Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Changing Evil

Possession of gold , besides being a smart thing to do today, has , since time immemorial, been considered a prudent thing to do in a typical Indian household. Families will put aside a small amount each month, save , and when sufficient funds have collected, invest it in gold. This has become more and more difficult as the price of gold has shot up, and is many times more (per 10 gms), than what a person can save each month. We even have three and a half auspicious days during a given year, on which it is considered very beneficial, lucky and advisable to buy gold, no matter how little.

It is very common to see an Indian woman, who hasn't much to speak of , in terms of what is defined as a "wardrobe" , proudly display a couple of gold necklaces around her neck on a permanent basis. Young girls will typically sport chains with lockets, sensible earrings. In Maharashtra, my state, women who are married will sport a special necklace called a mangalsutra.

In its original form, the mangalsutra was a combination of gold and black beads on a thread dyed with turmeric paste, and this was tied around the brides neck, by the husband, as part of the wedding rituals. The turmeric and gold was purity and auspiciousness, and black was for warding off the evil eye. By and by, the simple thread gave way to elaborate n-tier necklaces with black beads and gold beads, diamonds and pearls. Today, although there is a huge variety in the mangalsutras one may wear, there has been no change in the occasion for wearing them. These are worn almost full time by married women, with the most ordinary clothes, as well as special occasion attire. Something like the wedding band in western societies....

With a growing workforce of women, in a fast moving city like Mumbai, a glance at the ladies compartment in a suburban train , or even the platform, indicates amazing varieties of these mangalsutras, that stand out against the work day outfits. With a 15 second stop at each station, the crowds, and the rising value of gold (when was the last time you rejoiced over a fall) , for years together, we have had to suffer what are called Pickpocket Ladies who specialise in picking these necklaces off necks with great dexterity and finesse, in those crowded 10 seconds at the door. And so, to meet the need, an entire market of fake gold jewellery happened. Women started buying fake-but-look-original mangalsutras, expressly wearing them to work and when commuting in crowds.

This is a story , from one of Mumbai's western suburbs, a few years ago.....

An acquaintance, who had bought one of these fake jewellery items, was returning from work one evening, and while alighting from the crowded train , felt something slide. By the time she pulled herself together, rearranged her sari, and checked her purse, she realized her necklace was no longer there. Looking for it was useless. The train had left, and probably, so had the thief, sitting in it with a pleased look. Besides, the necklace was a fake. She had work to do, so she shook her self out of this trauma, and walked home.

The next evening, she was on the same train, with another spare fake necklace. She got off along with her friends, At some point , she parted with her friends , and was passing the corner near her house, when someone whizzed past in a rickshaw, slowed down near her, threw a broken necklace on her face, and shouted ," Have you no shame, that you are wearing false gold ? take this ....", and the 3 wheeler raced away.

Besides being alarmed about how much the thief had followed you, you were supposed to feel sorry for cheating the thief out of a costly aquisition......:-)

Conspicuous jewellery was bad news indeed, and , it also brought home the fact, that , apparently today, thievery was a valid occupation.

But this is, doubtlessly, a universal happening. The fact, that it's valid to be evil.

Why did I suddenly remember the event above?

First, because tonight we celebrate the festival of Holi. This "festival of colors", in its serious aspect, relates to some mythological stories where good wins over evil, and the evil is burnt off in the form of public bonfires everywhere, and where the Gods are worshipped on this night. In its less serious aspect, Holi signifies the end of an arduous winter(particularly in the north), and the approach of a riotous spring, dazzling with colors of nature.

It also signifies a temporary end to stuffiness, and a "letting go of things" , where both sexes, enjoy throwing color on each other, sometimes in powder form, sometimes in great big ponds of colored water, and there is song and dance, and drinks spiked with stuff designed to loosen inhibition. Anything goes. And there is even an associated language construct that says "Bura na mano, holi hai" , which means, "Don't take offense, after all, its Holi !"........

The second , is because of something I read in the newspapers.

Evil things today, are akin to, and are being handled like corporate activities. The Lashkar-e-toiba, the terrorist outfit that planned and executed the Mumbai Carnage 26/11, and whose four top echelon leaders, are supposedly in the "custody" of the Pakistan Government, recently announced, publicly, that since its top brass was not "available(!)" , they were now appointing 4 new faces, that would take care of performing terrorist activities in specific places , in and around India.

They had photos of these guys, description of their previous exploits, and their geographical regions of responsibility.
Very corporate behaviour. No one remarked on the audacity of this. No one raised a hue and cry about how folks were allowed to hold press conferences in Paksitan to announce this, and how a government that shouts from the rooftops about cooperating with India in the blasts and carnage, can just sit by and not rush and round up these newly appointed terrorist people.

The lone captured terrorist from the Mumbai 26/11 carnage has been given a charge sheet. The Indian papers report on the railways insisting on adding to all the heinous crimes , the crime of entering the railway concourse without a platform ticket! Should he have said "Sorry , old chap, let me just get a ticket, and then I will shoot ....?"

I think , like the onset of fake Mangalsutras, we now have a Fake Evil we burn on the festival of Holi. There is a noticeable lack of a sense of priorities. The emphasis is less on burning of real evil, and more on throwing of color and unusually active , hitherto prohibited mingling patterns, with folks of the opposite sex. And the emphasis, again, is less on actually doing something about the terrorism, than to be seen as doing something....

Our ancestors , regardless of religion, designed and followed many of our festivals as a way of teaching good citizenship, community behaviour and the like.

Sometimes I think we've modified things too much, and are missing the relevance.

Maybe we need to look out, work, understand and prepare for Festivals ver. 1.2......


  1. Thats a valid point...

    Ganpati being another similar case... from getting the galli people together and community building exercise, it has become a commercial and too large an event I feel !!

    that story about the fake jewellery... yea i heard the same one too, dont believe it is true though lol :-)

    I hate holi, yet I play... its yuck, yet its fun too !

  2. Also would you believe in Indore the Bhang Stalls have been tendered at 84 lakhs by the Nagar Palika, they wanted 90 lakhs but the highest tender came for 84 lakhs!!!!

    Official Bhang shops for 84 lakhs !! so much for small festivals celebrating victory of good over evil !

  3. I love reading your blog because I am always learning something. Evil is accepted and often rewarded the world over as you say. Strangely.

    Interesting story about the gold and the pick pockets.Do married women wear rings and the necklaces? I recall an Indian friend Marna (have not seen her for years as she went back to India) who wore the most amazing gold jewellery. Your gold is a very rich gold quite different from ours. How indignant the thief must have been not to get the 'real thing'. Incredible isnt it?

    Enjoy Holi, love the bright colours and it sounds like fun but as you say the real meaning of the day gets lost over time. So does that mean you are going to be all sorts of colours yourself Ugich? I want pictures!! Or is ver. 2 a little different.

    Do people throw the colours all over each other?

    You make me want to visit India - so fascinating your home.

  4. Great post! Agree with you that we do perform so many rituals without really knowing why they were done in the first place. But am wondering if the modification has become necessary over time. If the original rituals were in response to a certain set of conditions existing at that time, then the modifications are necessary to respond to conditions at the present time - like wearing fake jewellery, for example.

  5. My cousin was slapped the next day for wearing fake mangalsutra and wasting the robbers' time. SHe was so traumatised by the incident that she started taking a taxi instead of train almost for 6 months. My aunt at andheri was stopped at a bus stop after getting down from the bus and told that they were IRS inspectors. And as there was some goondagardi going on in the next block they were looking out for people and that she should keep all her jewellry in her purse instead of wearing it. She was forced to take out her chain , mangalsutra, bangles ring everything and asked that those be put in the purse. Then these so called security people wanted to make sure that she did put way below down in the purse and sort of shoved it down. After she got home ofcourse the jewellry wasnt there. ALl this happened in max 3 min. Even she does not remember how this all happened and how she could have been this gullible.

    Saw Shobha de today on GMA. She was there only for a few seconds.


  6. Great post! as always and I always learn something new! I we've modified things too much all over the world. Hope you enjoyed the holiday!

  7. I just love reading your posts. It is so educational and I am learning much about your customs. The original meaning usually gets lost in the celebration of a holiday. Maybe that's just as well.

  8. Trust you to link gold, pickpockets, marriage rituals, Kasab, L-e-t and other issues like a unique-ly beaded mangalsutra. Enjoyed your post a lot.

    P.S: I see that I am the tenth most opinionated person on your blog. It's a competitive world of comments out there, isn't it? Great widget!

  9. I have a confession to make - I don't wear my mangalsutra on a daily basis. I'm married alright :-) but wearing a mangalsutra somehow seems like being "branded". Both my husband and I believe that marriage is a state of mind, and you don't *have* to wear certain jewellery in order to announce it to the world. I wear my mangalsutra only on special occassions now.
    I do, on the other hand, wear a beautiful ganapati pendant 24/7 that was a gift from my sisters when I first decided to move overseas. So much for being "modern' and liberated eh ?

    "Sometimes I think we've modified things too much, and are missing the relevance"....

    this especially strick a note with me. i've been watching a lot of boys go through the "munj" and can't help but feel what a colossal waste of time, energy and planning it all is.


  10. What interweaving ! Lovely.

    And you are bang on. Symbolism and rituals have taken over lives. And he real meaning has become sidelined.

    Rituals have become meaning in themselves ! And thats so discomforting.

    And thats one reason why i dont quite enjoy as much the festivals that get celebrated in the modern day ! hmm !

  11. Hitch writer Yes , of course. The public Ganeshotsav celebration is certainly not celebrated as visualized these days, but families are really now the backbone of the ganpati festival.

    And the less said about public Bhang shops in Indore, the better. Maybe they still got the 90 lakhs, but 6 went somewhere else...

    Lilly Most of us older types wear the necklace. Rings are not so important. But maybe bangles are. And yes, our gold is 22 carat, while I think you guys use 18 carat which is a bit pale.

    And everytime I travel in the trains, I do little tricks like pinning my necklace to my outfit with a safety pin and just pushing it inside for the duration of the travel. . Always works, and frustrates potential lady pickpockets. You just have to constantly innovate , anticipate, and remain one step ahead.

    And while I used to avidly be part of the color throwing water flinging brigade in my much younger days, I simply dont open the door to anyone till noon, as these days folks kind of mess up walls and your room with color in their enthusiasm. Typically though, if you have small children, you are an active participant.... if you ever plan a trip here, make sure its either Feb-Mar, Aug or Oct-Nov, because thats when our fun festivals are.

    Sujatha What you say is true. We need to change with the times. What bothers me, is most of the time the motivation for changing is some unrelated thing.

    Vinita Looks like this business of thieves getting angry is more prevalent than I thought, and that too possibly in the Western suburbs of Mumbai. The episode that mention happened in front of Parleshwar temple in Vile Parle(east). But these days, one has to be very very alert.

    Sylvia, Darlene Thanks so much for the comments. And wouldnt it be great if you folks could come and enjoy some of our festivals here......

    Sucharita Thank you. Incidentally, I stole the widget from my son's cricket blog, where I was like the 6th most opinionated commenter, without knowing much of cricket :-)

    Priya Isnt it strange. My mother and m-in-law wore their mangalsutras all the time. I wear it during the day/when I go out, but remove it at night for reasons of discomfort, and you wear it only rarely . Tells you a lot about the tolerance level of successive generations.

    I feel one of the reasons the relevance of munja and stuff has reduced, is that most do not have the time to explain the rituals, and their significance. Even the gurujees are in a hurry. And secondly the emphasis today is on showing others, rather than satisfying oneself about things.....

    KaviActually, our ancestors designed songs and rituals to enhance the understanding of the festivals. In non-tech days, these things happened over , say, natural time.

    Today, TV and political symbolism has made a parody of it all, and the emphasis is on totally selfish things, while the songs, stotras, and rituals kind of fast forward into possible oblivion...

    Ah well. Happy Holi anyway....:-)

  12. Reading your post is so educational. On the gold jewelery.
    I have stopped wearing most jewelery that I have. Just do not feel comfortable wearing these special pieces so they are tucked away. Thank you for your comments on my journal. They are meaningful to me.

  13. I have some awards and a MeMe for you at my site...check it out!

  14. Hi, Hope you are doing well. Check out http://www.createonlinebuzz.com/. If you are interested in making money through your blog by occasionally writing reviews of products and services please log onto http://www.createonlinebuzz.com/ and register as a blogger.This is a great blog for advertisers and bloggers.