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The rationale behind those practices

Illustration by Sreejithkumar

Illustration by Sreejithkumar  

Some of the traditional customs may be rooted in sheer commonsense

I hail from a semi-orthodox, middle-class family in Bengaluru. My parents settled in the city in their late-20s. Thus, I am a first-generation Bangalorean — born and brought up solely in that city.

Being born into a traditional family meant you were bound to follow some quaint customs and observe some rituals. This was even more so if you had orthodox grandparents living with you.

My grandmother was very finicky about certain issues — you had to have a bath before you entered the kitchen; you could not place the plates on your lap while you ate; if you held the plate in your left hand, you could not touch anything else until you washed your left hand; after meals, dishes could not be placed in the same sink where gods’ idols were washed; if you came from a hospital or clinic, you had to bathe and change before you touched anything in the household... and the list goes on. She passed away around 14 years ago.

In hindsight, I find her being finicky amusing. The only thing that probably came out of all this was that my dad and his two brothers know nothing about the kitchen — they were restricted from entering it. (It is a matter often discussed by my mother and aunts — how hopeless their husbands are in these matters!). They do not care much about cleanliness either (probably arising out of a sense of rebellion).

Age of reason

Years have passed and the ‘rationalist’ in me tries to find a reasoning for all those restrictions. Some of them have become so deeply ingrained that they almost seem second nature to me still. I do not find it amusing when I see my cousins eating with plates on their laps or eating with both hands! What my grandmother imposed was rooted in cleanliness (though she considered any violation of them to be sacrilege).

One such rule — still practised in almost all traditional households — is that once you return from a hair-cutting salon, you do not touch any household object or any person until you are “purified” by a bath. If you touch, mind you, that object/person will need to be “purified” as well!

A visit to the salon by a male member in a household, hence, is a carefully planned event. Any day of the week is suited for a haircut except Tuesday (salons usually remain closed on this day, anyway), Thursday (it is holy in its own right), Friday (it is the day Goddess Lakshmi visits the house) and Saturday (you don’t dare offend Shani!). Monday is ruled out, that being the first day of the week and hence, a busy day. Wednesday is mid-week — if you did not care for a haircut on Monday, why care now?

So, that leaves just one day — Sunday.

If you go to the salon early in the morning, a bucket is filled with hot water even before you leave, so that the geyser can heat another bucket of water by the time you return. If you go late, the first bucket is filled after you leave, as there is anyway enough time to heat for a second one.

The younger ones in the family are allowed to sleep late on such days because if they wake up, chances are that they would have occupied the bathroom when you return from the salon, causing you to wait. The more you wait, the more the chances that you might accidentally touch something or somebody!

By the time you return, a ‘green-corridor’ is created from the door to the bathroom — door mats, foot rugs, carpets, furniture are all moved out of your way. You empty your pockets and drop the contents on to the table or sofa from a height — without coming in actual contact with them. Once in the bathroom, you strip to your inners and your mother pours the first two or three mugs of water on you, “purifying” you! You touch the bucket only after that.

I once asked my mother why such an elaborate ritual had to be followed — some of my friends would turn up in school or college directly from the salon (with hair sticking on to their shirts, though).

My mother, a ‘rationalist’ in her own right, explained: a bath is necessary on returning from the salon, not because it belongs to a person of another caste but because hair sticks to your body and you need to clean it up.

I now stay in a hostel and I obviously cannot expect anybody else to assist in my “purification” bath here.

But I have devised my own ways of circumventing this issue. Before I visit the salon, I make sure I keep my clothes, shampoo and bucket separate from the rest of my belongings so I can take them to the bathroom without coming in contact with anything else — I do not like hair sticking to my chair, bed or cupboard.

I sometimes do not even take my cell phone along (as I cannot wash it).

If grandmother is indeed watching all this from up there, she would, no doubt, be very happy!

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 1:22:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/The-rationale-behind-those-practices/article14019621.ece

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