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......