The Names Don’t Matter

The Names Don’t Matter

22 mins

Somewhere in 1988, when I had just taken my board exams, another story of my learning started.

My aunt had gifted me a blue T-shirt when she had come over to our house. I wore this T-shirt for the first time during one of our football matches. This was an inter-locality match. I was not a favourite among my team members, but somewhere deep in my heart I knew that I played well.

It was a sunny day, and we started warming up for the match. There was a huge gathering of about three hundred people at the ground. Suddenly the whistle rang, and the referee of the match called us for the toss. Our captain coolly went for the toss. We lost the toss and were given the side which was opposite to the wind. The opponent team started the match, and we could hear screams from all around. I was standing on the extreme left of the ground. I was watching the players closely and observed that those near our goalpost had started moving towards the front, leaving our goalpost defenceless.

The crowd started screaming louder and louder as the opponent team approached us with very tactful passes, leaving our players far behind. There were only me and my goalkeeper on our side, with the opponent team rushing towards us like a pack of bulls. I left my position and started running towards the ball. The only thing on my mind was to hit the ball hard and put the ball back on to the opponent side. The entire scene was like two packs of bulls clashing against each other. The moment came, and I was able to hit the ball so hard that the member of the opponent team was able to hold neither the ball nor himself, because of which he lost his balance and fell down. I saw that another opponent had stopped the ball again. This was the second chance I had, and I again ran towards the ball and dribbled the ball away from him. I was dribbling my way all along the opponent’s goalpost with a very strong command over the ball. This was yet another chance. With all my strength I kicked the ball towards the goalpost, and it was a goal!

My whole team ran towards me and lifted me on their shoulders. I had become a hero. The match continued, but this time we were much more careful. Now we also had the advantage of a goal which I had secured. The match went one, but the other team could not score a goal against us. The referee whistled to signal the end of the match. We had won the match, and it was all due to me.

My school was only till the tenth standard. So after I had taken the board exams, I started applying to the other schools in the city. I would always wear my blue T-shirt while going to other schools for admission. I finally got admission in one of the best schools in the city. The blue T-shirt saga continued, and I would wear this T-shirt whenever there was any important event. I was becoming increasingly superstitious, and I even started wearing this T-shirt under my shirt during examinations. This blue T-shirt had become some sort of armour for me.

I used to take tuition for mathematics. We had a batch of three students: other than me, there was the son of a big government official and the son of a rich civil contractor. They would come to the teacher’s house in their chauffeur-driven cars, and I would go there on my bicycle. The teacher did not want me to join this group, but he was forced to put me in this batch because I had been recommended by one of his close colleagues.

The teacher was quite strict, and I was always his target. The worst part was that he would often slap me and would sometimes dig his nails into my wrist if I committed small mistakes. I never told any of this to my parents, as I was afraid that he might tell them that I was weak in mathematics.

One day I was returning home from the tuition classes, and on my way back I saw a group of Muslims praying in front of a mosque. The next day I took a handkerchief and before going for my tuition classes prayed in the same manner that I should not be beaten up that day. My prayers were answered, and the teacher’s wife told us that there would be no class that day because he had had to go out urgently for a few days. I was now sure that that my prayers were being heard because of the manner in which I was praying. I again prayed in the same manner, and again my prayers were answered when the teacher was transferred to another district permanently. Such a prayer had become my rescuer, and I started to pray in this manner whenever I wanted something to happen the way I wanted.

The blue T-shirt and praying in the Islamic manner had built a lot of confidence in me. I even imagined flowers dropping over me when I closed my eyes and prayed. This I thought was a blessing from the almighty, so I used to collect these non-existent flowers in my handkerchief, which I wore over my head while praying, and put them in my pocket before doing anything important. My twelfth-standard exams were ap-proaching, and I was studying hard but praying harder. I wore the blue T-shirt under my school uniform and prayed in the Islamic way before going for the exams.

Days went by, and the day on which our results were to be declared came close. On the day of the declaration of the results I again wore the blue T-shirt and prayed in the Islamic manner. I was quite anxious to see the results, as I knew that I had performed well in the exams. I reached my school at about nine in the morning. There was a huge crowd of students who had already seen their results. I ran towards the noticeboard and started looking for my results. The blue T-shirt had again proven lucky, as I had passed with flying colours. On my way back home I was surer than ever that the blue T-shirt was lucky for me. But this was my secret, and I never wanted to share it with anyone.

This T-shirt and my prayers kept motivating me, and I reached the next peak of my life and was successful in getting admission in quite a prestigious college. While I was packing my things to leave for the college I found my blue T-shirt missing. I started running all over the house, looking for my blue T-shirt. I asked my mother if she had seen my blue T-shirt. The answer I got was that she had given it to a beggar in the morning. I knew that this was the end of my good luck. The only way I could think of to undo what had happened was to ask my mother to get another T-shirt from the aunt who had given me the blue T-shirt. My mother smiled and told me that these things were not important and might cause trouble in the long run. I tried to convince myself to forget about the shirt – something which I was never able to do.

In my first semester of engineering, when I went back home for a vacation, my father gave me a pair of grey trousers along with a blue blazer. This was my first ever blazer. I happily took it back to my college. I wore it for the first time during my college fest and won in most of the events in which I had participated. The main event was a treasure hunt, where I had to solve a number of puzzles to reach the final destination, and I ended up winning it.

The next week we had our in-class exam. I was not at all prepared for it because throughout the week I had had severe cold and cough. So on the day of the exam, I wore my blazer, a white shirt and the grey trousers. I prayed in the same way that I used to, but there still was some nervousness and tension inside me about the exams. I entered the classroom, and our professor handed over the question paper to us. I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw the question paper. I knew all the answers! The exam went perfectly.

We had to get our results the coming Monday, and I had planned on wearing my blazer for the results. On Monday when I was getting ready, I found that my blazer was missing. I ran in and out of the room looking for it, when one of my friends told me that he had seen my roommate wearing it. I went to the class without the blazer. I was late, and my professor had reached before me. He had the answer sheets in his hand. I could see from his face that he wasn’t too happy. One by one he started calling the students and handing over their results to them. Finally he called me and handed me my answer sheet. Suddenly a big smile broke out on his face, and he congratulated me. I had scored the highest marks in the class. I was extremely happy – and the reason for this, other than my doing so well in the exam, was that I had found my blue T-shirt in my grey trousers.

The same cycle, as with my blue T-shirt, was repeated with my grey trousers. And I would wear it whenever I needed that extra bit of luck. One day, just minutes before my exam, I saw Shree (remember? my girlfriend?) standing near the examination centre. I started walking to the examination hall after having a cup of tea and a cigarette. We were all sitting in the room, waiting for the question paper to be handed out. One could feel the tension in the air, as this was supposed to be the toughest exam of the semester. When I saw the question paper I knew that my fears had come true. I looked at others around me and saw that they were busy writing their exams. I was unable to perform well. The next day nothing changed – I prayed, wore my grey trousers and went for the exam. But, again, I saw Shree on the way. And, again, I was not able to perform well in the exam.

This woman seemed to be unlucky for me. For the next exam I reached the examination centre half an hour before time. I was having a cup of tea at a tea stall when I saw someone I knew. She was Pushpa, and she used to be Shree’s classmate. Nothing had changed about her – she was still as plain looking as she had been, but I remembered her as someone who had a pleasing personality. After finishing my tea I went and stood outside the examination hall so that I couldn’t see Shree. Soon, my other classmates joined me, and we all went inside the room to our respective seats. The invigilator handed us the question papers, and when I saw the paper I was very happy, as I knew all the answers. My question paper was what I wanted it to be. I now knew who my lucky charm was and who the unlucky one was. The days passed by, and semester after semester I would wait for Pushpa and avoid Shree before my exams.

I successfully completed my engineering and joined a very good company. My superstitious beliefs had started becoming stronger. Ever since my college days I had started believing that people whose name started with the letter S were unlucky for me and that people whose names started with the letter P were lucky. This was in addition to the numerous other items – like pens, coins and what not – that were either lucky or unlucky for me. I guess my grey trousers had passed their effect on to other items.

Years went by, and I got a good job and a good wife. One day I went home and found my mother quite tense. She told me that my father was suffering from fever. My father was a man with a strong heart and was an expert in human behaviour. He was the HR head of big multinational firm. He was a self-made man who always took independent decisions. I had been close to him throughout my life but had grown even more so during my college days. I immediately went to his room and saw a big smile on his face. My mother told me that he had been suffering from fever from the past three days. I took my father to the doctor, who recommended certain tests. On our way back home my father told me that his fever was probably due to an allergic infection caused by dust, so we should buy a mask for him. I bought a mask for him at the first chemist shop I saw. We gave him some medicines in the night, and he was looking fine by morning.

The next day when I reached home I saw my mother sitting beside my father. My father greeted me with a big smile. My mother told me he was again suffering from fever. This continued for a week, and finally I took my father for the tests advised by the doctor. The doctors did all the tests and told us that we would get the results the next day. This brought me some relief, as the next day was my lucky day of the week. I reached the hospital before time along with my father and waited at the counter. The attendant brought the results to me. I opened the envelope, and it said that further tests were needed.

I drove to the doctor along with the report, and he advised us to have a few more tests done. But my father told us that he did not need any more tests, and we could not convince him to get them done. His condition became worse day by day, and he was forced to go to the doctor for further examination. I prayed in the Islamic manner and went to a number of religious places. The day came when we had to get his test results. I went to the doctor along with my father and mother, and the doctor told us that my father had been diagnosed with tuberculosis. It was a shock to me. But the doctor comforted me by saying that this was a common disease and could be easily cured. He asked us to consult a doctor who was an expert in tuberculosis treatment.

We went to the doctor with the reports, and he prescribed certain medicines for my father. He too comforted us, and the treatment started. My father regularly took the medicine and went for various medical check-ups. His health was getting worse. One of our relatives asked us to take him to a doctor in Delhi. My father was reluctant, so we took his reports to the doctor. I waited in at the doctor’s for hours, and finally the doctor’s assistant called us inside the doctor’s cabin. The doctor was looking at the report. We patiently waited for his judgement. He told us that my father may not be suffering for cancer, and it may very well be a disease that seemed like cancer. But in order to confirm what the disease was, a next level of examinations had to be performed.

We went back home and decided to tell everything to my father because he was the one who had to agree to get the tests done. My father agreed, and we got his CT scan and other tests done. My superstitions became stronger with every passing day – I went to various temples, started praying in the morning and stopped talking with people who were bald or had moustaches. Finally we went to get the results, and on the way I promised a number of things to the gods, took a number of oaths and vowed to do a number of things if the result was not cancer. We got the result, and it was cancer.

The doctor referred us to an expert. After a few days my father’s treatment started. I had never heard about this treatment. All our relatives came to the hospital to meet us. I was next to my father the whole time, and for the first time ever I saw fear in his eyes. The doctor came for a visit during the treatment and told us that my father would be fine. The news of my father’s cancer had shattered our family, and when the doctor told us that he would be fine as this type of cancer was curable, the spark came back to our eyes.

My father’s chemo sessions and tests continued, and he was well again. This was the happiest phase of my life. The fact that he had been cured was something of a personal achievement for me. My father became healthier with each passing day. Finally, he was back in action like a lion waking up from a deep sleep.

This experience put a crack in my superstitious behaviour. Life had become a little comfortable, and I started focusing on my other priorities. I was interested in playing guitar, so I called up one of my school friends who had become a music teacher. He called me to his house to meet him. I went to his house, and we started reminiscing about our schoolmates. He told me that he was in touch with a girl from our school, Shalini, who had also become a music teacher. I still remember that Shalini was a style icon of our school.

I asked him if he could arrange a meeting between me and Shalini, and he immediately agreed. The next day was a Sunday, and we went to meet Shalini at a restaurant. We waited for almost twenty minutes there, when we saw a woman with big black sunglasses and wearing a yellow sari entering the restaurant. She was not the same Shalini I remembered, and my friend told me that she had two kids and was divorced. My friend introduced me to her. She was quite impressed when she saw me. I started talking about the old days, our professions, our families and the like. We had some snacks and tea and decided that Shalini would come to my house the next week.

The day Shalini had to come to my house, I dressed up to the T. I had even bought a perfume for her as a present. Shalini called me up and told me that she would come in the evening, as she had some tarot classes to attend in the morning. I waited for her till evening and then called her up. She asked me if I could pick her up from the nearby market. I quickly drove to the market and saw Shalini in blue jeans and a white top. That day she was looking much better. We both drove back to my house, where we had tea with my parents. I showed Shalini my house and especially my room.

Shalini saw a cactus tree on our terrace and told me that it would bring bad luck. She told me that she knew about it because she was an expert in Vastu Shastra. I quickly threw the cactus off the terrace. Then Shalini told me about her past. She told me that the boy whom she loved in the college didn’t marry her, and she fell in love with another guy and got married. After two kids the couple started having problems over some money matters, so they decided to get divorced. Her husband was paying her maintenance, which was not enough, so she had started giving guitar classes. Shalini spoke to my parents for an hour and then left for her house. Before leaving she told me that she was busy for two weeks and would meet me after that.

The next week when I was going to the office one day, my mother started complaining of abdominal pain. We quickly took her to the doctor, who told us that she had to be operated upon, as it was a case of appendicitis. My father and I were waiting in the waiting room. I could see that my father was tense. The phone rang, and the officer in the waiting room called us and told us that my mother wanted to speak to my father. My father quickly went to the officer and took the phone from him. I could see a mixture of feeling in his eyes.

After a few hours the officer told us that my mother had been shifted to a room from the operation theatre and that we could meet her. We quickly went to the room where my mother was kept. She was looking totally pale. The doctor came to the room and told us that though her surgery had gone fine she had developed some complications and therefore needed to be kept in the hospital for almost a week.

My father and I decided to stay during the day and call my aunt to take care of my mother during the night. She was still drowsy because of the after-effects of the anaesthetic, so she could barely register our presence there. In the evening my aunt came to the hospital, and we left for our house. On our way back my father asked me if I would like to have some whisky with him and I agreed. We quickly had a couple of drinks in the car and went back home. Early next morning my father woke me up and told me that my mother had called up, and so we had to get to the hospital fast. We had just slept for four hours, so in our half-asleep state my father and I quickly drove to the hospital.

We reached the hospital, and I saw my mother lying on the bed, but this time her eyes were open, and she greeted us with a smile on her face. My father quickly went to her and kissed her forehead. I could see tears in her eyes and her dry lips. We started talking about the operation, the hospital and other things. Somewhere during our conversation I told her about the cactus tree I had thrown away as advised by Shalini. There was silence for a while, and then my mother told me that the plant had been kept on the roof to keep evil away from our house. It came as a blow to me. The fact that I had done this on the advise of someone whose name started with S brought my old superstitious thoughts back. Soon my mother started recovering, and the routine of staying in the hospital with my father during the day and having a couple of drinks with him on our way back continued.

My mother was recovering very fast, and I had stopped attending Shalini’s phone calls. But it didn’t take long for me to notice that my father’s health was going down again, as all his trousers had stopped fitting him, and the glow on his face was also diminishing. My mother was discharged from the hospital, and we brought her back home. After a few weeks we found out that my father had lost almost ten kilos. We took him to the doctor, who asked us to get a particular test done. The test revealed that my father was suffering from diabetes. He started taking medicines as prescribed by the doctor. His health started getting worse, and he started having fever of the same intensity which he had before his cancer treatment.

Although we didn’t want to admit it to ourselves, somewhere in our hearts we knew that his cancer had recurred, so we took him to the specialist. He prescribed certain tests, and the results confirmed our fears. The doctor advised further treatment, which had to be started immediately.

I booked the time for the treatment in the hospital and then went to a famous astrologer, whose fee was very high, but the price was very less compared with my father’s life. The astrologer performed some Vedic rituals and told me that my father had a very long life and that after a few months he would be fine. Day after day my father’s treatment continued, and I kept going to various temples, astrologers and other holy men. I became completely crazy and did whatever the people advised me. I remember people asking me to pray under the bridge of a moving train, feed cows, pray to the sun god and what not. My father’s health kept getting worse, and finally one day the doctor told us to take him back home, as the chances of his survival were nil.

We took him back in an ambulance, and on my way back I looked into his eyes and saw that he had slowly started going away from us. Within a few hours of reaching back home he passed away in my arms. I was shocked as to how this could happen despite all that I had done. I had done all that the astrologers had asked me to do, and they had told me that he had a long life; I had prayed to the gods for my father’s recovery; I had stopped talking to people whose names started with S; I had worn all my lucky clothes; I had always taken him to the doctor on my lucky days. So what went wrong? My father was the person whom I had loved selflessly and whose orders I had always obeyed. He was my hero, my role model, and I felt so protected with him. And that day, he was lying in my arms – dead.

I learnt that my superstitious behaviour had made me weak. Instead of having belief in myself and going after what I believed in, even after failing, I was busy finding an excuse for why things hadn’t gone a particular way. As life goes on, a number of things happen, and we have to make ourselves strong and understand how best to deal with them. One has to always keep in mind that there is a reason behind everything, and our actions will come back to us in some form or the other. Prayers, lucky clothes or lucky objects, or in my case the names of people, do not control what is going to happen. But they do become excuses to encourage or discourage us to do certain things and thus end up controlling our actions – and hence the results.

I now realise the foolish things that my superstitious behaviour had led me to do. Blindly believing people and paying money to them, thinking that they could change my destiny, was entirely my fault. But to be honest, when I look back and ask myself if I would do the same things when faced with the same situations, the answer is far from a simple yes or no. I know that I would surely pray again and pay someone any amount of money if there were a way to get my father back.

Our emotions are not something that we can control, and it is these emotions which lead us to become superstitious, at least in such circumstances. It’s a constant struggle between our mind and our emotions, and those whose mind can win over their emotions lead a more peaceful life. All we need is to do is to have faith in ourselves and believe in what we do.

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