“What?! Dancing in the kitchen?!”, said the son smiling his dignified smile of indulgence. “I haven’t seen you this happy for a long, long time!”
“Yes! I am dancing young man! You dance in the kitchen when you have a dignified President! You dance when a woman’s ambition is finally rewarded. You dance in the kitchen, you dance in the streets, you dance in the woods, you just dance !” I said kicking my feet up in the air.
The men smiled at each other exchanging significant glances.
“We are going to throw the drishti pumpkin out! Oooh yeah! ”
“Well!” I said, catching my breath after the dance routine and proceeded to talk about pumpkins, evil eyes and the evil eyes of the pumpkin.
It isn’t uncommon to see a pumpkin out on the street: During Halloween, , in the United States, but anytime on the streets in India.
I remember being shocked the first time I saw a pumpkin being flung out on the streets as a young girl. I was less than a decade old, and had wrestled my little brother, and then out-debated him in a secret language to get to the window seat as we travelled from the Nilgiris to my grandmother’s village near Trichy. The entire 8 hour journey is a picturesque one. As the bus winds its way down the Nilgiris, and then slowly descends into the plains, the air gets warmer and warmer, and the scenery changes from misty hillsides to lush green plains with the final stretch of road between Karur & Trichy by the river Cauvery. For several hours, the trees on either side of the road tip their branches together and whisper little messages to each other across the road as the buses, trucks, jeeps, cars, motorcycles and cycles rustle by underneath trying to get a wisp of the whispers above. The river flows on murmuring at places, serenely flowing along at others, but always providing a pleasing backdrop to life in these South Indian plains. The little villages along the way, could be Malgudi, and just peeking out is enough to provide a R K Narayan-ish story.
I was daydreaming in the bus looking out and imagining a myriad things when I saw a sizable pumpkin lying squashed outside a house. Coming from a family that frowned upon wasting food of any form, I wondered what they would say about this great waste of a large pumpkin?
It turns out, that certain pumpkins are meant to be thrown out. That particular pumpkin, I was surprised to learn, was there to ward off the evil eye, and needed to be thrown out. The ‘evil eye’ or drishti is one of those things of folklore in India. There are many rules, laws, workarounds and theories at work here – it is dubious, but entertaining nevertheless:
When something bad happens, it may be a good thing, for it offsets the evil eye.
When something good happens, then one must remember to throw out a pumpkin to ward off the evil eye. (#Prevention better than #1?!)
When nothing happens, you squash a lemon or a smaller pumpkin to ward off the evil eye that slowly accumulates – like dental plaque I suppose.
When lots of things happen at once, and one cannot figure out whether it is good or bad, you trash a pumpkin just in case.
Now, many times in the past few years, I have referenced the pumpkin used to ward off the evil eye. If the United States has spent so much time being the world leader, championing climate change, leading scientific research and helping democracy thrive in different parts of the world, it must’ve accumulated oodles of drishti mustn’t it? When the 45th President, Donald Trump won in 2016, I cried. I cried not because I am particularly close to any policies or any such thing. But because such a great country would elect a boorish bumpkin like Donald Trump: a man hellbent on thwarting democracy.
This must be our drishti, I thought. Well, how does one know that? Refer to rule #1.
“The gods grow jealous of too much contentment anywhere, and they show their displeasure all of a sudden.”
― R.K. Narayan, Malgudi Days
Today, it is time to throw the drishti pumpkins, carved with those evil eyes, out.
Today, it is time to dance like no one is watching for the whole world is watching us reclaim our dignity.