Wednesday, October 16, 2019
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Posted at: Sep 14, 2019, 12:14 AM; last updated: Sep 14, 2019, 12:14 AM (IST)GIRLS@GUPSHUP

That’s ‘hiss’terical

That’s ‘hiss’terical
Illustration by Sandeep Joshi

Aradhika Sharma

Madhuri, my help, walked in this morning and said Namaste didi without her customary loud joviality. One can always guess when Madhuri is not in the pink of health (or mood) by the way she bangs the door after her. The louder the bang, the sunnier the mood.

“I did not sleep a wink last night!’ she declared, picking up her jhadoo.

“Uh oh! No electricity again?” I asked.

“Arre nahi didi. Bijli toh thi. We didn’t sleep because a snake entered our house at night. It took us half an hour to chase it away.”

“You chased it away? How come you didn’t kill it?”

She looked at me disapprovingly. “No didi, we don’t kill snakes. We chase them away. If we kill snakes, it causes harm to the family.”

“Really? In what way?” I smiled at her primitive beliefs, rooted in superstition.

“Death!” she declared with morbid gloom. “Last year our neighbour killed a snake and the very next day his cow delivered a dead calf! Curse of the snake.”

“Hmm,” I said noncommittedly.

“When we were children, growing up in our village in Bengal, a pair of snakes came into our hut. My father gave them mango mashed up in milk. (Snakes drink mango milk shake?) They kept lying harmlessly in a corner till my chacha came and killed one of them. My father was furious. Anyway, after a week, my chachi delivered a male child and lo and behold, he died within two days. If this is not the curse of the nagin, what is?” 

She scowled ferociously at my barely hidden smile and said, “Besides, when its hole gets filled with water, the poor snakes have to find shelter somewhere, nahin?”

She had a point. Reptiles need a dry place if their habitat is destroyed. Still, I’d rather that they didn’t come into people’s homes. Personally, I draw the line at lizards.  

While driving to work, I pondered on the supernatural fury of the serpent unleashed on Madhuri’s evil chacha and started to think that sometimes the tendency to falsely link cause to effect (a superstition) is beneficial for the preservation of the environment. On Madhuri’s instance, it led to the release of the innocent, frightened snake. Worshipping a banyan tree or the belief that Brahma lives in the peepal tree will lead to the preservation of trees.

Over a hundred species of trees/plants in India are considered sacred by various communities and religious faiths, encouraging the protection and propagation of various species of flora. Many animals considered sacred and worshipped by several Indian communities have for centuries received protection from the people. So, perhaps before we pooh-pooh these beliefs as primitive, backward and superstitious, we should consider that these are, in fact, beneficial to the well-being of the natural world.

Though, honestly, I don’t believe I could bring myself to worship a cockroach. I firmly draw the line at that!

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