I am watching ‘Ashani Sanket’( Distant Thunder), a film by Satyajit Ray. The scene shows Shoumitra Chatterjee in the role of a village priest performing a puja in a village to which he is new. The village has had an outbreak of Cholera in an epidemic like proportion, in the wake of famine. The villagers are scared and call upon the holy man to solve their problems. Once the Puja is done and the priest takes home a bag of goodies and earned the respect of the entire village, as a casual after thought he mentions to the villagers that no one must drink from the common village pond or touch any dead body of animal or man, while also being very careful about their hygiene.
While one cannot but smile in retrospect at Satyajit Ray’s clever portrayal of religion playing health keeper to the villagers and hoodwinking them into thinking that it is worship that makes or breaks and epidemic, one wonders if things have changed at all. It also reminds one of the bizarre decision, of the drought hit Karnataka Government which decided to spend a huge amount of Rupees, 17 crores on different rituals around the state in order to appease the rain Gods!
But then nature is also the greatest equalizer. The same Brahmin who does not touch a lower caste or visit a lower caste’s home is brought down to his/her place by the wrath of drought and hunger. The Bengal famine of 1942, is of course a famine made by bad governance and bad policies, a man made famine. When rumors spread like wild fire, about Burma being taken over by the Japanese and burning of stock so as to inconvenience the Japanese in case they took over India. In every age it is the poorest who die, while the buck is passed from one to the other.
It’s interesting to note that religion in our country has been used by the rich and the powerful too often make fools of the poor and bad governance often blamed on the lack of a proper puja. Worship during the drought is of course not new to the country. In many parts of India, whenever there is drought or famine the services of the Gods have been called upon; when humans think that their inabilities to fend themselves will be taken care of by the Gods. For example, Gowr Puja, which is done in many parts of Maharashtra, where the deity is offered Betel leaves, nuts and Kum Kum, religion often dominates the minds of the hapless villagers when drought is at hand. But one would have thought that it was the duty of the educated lot, those in the governance to teach people that while religion might have its place in society, adequate measures must be taken to stop people from starvation or from leaving their lands, as well as other famine and drought related circumstances.
In many villages even today, the poor man who stares at the skies for that drop of rain would still not understand that there was an option of cloud seeding and that a difference could have been made if those in the reckoning had realized their duties. Till education and water comes to their land and doorstep, their faith shall still lie in Pujas which make a farce of the, could have been s in term s of public money better utilized.
And yet even as I write this Karnataka receives rain every other day, after an unusual dry spell throughout the Monsoon period..Gods must be crazy?
(Image courtesy Google )