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Aug 30 2013

Age of Kali – In Darkest Night

In Tamil Nadu there are two stars that vie for attention.

Rajnikanth and the gods themselves.

The distraction with the whole “Avicenna is a Time and Space travelling British Rapist” actually put this and my post on the Mumbai rape on hold. That one’s a slower burner since it’s a lot more investigative than this.

Narendra Dabolkar was killed. Assassinated if you will for his rational ideas. Suspects are captured but I won’t hold my breath. There is an equal chance that the cops just arrested some unlucky sod belonging to a bunch of “Hindu supremacists”. Until details come out we should wait.

But people asked? What’s it like to believe in pseudoscience and trickery?

Chicanery is inbuilt into old timey religion. From the Oracle to the Sadhus of India religion is designed to give people a hell of a show.

Many a new endeavour be it the purchase of companies to the marriage of two individuals occurs only after a consultation with your local (or favourite) astrologer. It’s an old Hindu tradition after all. Check if the Astrology is Compatible! And these men and women do a roaring trade. Everything from Star Charts to Fortune Telling Parrots to even the novel concept of Computerised Astrology (because not only do the stars dance for your love life, they also inform you via print out! How convenient!)

No Seriously. Fortune Telling Parrots are Pretty Big

Even in the hallowed halls of science superstition is rife. The clinic has a “Pooja Room” filled with statues and pictures of deities and even the hospitals here often have large and elaborate statues to the gods of choice of the owners complete with priest. Schools have no qualms about teaching evolution but people will still think that “traditional is best”.

That’s a problem though. Tradition means that the Ouija board and fortune telling and zodiac signs in the west became jokes. We spend more time laughing at the Astrologers. The great celestial bodies in the sky don’t affect your fortune unless one of them decides to go nova or plummets out of the sky onto your unfortunate position. In India? People still think a fruit eating bird can tell the future by randomly picking cards out of a pile. And people make decisions based on these.

It’s not just the poor. Okay the upper middle class youths may treat this as a little joke but many people take this stuff seriously. It may not be the street fortune teller but it is a more upper middle class version of one. They may have their own little offices and even require secretaries to sort out their appointments and keep track of their clients. The parrot is replaced by a computer.

It’s a money spinning business after all.

But this is the thing. It’s a business that preys on people not willing to accept reality. When stuff goes wrong, people haven’t learnt to say “it was something I did” or “something someone else did” but “it’s not my fault”. Sometimes accepting your fault is how you grow. Success isn’t constant. Success is built on failure. If you fail and grasp why you failed you can change and succeed. Success comes from learning to pick yourself up after you fall.

No man I know has ridden a bicycle without falling over. You may fall once. You may fall a hundred times but to succeed you must keep getting up.

The entire Sadhu, Quack and Nonsense industry of India relies on Indians not realising that marriages fail irrespective of the stars, children don’t succeed because we don’t encourage them to be passionate about things and instead force them into the moulds we wish and because we cannot accept that we are in control of our own lives and bar the random knocks it’s mostly up to us to make it better.

Oh these charlatans are clear about this. The young men and women leave their families to seek exciting careers in the cities and earn money but they haven’t been taught to lose. And at some point someone’s going to be faster, stronger, smarter and better at what you do. And when that happens Indians often go to pieces. So what do these babas blame? Glamour! Sex! Money! Fast Lives! Western Food! Western Music.

Funny how the British Ruled India despite Western Food and Music. Funny how poor people have more problems than rich ones and funny how sex is a problem mainly because India’s got severe Victorian Morals.

But fear not! Peace is at hand! For a small payment of anywhere from Rs. 2000 to Rs. 5000 a consultation peace of mind can be yours. You can purchase the necessary charms or bracelets to wipe away your bad luck and make life better!

Name your poison? Gemology – The notion that different shiny rocks have different magical powers? Tarot Cards? Tea leaves – The only future that’s telling you is the possibility that you should get more tea? Tantric? Auras? Astrologers, Numerologists, Past Life, Vastu/Feng Shui, Rune readers and outright wizards!

The estimated turnover of all of this? Rs. 500,000,000,000 Probably higher. 5 Billion Pounds or around 8 Billion Dollars.

Big Big Business. Narenda Dabholkar’s actions would be cutting into this business.

And you can make it really really big. These sages to the stars can often earn Rs. 10,000 per consultation and sometimes go on “tours” to speaking events in western nations or even are brought out just for consultations.

And some of the advice is fantastic. Don’t involve yourself in people and projects starting with a specific letter. Don’t involve yourself with certain numbers. I for one am lucky. My unlucky letter is the one between “W” and “Y”…

And the charms and trinkets? That’s more too. Allegedly infused by the powers of sages to defeat evil. Which is a wonder as to why children still die from preventable causes when India’s apparently home to Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies.

And the wholesalers themselves? Well they are pretty secular. You can pick up Islamic Trinkets, Christian Crucifixes and Hindu Gods from the same store. Some are elegant, some are modern and some are glow in the dark tat.

And Hinduism is GREAT for these charlatans. I am sorry? You looked at the Moon (the big glowing thing in the sky at night) on the first day of a specific festival? This is madness because you could say  anything is responsible for bad luck. Did you wear a seatbelt on the 3rd Saturday of the 2nd Month? Did you dance the Chicken Dance and forget the correct number of wiggles? Bad Luck! It’s almost guaranteed that if you go claiming that life sucks you will have done something normal that is apparently attractive to bad luck.

Hell? Don’t believe me? I have overhead discussions about the falling value of the Rupee. Why is it falling? Is it due to a variety of economic reasons? Nope. The Rupee Symbol’s got a line cutting across it. The stock market is down? Well there is a statue of a bull outside it and it’s in the wrong position!

Let’s get this clear. The reasons these exist are no different from the reason religion exists. The difference is quantity and age. In India these are a religion unto itself because these are very old practices. Superstition and Religion have no qualitative difference. The difference is in the quantity. If you are willing to accept a world according to religion then it’s a very very small step to accept that the stars move for your luck.

Indians irrespective of where they live pride themselves in faith. My parents still look on at religious footballers kissing the pitch and making the sign off the cross as “respectful” and that their success is down to religious interventions. I point out that Indians plain Suck at Football. Maybe the Hindu gods are cricketers at heart?

But what really is the problem here?

Indians want wonder cures. Miracles for want of a better world. When Hinduism, Islam and Christianity make claims that magic is real then miracles become very easy to believe in. If you believe that Hanuman can bring the mountain to Laxman then you can believe that not eating onions is good for your soul.

We need to stop thinking like this. There are people in the UK who think like this too. Millionaires and Beggars alike. When you put your faith in miracles then more often than not what happens is you get cheated by someone else.

How many people have drunk Mercury Tinctures thinking it will help their health? Given up food? Fasted till their health rotted away? How many pyramid schemes? How many Sadhus and Babas? What role model do we set for our children? Don’t work hard? Trust in magic beans?

And the dark side? Sometimes this leads to human sacrifices.

We are teaching  our kids that the best way to make money is to play the lottery rather than work hard, think hard and be innovative. When you wish for crops you plant seeds, build infrastructure and work the land. You don’t pray for rain.

In the past we may have  thought these worked. We lived in a ignorance of how the world really worked and these things were decent explanations for how the world worked. But not any more. Our sum of knowledge has increased beyond these. Yet educated Indians still long for those darkest of nights.

We are a culture that relies less on teachers than priests and fakes.

And that is why Narendra Dabolkar died. Because the priests and fakes saw a threat to them. A man of medicine is a sort of priest or wizard. The knowledge and science is so out of the understanding of the poorest and the most illiterate that the actions of a doctor are akin to witchcraft. How can one feel an organ? How can tapping tell you what’s inside a man? What mysteries does he see in our eyes and what terrible knowledge from our hearts? Narendra died because people listened to him. There are no mysteries, anyone with the will and drive to do what I do can do this. It is not magic. It is technology.

Narendra Dabolkar died because he showed people the trick and when you know the trick, the illusion is lost and what was once  Wizardry turns into Stage Magic. And then people remember how much money they lost to this illusion and suddenly aren’t so happy anymore. Well, it works both ways. The quacks, the charlatans and the Sadhus were also losing  their income to Narendra’s actions and this lead to a case of “unhappiness”. And at some point someone said “Will Someone Read me of this Troublesome Skeptic”.

Such is the price of Mythbusting in the land of A Million Gods.

3 comments

  1. 1
    Marcus Ranum

    Funny how the British Ruled India despite Western Food and Music.

    I think Martini-Henry rifles and “divide and conquer” had a lot to do with it.

  2. 2
    Avicenna

    That and India was never “India” until the development of Indian Nationalism and was always a series of states that didn’t get along with each other. It was less “divide and conquer” and more a balkanised series of kingdoms where the power mainly rested in one man and one ruling family and their collective beef with surrounding ruling families.

    Basically? India was Westeros with everyone too busy fighting petty wars. In many cases land was “gifted” to the British to curry favour by people who were absolute monarchs.

    I simplified it but the reality is a lot more complex. Many Indian rulers had the same guns but what they lacked was the political stability since “Game of Thrones with Guns” has pretty big body counts.

  3. 3
    leni

    I wondered about the suspects too. The article that I read basically just said “two suspects in custody” and that they were from some right wing Hindu political party.

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