'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Monday, November 30, 2009

"Work On Your 'Black Magic'!"

As the few readers of mine know, I have just written about a brush with the occult (the last post here; it was rather more than a brush, physically speaking, but that is not the story now!). And while keying in that story, I remembered another piece that I wrote nearly half a generation ago - in perhaps my first ever attempt to write anything beyond examination essays.

As some would know, I was, once upon a time, a research student of Physics. Our hostel had a bit of a tradition of folks putting up articles on the notice-board. Driven mostly by "Why can't I too...?" sentiments, I put up a piece titled "Magic and Black Magic in Kerala: a living tradition".

Now, in hindsight, I could say, that article laid down a template which most posts here have ended up following - a personal memory-rewind with anecdotes, historical and literary episodes gathered from here and there, (where available) a couple of quotes and personal experiences thrown in and ...

Further, as has been the case with most posts here, readership was low then. Anyways...

Some months down the line, my research career, which had never really been on a roll, began showing signs of sputtering to a halt. I had a conversation with a senior colleague.

Him: Must say, time is running out, you got to either pull yourself up by your boostraps or...

(pauses briefly)

Him: This might sound radical but... have you thought about other ... options?

Self: Options ... like?

Him: Hmm, alternative career paths, some other...

Self: No. I understand things have not gone well, they are not looking too good either but I sort of try to tell myself that I am not all that bad and if I hold on on for a while and...

Him: That would have been fine if you had say 3-4 years ahead, but... you know, I sense a sort of disconnect. Like... You know, I would put it this way, you are not really cut out for the exact sciences.

Self: In what sense?

Him: You know, in Maths or Physics, you need to think very logically, very analytically; one has to be sharply analytical to do well. Your own thinking... you are not really analytical and precise enough, like, you are more ... emotional.

(continues after a pause)

Him: Actually, you probably would make a decent writer, you know, the freelance journalist type. There you can be vague and general and flowery, at least it is not rigorous Mathematics! I remember you wrote that bit about black magic and stuff. It was pretty good. Why don't publish it in some paper? That could show you an alternative career path. Well, I am not saying what you wrote is great or anything, but I remember seeing some potential there.... Yes, you should try that. Work on your Black Magic, rewrite it, see what experts in that field say about it and then, you could ... you know...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Exorcism

"There are only two forces in this world, Light and Darkness. And they are in perpetual conflict. All our problems - diseases, mental disturbances, failures in business, whatever.. are due to Darkness. My job is to help people move away from Darkness, to attain Light"

The person who said the above was addressed by those around him as 'Guruji', but he looked like a normal villager, not a tantrik or sadhu. I had come to meet him on the persistent advice of some well-wishers, who had found his simple Manichean scheme(*) meaningful and had developed a certain amount of faith in his spiritual powers.

Guruji and an assistant led me into a small, dark room. I was told to sit down on the bare floor and think about God. Guruji closed his eyes in a brief spell of silence and intense contemplation. Then, he suddenly speaks:

"Oh, Darkness! (**) This man is possessed by the dark forces!" I felt him touch my head. He goes on: "Oh, Lord, you who are Light, the only true light, please chase away all the darkness... yes, it is Narakabhadrakali who has taken over this man's spirit. Lord, please, please, save him, fill his life with light. O, Supreme Lord!"

The assistant suddenly started screaming and hissing and appeared to go into an epileptic fit.
Guruji goes on: "Lord, may this man's sufferings cease, may he be freed from all the Karmic bonds, may he acquire Light, peace. My Lord!"

The assistant is now lying on the floor, writhing. Guruji grips my head and orders me to "Relax!". The next instant, his hands give a sharp impulsive twist and I hear something crack in my neck, followed by a strange lightness in the head - as if "a little bird has just flown out thru one's ears".

"Narakabhadrakali, go away! Do not torture this man. He craves for light; and the Lord is with him and wants to save him. Narakabhadrakali, go back to Hell!"

The assistant's screams and writhes cease. Guruji says: "My dear man, you are now safe. All darkness in your life has been eradicated! Come, let us go!"

I get up and follow Guruji. The assistant seems fast asleep. Outside, a few more faithful wait their turn.

I woke the next morning (and the next morning and ... for several months), with a severely stiff neck.

(*) I did argue saying "darkness and light are not opposites; if light is positive, darkness is only zero; for something negative, you got to have 'anti-light'" and so forth. But my arguments convinced nobody, myself included.

(**) I could not help remembering Blessed Lightning's "Oh, the Migou!" from 'Tintin in Tibet'

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The City Of Goddesses

In (Bankim Chandra Chatterji's novel) 'Anandamath', the secret revolutionary organization with the same name worshipped Bharat-Mata (Mother India) in three forms.

1. What Mother Was - Goddess Jagaddhatri
2. What Mother Has Become - Goddess Kali
3. What Mother Will Be - Goddess Durga

- Wikipedia

The above triad of awe-inspiring goddesses (one could probably add Tara - about whom I wrote a bit here sometime back - to the group) continues to preside over the fortunes of Calcutta. And nowhere is their collective presence as visible as at Belur Math. First up, there was the Durga Puja (which I did not see); shortly therafter came the puja to Kali, which most of the rest of this country calls Diwali (and of which I saw only the final immersion ceremony - the Kali idol, much-worshiped over several days, was tipped into the Ganga and seemed to disintegrate into the murky waters within seconds)(*). And finally, there was the worship of 'Jagaddhatri', literally, 'the Goddess who sustains the world'.

I got to see a fair bit of the Jagaddhatri festival. The main puja took place at Saradapith, a small shrine within the larger Belur Math complex. The Goddess image was 'life-size' and sari-clad and had four arms and had a fiercely beautiful face; she sat atop a very life-like lion which stood on the corpse of an elephant demon.

And then there was the 'Khichdi-fest'. For an entire night, a tight gang of workers were seen laboring in a makeshift pandal. When I took a look at 9 or so in the morning, they were still at work and the following were already in place: (1) a full dozen cylindrical tanks, each with capacity well over a thousand liters, each brimming with khichdi (2) a score of somewhat smaller vats with heaps of cooked potatoes steeped in oily gravy; and there were further hills of the same tuber beyond, waiting to be processed,

The communal eating of the 'Khichdi-prasad' began at 10 am and went on right thru the day; people were let in in batches and were served by a battery of volunteers, whose mechanical efficiency (and all those plates with little lakes of golden yellow khichdi) reminded one of Bruegel's 'Peasant Wedding'. At a conservative estimate, around 20-30 thousand liters of khichdi were finished off by 40-50 thousand eaters. The menu was minimal, khichdi (unlimited), the potato curry (again unlimited) and laddoos (1 or 2 per head). I did not try the laddoo but the other items actually tasted excellent!

And the premises saw lots of festive trading, especially in religious paraphernalia. Among the items on display were icons of a 'space-clad' Kali and a Lakshmi. The latter Goddess sported a Bengali style tiara and wore a rich sari; and instead of the 'usual' elephants squirting water on her, she was accompanied by her 'actual' vahana, the owl. And there were no gold coins showering from her palms; instead she held a jewel-encrusted pitcher in one hand and a ear of some cereal in the other. In the background was a cluster of straw-built huts, quite a contrast with the glitter of her Sari and ornaments (**).


And nowadays the Goddesses are in the news in an all-India context as well. Some sort of debate is brewing on 'Vande Mataram', our National Song. The issue: the unequivocal invocation mention the song makes of Hindu goddesses. Poet Javed Akhtar, one of the participants, characterizes a couple of stanzas (probably, those which refer to Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati - the latter two having mysteriously replaced Kali and Jagaddatri) as 'rabidly religious'; and he goes on to add "I sing (the rest of?) the song!"

And Wiki claims: "The song remains to this day very unpopular among muslims of India".

And here is Rabindranath Tagore's sagely take on the matter(the year was 1937. Again from Wiki)

"The core of Vande Mataram is a hymn to Bharat Mata( Mother India): this is so plain that there can be no debate about it. Of course Bankimchandra does show Durga to be inseparably united with Bengal in the end, but no Mussulman [Muslim], christians and Arya Samajis can be expected patriotically to worship the ten-handed deity as 'Swadesh' [the nation]. This year many of the special [Durga] Puja numbers of our magazines have quoted verses from Vande Mataram - proof that the editors take the song to be a hymn to Durga. The novel Anandamath is a work of literature, and so the song is appropriate in it. But Parliament is a place of union for all religious groups, and there the song cannot be appropriate..."


(*) In the days just before Kali puja, a nearby shop had stocked dozens of Kali effigies; all of them followed the same design but were of various sizes (a couple of them were colossal). And they were all 'bare' idols, lacking the weapons and the usual macabre ornaments of severed head garlands and ear-rings (presumably, these would have got added just before the puja). Even the girdle, with chopped-off humans hands strung together, was missing - and strangely enough, its 'function' was performed by a hand that seemed to sprout from the goddess's belly and grow downwards!

The Malayalam novel 'Govardhante yaatrakal' has an episode which I had found rather unsettling when I read the book a decade ago: a Calcuttan potter, having moulded a Kali image, suddenly decides to decapitate it and to turn it into the even more frightening 'Chhinnamastaka' form of the Goddess. But now, having seen a bit of Cal, his act does not strike me as particularly shocking - Wiki shows the photo of a Chhinnamastaka image actually worshipped at a Kali puja pandal.

(**)The same hawker also had an icon of Kamakhya (who is from neighboring Assam). This Goddess has six heads (one of them facing upwards) and 12 hands and sits on a lotus which seems to be hovering in space. On two smaller lotuses nearby, both of which seem to have sprung forth from a turbulent ocean, sit Brahma and Vishnu, both in prayer. Siva, the remaining member of the Trinity is also in the picture; he lies, semi-conscious, on the back of a lion who stands on a platform which appears to be floating in the same ocean. And on closer inspection, the flower on which the Goddess sits has grown out of Siva's navel; and one of her feet rests on his chest! Anyways, here is a picture: