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Our generation in India has had a strange dichotomy built into our psyche. While we were being taught Science in schools and colleges, our Indian films have been consistently and persistently nurturing our minds with superstitions.

Indian Hindu women have always sported a red spot on their heads to signify that their husbands are alive. So much so, in the sign language of the aurally handicapped, the bindi signifies India. This red spot was made up of a red powder called kumkum. People would display different shapes and sizes of the same, some doing it free hand and some using the copper coin with the round hole in it prevalent in those days for geometric perfection.

Later, stickers called bindis came into vogue. These used to have maroon coloured velvety surface on one side and a non -drying adhesive on the other side. Though dancers and teenagers used glittery, sequined ones to adorn their foreheads, the round, red stickers were more popular with the middle aged people as they came close to the traditional spot of kumkum.

The sticker bindis had one advantage over the traditional powder as they never got smudged. But  our filmwallahs continued to use kumkum on female characters, as  smudged kumkum  was a very handy symbol to indicate a rape victim or a new widow or a bride who has had successful consummation on her bridal night. Thus except for the third one, the smudge had always been associated with undesirable events. As a student of Science and later as a teacher of Science I never believed in this bunkum till I was jolted into confrontating a similar situation.

Ramu had been lying in coma in the hospital for 5 days since Sunday. We had not given up hopes in spite of dire prognostications by the doctors. My sister and I would come home every morning for bath and breakfast. Our kind son-in law would drop our daughter in the hospital to keep the vigil and bring us home and take us back to the hospital in his car after our hurried morning ablutions.

It was the month of March and very hot in Bangalore.

On Friday, I had my bath and was sweating profusely. I was about to light the oil lamps in the Shrine when I remembered that it was the day of routine Lakshmi Pooja. I also discovered that I had forgotten to stick my bindi on without which a Pooja would not be conducted. So I dipped my hand in the kumkum bowl and applied it on my forehead. As I was conducting the Lakshmi ashtottaram Pooja with more kumkum on the idol, sweat was pouring down my face and I had kept wiping it off.

As I came out of the Pooja room my sister gave an almost audible scream and asked me to look at myself in the mirror. I was shocked to see kumkum combined with sweat had spread all over my forehead in a bizarre pattern.

Two days later Ramu breathed his last never surfacing out of his coma.

Was my smudged kumkum a macabre portent or just a coincidence? It was almost as if fate had told me that I would no more have a right to wear one.

Whither my Science and Scientfic temper?!

(picture courtesy Pinterest)