Saturday, April 29, 2006

Of Witchdoctors, Evil Spirits and AIDS

Even after science has taken man to the moon, there are some things that have not changed. Man is still as superstitious, still as questioning, still as trusting as he (or she) has ever been in the forces of nature. While scientists look for the cure to AIDS, there are still those who believe that ghostly possessions are the world’s greatest problem. They have even made this their livelihood.

L.Govindan, nestled away in a small hamlet near Nilavur on the Yelagiri hill is one such ‘Witch Doctor’. When asked about the biggest health problem on the hill, he looks around, crosses his fingers in one of the oldest and commonest actions to ward off evil and says “ghosts”. Ghosts allegedly target women more often. “They are brought in with their hair open and torn clothes. They get very violent and yell abuses and generally act wild.” He adds, “There are some things that can be done to get rid of the ghosts, but it takes time.”

Acording to the only Primary Health Care Centre (PHC) on the hill, AIDS and TB are the two biggest problems they have to deal with. There have been about 42 new cases of the HIV reported in the last three years. The occurrence of TB is now diminishing, but it is still a problem.

Govindan claims that TB is caused by spirits eating away at your happiness. As far as AIDS is concerned, there’s “nothing like that here”.

People trust Govindan more than they trust the doctors in the PHC, say his neighbours, most of whom also happen to be his nephews.

This distrust of doctors was echoed in other villages around Yelagiri as well. According to people in Nilavur and Mangalam, there are too few doctors, and they are too far between. Women in Thaayanur would rather have their babies at home or, if possible go all the way to Tirupattur to find medical help, rather than make their way down to the PHC, where doctors may or may not be available. Even the nurses there are very rude, often making fun of women in labour, said Kannammai, an Octogenarian grandmother of four.

He is famous in these parts, with people coming from as far as Dharmapuri to visit him. In fact, a family of three waited patiently for him to finish talking to The Word. Not wanting to break patient confidentiality, he simply said they were having family problems and wanted his help. Their ‘treatment’ would last about three days, he said. During this time, the family would be his guests.

On average, treatment lasts anywhere from 1 day to a week, sometimes, even longer, with treatment costing anywhere between Rs.150 - Rs.7000, depending on the severity and type of affliction. He acts as psycho-analyst, physician, and guidance counselor to those who approach him. He believes that talking to people helps them in difficult situations, “especially for women having abortions.” When asked if there were a lot of abortions in the area, he explained, “Most men go down to look for work in the plains. So the women folk are left behind with only a handful of men. Occasionally, things like that happen… women whose husbands have been away for months get pregnant. Then they have to have abortions.”

He says he has perfected the technique of ‘aiding’ abortions. His method is non surgical, and non-invasive, he says. He powders a mix of dried herbs and adds it to milk, which the woman needing the abortion is asked to drink twice a day. This needs to be done for 4 days and the foetus ‘dissolves’. This is one of the few ‘treatments’ he allows away from his watchful eye. He even claims to have cured a paralytic with his exotic sounding chants and local herbs.

Govindan gathers his cures from among the native flora of the region, which means dipping into the wealth of the nearby reserve forest occasionally. Do the authorities have a problem? “No”, he says. “I don’t disturb anyone, so I don’t have any problems with anybody. Besides, I know where to find what and it’s all close enough. So I don’t take too much of anything at a time.”

However, if you go looking Govindan, do not expect to find the “Witch Doctor” of popular culture. He wears no animal skin or feathers. Neither does he wear a necklace of animal teeth or claws. He is unassuming, clad, like most other men in the area in a lungi. While his home is a good 20 minute trek up hill from the Yelagiri YMCA office, past ragi and rice fields, Govindan isn’t exactly cut off from civilization. He stays tuned in to the rest of the world thanks to his dish antenna. On being asked why he needed a Dish, “Simple. Cable wires don’t reach all the way here,” he replies, pokerfaced and then breaks into a wide grin.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Things to do when u r rained in

Ok, so this old.. but it still holds true... and considering that my brain seems to have escaped from the rest of my body, this just about suits my current mindset. Kinda hoping i'll be rained in soon.. the heat is gettin to me!

* Stare at a candle - It improves your concentration, not to mention increases your spiritual consciousness

* Do the Piggy Dance - if u dunno the Piggy dance, make sumthing up. As long as it's some thing u'd be too embarrassed to do outside the safe confines of your room, it's perfectly acceptable! [p.s. it also burns calories;)]

* Try establishing alien contact

* Wish you were anywhere but where you are. For effect, wish aloud in different tones of voice. Make up exotic sounding accents as you go along

* Sing at the top of your voice. Try to drown out the thunder. Don't forget to practice air guitar as well.

* Hurl abuses at the Gods. Call them insensitive for ruining your perfectly laid plans. ( never mind the fact that your perfect plans consisted of staring at a piece of lint!)

* Design a super bike so outrageous, it would take a superhero to ride it!

* Plan your funeral, write an obituary

* Make a list of things you'd like to do before you die

* Imagine you are going to be stuck indoors forever, with no electricity. Come with a worst case scenario. Compete with friends for the worst story.

* Wish you had stocked up on the bread and cheese you passed by the last time you went grocery shopping

* Rearrange your closet while trying not to burn your favourite sweater that's become your lifeline


* Write a love song. then refer to idea number 5

* Practice tying your shoe laces. If you don't own shoes with laces, BORROW!!!

* Come up with and practice an Oscar/Grammy acceptance speech

* Make up new words and insist that they are part of traditional Zulu or something or, come up new meanings for existing words. Call your friends dumb if they deny their existence. You can also accuse them of not trusting you if they question your "meanings"

* Come up with a longer list than this. the weirder the better!


Saturday, April 15, 2006

I'm Han Solo... who are you?
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