Growing up with Myths
Myths would treat us better than medicine
NOSTALGIA BY Z.G.M
I believed it. So did many toddlers and children. That God eats ‘bataha’ (long-grain-rice) but it was not the same ‘bataha’ that our grandmothers, mothers and aunts fed us in their laps in morsels. Sometimes they shaped these morsels into small balls and called them ‘cookies’… I do not how this word from English language had entered into our lingua franca. Many a time at dusk, with a small mound of rice in a fully carved small copper bowl they took me and my cousin out into the compound and with smile on their faces invited sparrows, mynahs and crows to share meal with us - then forced a morsel into our tiny mouths. My mother remembered many rhymes for the occasion, so did my aunt and my grandmother.
The ‘batatha’ that we believed God ate was named as ‘Khuda-Sabian-Bataphul’. It was our best pastime to look for the stuff that we believed God was fond of- motley colored barely half an inch long beetle found in grass. I remember with greater curiosity I and my friends looked for this greenish-black beetle with purple polka dots in closely mowed lawns of Jamia Masjid and Daragah, the two places, I often accompanied to my grandmother and mother. On finding one crawling beneath the grass my heart got filled with joy- many times I and my friends cried in excitement, ‘we found him- we found him’, but none would touch the beetle. We watched him making his way through the grass to some crevice. Like gospel truth, every child believed killing ‘Khuda-Sabian-Bataphul’ was a great sin. I and my friends never dared to touch this small insect. I don’t know how this insect had attained biblical significance for all children- I don’t know if this myth had survived from the Buddhist period when killing of insects and animals was a taboo or it had something to do something with two women disciples of Sheikh-ul-Alam, or it was conjured by someone with an aesthetic sense to preserve this insect.
This is not the only myth that we believed in as children. There were scores of other myths that we lived with. Most of the myths and the superstations had passed on to us from generation to generations. They were so beautifully weaved or told that they got deeply embossed on our minds and we faithfully believed in them. We followed them as scriptures.
There were many myths and superstitions attached with contracting some diseases. Many mythical treatments were prescribed for many important and common diseases. True, there were very few trained doctors in our child and people most depended on Hakims and semi-literate chemists. The profession was hereditary. These Hakims ‘derived knowledge from a scanty acquaintance with the Greek system of medicines.’ In my childhood there were many of these Hakims in our locality- they had earned a name in the profession. Our locality besides Hakims was famous for bone-setters and barbers that had mastered at leech-cure. Leech- a parasite sucked blood from the patient. It was believed that this treatment cured all the diseases including epidemics like cholera. I vividly remember some scenes at a barber’s shop in our locality famous for leech applying. On applying a leech, the patient would cry and then sat patiently as if tranquilized. And after an hour or so the barber would remove leech with great force from the vein of the patient.
There were prescriptions for all ailments in every family. Some were based on experience and some mythical. Grandmothers were generally treasure houses of these prescriptions. The headache was treated with applying of ginger paste. In diarrhea and dysentery it was “chucke-doud” – curd sieved off its all water through thin cloth. The goiter that was prevalent in many villages was treated ‘by applying a burnt weed gilla pathar, for twenty days the patient was forbidden salt for the period dieted on bread, ghee and black pepper.’ It was not that far off, when many of a sickness and ailments were treated locally by bringing in change in foods. I might have relished many a time ‘dried fish minced with pepper and salt fried deep’ during bad cold. In my childhood I do not remember having ever taken medicine for curing bad cold or stopping sneezing. In case the dry fish and pepper did not work the choice would fall on minced meat (kofta) fried deep with red chilies and black pepper. Mostly it worked. In case it did not work, the last resort was druggist popularly known in Srinagar as compounder. The compounder had ready mix of some potions for bad cold it was known as ‘katar’ mixture. I remember, not realizing that there was a prescribed dose of medicine for ailments, some patients paid the compounder more money and asked him to put more of some white powder not realizing that overdose may harm.
I don’t know how modern medicine looks at these treatments but I do remember how my friend was treated for dog bite. The bite was cleaned with water, then ‘surma’ (antimony) was applied to the wound and one paisa (a copper coin) was tied around the dog bite. In my childhood I have never seen a carpenter with nail piercing his foot going to a doctor for anti-tetanus treatment. He would either beat the wound with his hammer and in case the bleeding did not stop he applied finely pulverized nettle to the wound. For eyesore, itching of eyes and watering of eyes the treatment prescribed by grandmother was “tathethool”- egg cooked with salt and spices. The Sty (small sore swelling on eyelid) was treated by applying Dosichin an old piece of charcoal picked out of clay wall.
My grandmother had many do’s and don’ts for us, she had perhaps inherited list from the generations ahead. I don’t know if they have some scientific bases or not but as child we adhered to them religiously. I never ate fish and curd together so did not my brothers believing that it would cause us a congenital skin condition characterized by spots or bands of un-pigmented skin known as leukoderma. We never took a bath immediately after having meals as we believed it would cause what is known as “koanaj” (Dyspepsia, vomiting and death). Taking cucumber at night was taboo in all families it was believed it caused ‘watah’ – a kind of disorder in the stomach that solidifies in the abdomen leading to death… there are were many other mythical and superstitious treatments for ailments in our childhood.
Majority of these myths have died but many a practices surrive.
(Thanks to Dr. A.Wahid former HOD Medicine SKIMS for his inputs)
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Lastupdate on : Sat, 23 Oct 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 23 Oct 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 24 Oct 2010 00:00:00 IST
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