One good thing that has happened in the lockdown is that every evening, at dusk, tinhi-saanj, all of us in the house assemble near the little mandir in our house, light a ghee lamp and say the evening prayers. Invariably, without fail since the last 5 months, and we hope to continue even as we resume offices and our exterior lives. It has helped us stay together, and have belief in something which is unseen but still there, steady as a rock since last many centuries. Human faith.
In the end it all comes down to belief. Long time back I had seen a film based on the story by O. Henry , The last leaf. Back then I had not known about this original story, just the Doordarshan adaptation of it called Kathasagar. The young woman who is suffering from depression feels her life is getting wilted away day by day just like the leaves of a plant in her window falling off. Her neighbour, a drunk painter realises it and then just as the last leaf is about to fall off on a stormy night, he goes there and paints a realistic looking leaf. The next morning when the girl sees it she is filled with a spring of hope and comes out of the misery. I must have been 7-8 when I saw this short film and it stayed with me for years to come. This was a placebo effect, a figment of imagination which is possible only if you have faith. The woman, who presumes she will die as the last leaf falls off, wakes up to see the leaf still hanging on to the climber and her life force renews itself and she eventually snaps out of the depression.
I have always believed that the mind is the most powerful machine , most tenacious but wild organ in our body. It can be tamed into whatever we want but it is easily convinced by negative thoughts and sways over to a rogue side throwing caution to the wind. But it can be nurtured into believing what we want it to believe.
As kids, my brother and I used to have periodic attacks of bronchitis. After a few months of allopathy, we moved on to a homeopathic doctor who lived 3 hours away, in the city where my mama-mami, maternal side of my mom’s family lives. After examining us a few times, he later started prescribing little balls of sugar medicine to us on the phone and my dad would buy it at the local pharmacist and we would feel better in 2-3 doses. Now, modern medicine looks down on homeopathic medicine, but something in the whole process definitely worked for us. Talking to doctor kaka on the phone, being reassured by him in his gentle yet firm voice, ‘take two doses, you will be fit and fine’, switched on the self healing mechanism in our brain. Now does that mean I will still go to him for getting surgery if required? Of course not, that will have to be done by a surgeon, but I will still talk to him to get some sugar coated pills to heal faster. And I will, because my brain, my mind believes in it.
The family I am married into is mostly atheist. We have a small mandir with about 4/5 little murtis collected over the years. The regular ones which you find in any Maharashtrian household, Ganpati Bappa , Shankarachi Pind, Bal Krishna, Annapurna Devi, and a shankha on a silver stand and betel nut. When my son was younger, he would often take all the little idols and make a lego mandir for them. Decorate it with flowers. So we are not really big on rituals and prayers, but culturally the act of folding our hands and saying a prayer in from of an oil lamp is ingrained in our being.
Growing up, my father used to make me and my brother come home before 7.30 each evening, wash up, change into home clothes and then sit down to pray. We would say the shubaham karoti , ramraksha and maruti stotra every evening. I was a devout little follower of my dad and since early on I used to take great effort in pleasing everyone around. My brother used to hate it and sitting there for 10 minutes till we finished saying all of this used to be pure torture to him. He would sigh and huff and puff but did not have enough courage to openly rebel against my dad. And I had wicked pleasure in making him do something he did not want to do.
Looking back, those were some of the best moments in life. The fragrance of the incense stick still soothes me, the reverberations of the ramraksha still calm my frayed nerves and give me an intangible but a very strong rope to hold on to when I am at the end of my tether.
When my son grows up and has his own challenges, I want him to remember how to self soothe, calm down by himself and see a way forward. There are many ways to do this: philosophy, conversations with loved ones, deep seated belief in hard work etc. One of the key things I want to give him as a parent is the practice to quieten, to be still , to focus on a prayer or a chant or something of meaning that helps the wavering mind to relax. And if he doesn’t find the words or the vibrations of the prayer of any help, I hope he atleast remembers his family and how much the family loves him, and I hope that gives him mental clarity to see through the problems.