. Signing off, she blessed me and my daughter. After that, I sat still with my thoughts.
I have often been called out for my arrogance in showing my disbelief in God. I have been viewed as a heretic shut in an ivory tower unaware of the ground reality. Sooner or later, I will be put to line and brought under submission, they surmise. The society is set in its ways. This is how it has functioned for thousands of years. More than God, people don’t like their beliefs to be questioned. In God, they view themselves as an authoritative figure. They don’t want a boat rocker. According to them, they were proved right, when I contracted chicken pox out of nowhere. I was asked to atone for God is merciful. Then, I was pregnant with my daughter. I was vulnerable, in a dark place, scared and did what I was asked to do. It was for the first time, I agreed to ‘nazar utarna’ by my husband. I didn’t want him or my daughter to suffer on account of my beliefs. I understand God has been a shelter for millions. They derive the strength to face life by following daily rituals. Just like my professor, my friend suffered a loss too. It was her, who knowing what I believe in asked to ward off the evil by putting a spoon of salt in the bucket before wiping the house clean with it. Clearly, the negative aura had to be cleansed. I was against the bunch whom I had antagonized barring my friend who clung to me even though we shared our differences. I was, in their words, beat up into shape and sense had finally knocked in.
Today, when I go back to these incidents, I feel that my friend and the professor connected by loss have submitted to the will of God. Their submission is a sign of the unimaginable pain they were unfairly forced to deal it by the evil eye. A therapeutic solace that they have set out to seek in God and rituals are in no way held in contempt in my eyes. On the contrary, am I setting myself up for another misfortune to not antagonize people further? More than the belief or faith in the evil eye, it will be fear that would drive me into doing such rituals. In toeing the line, I will do what a mother does best: protect. My mother not allowing me to step out of the car with my daughter attests to the rich and poor gap. Being low born is a sign of bad karma often inciting jealousy in witnessing the prosperity of others. I believe, other than the weakness of human nature overpowered by fickle fate, the belief in the evil eye points to a bigger problem. The unresolved attempt to empower the masses, especially women against the vicissitudes of life, religious and political strife to overpower the global economy, the opportunity one missed out on account of unfair social practices, the lack of a level playing field, and such others all point to the dissatisfaction and disgruntlement of a section that was never allowed to hold its head high.
Ankita Kumari is a Post Graduate of English Literature. With literaturecurry.com, she strives to bring the literature of seven continents to one place. Based out of Bengaluru, Karnataka, she tries to rekindle the fire read more...
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