In the beginning, before science, there was superstition. Or so we think. That we believe in horoscopes, breaking mirrors, black cats, sneezes and ‘right foot first’ in the age of the Android is closer to the truth. In essence, superstition indicates the limit of science and serves the purpose of understanding forces that lie beyond human control and comprehension. This could be the future, death, disease, natural occurrences or, in many cases, the pretty girl who has been giving you mixed signals.
Over the course of the sessions that we have been holding with all our participants, we have been enlightened of many local superstitions.
From the textile group, Rohini and Farheen (name changed for privacy) have similar tales to tell. Rohini hails from Dhapoli on the Konkan coast. She recounts the time when her son cried regularly everyday from 11.30 p.m. to 12.30 a.m. She was told by locals that it was probably a water deity that was troubling and teasing her son as her house was near the beach. An offering of flowers and haldi kumkum was made to appease the water goddess, thus signalling an end to her son’s crying spells. Farheen’s year old daughter too kept crying every night. A religious doctor divined that a dead girl’s spirit from the house opposite had taken a liking to the daughter and was thus teasing her and playing with her every night. The child was given some holy water and a taveez was tied around her hand. Within days, the girl slept soundly every night.
Both these women had first approached local doctors in the area who could not diagnose the cause and whose prescriptions had not worked. The breakdown of the scientific approach heralded the rise of superstitions. Most of our participants believe that the supernatural world exists alongside the natural world. The women even recount cases in which a taveez has cured malaria or a baba has squeezed jaundice out through a child’s finger nails.
Much superstition is of course attached to the menstrual cycle. The potters from Kumbharwada, Dharavi, believe that if a woman who is menstruating touches clay, then the earthenware made from that clay shall break easily. Mehzabeen, a seamstress, tells us that tying a black thread around your toe can delay your periods.
A couple of them even recount rendezvous with seductive spirits. Rohit Pachrane, a photography enthusiast from Dharavi, swears he saw a woman with long hair, green bangles and a white saree outside his house. This Mohini, a succubus of sorts, is popularly believed to put men into a trance and lure them to their death. Zeenat, from the textile group, remembers how her father, a fisherman, was returning from fishing when he saw a beautifully dressed woman. He wished to speak with her but didn’t do so luckily. He went to a restaurant and on narrating his meeting was told that he had done a wise thing.
Zarina, from the photography group, speaks of the black magic that is prevalent in much of Dharavi. Finding objects of voodoo such as a lime bloodied with kumkum and stuck with pins all over are common findings meant to bring you the worst kind of bad luck. In the event of finding such a voodoo article, one is advised to hit it with a slipper thus annulling its effect. Simple.
The most common reasons for the prevalence of superstition are ignorance and fear. Ignorance, the kind which has nothing to do with how educated you are. Just think of the next time you check your daily horoscope which promises you a promotion.