There is something I noticed about people in Calcutta that used to puzzle me a lot. They wear a lot of rings. Huge and iffy looking stones of many colours set not in gold but some white metal seem to adorn not just the ring finger but any at all. Why are they so fond of rings, I used to wonder, until I was told that these were probably prescribed as protection from planetary bad vibes.
Really? It is amazing how otherwise sane and sensible people can believe that a gem can ward off trouble, mitigate supposed baleful planetary influences and enhance the benevolent, ameliorate bad health, change one's luck and more. Good fortune, health, wealth, wisdom and more- all acquired by simply wearing a ring! The mind boggles.
Astrology, gemology and astrologically prescribed jewelry to get rich become successful and more is a flourishing sideline in jewelry shops. Most shops have a resident astrologer who suggests these for customers. I suppose there is a placebo effect in wearing these rings. If they set the minds at rest and offer comfort in a time of distress, it might seem like they do work miracles.
I am not interested in jewelry. I wear the girl's best friends, of course, but that is just portable wealth and carrying insurance. I wear three diamond studs on each ear lobe, not to mention the diamond that sits on my right nostril (there is a story behind that nose ring, but that is for another day).
I used to wear a navaratna ring, and it was the only jewelry I wore other than my diamonds. These rings are supposed to propitiate all the planets equally, but I only wore mine because my mother had it made for me. I wore it for some three decades. The ring slowly lost perfect circularity, the inner band wearing thin over the years. I had to remove it after arthritis struck and that took cold cream and unladylike mutterings, because my joints had thickened.
I am not superstitious. I don't believe in good luck charms or that rings can ward off malefic planetary influences, so removing that ring didn't make me feel uneasy. But folk remedies are something I will check, as they must work or else why would they linger as lore?
Some eight years ago, I developed a backache. It hurt so much that I had to wear a brace. I would hobble around groaning at each step. A cousin suggested a folk charm. He actually went to the trouble of acquiring it and brought it over.
This was a couple of strange desiccated looking pods, no larger than a finger joint, strung on red amulet string. I learnt later that they were modified flowers of some tree. Baghnakh, the cousin called them. They did look like a big cat's claws, with two curved thorn-like edges. Wear them tied round your waist, he said.
I thanked him, and tucked away those pods on a string in a corner of my dressing table and went on being miserable, in pain. I don't believe in miracle cures, after all.
But I was troubled when he called to say he would be visiting again, as I am basically honest. So I took the charm out. I could wear it for a day, and then I'd be able to tell him that I had tried it, but it had no effect. Wearing a string round my waist seemed ridiculous, so I wore it round my neck, feeling a little silly as I fastened the string.
The next day I awoke feeling odd. I felt odd setting up the kettle for my tea. It wasn't until I was brushing my teeth that it struck me. My backache was gone. I could bend without groaning. Being sceptical, I checked this out by bending further. I could touch my toes with no trouble. Since I had been living with pain for so long, no wonder absence of it felt odd.
I wore those pods or dried flowers, those baghnakh, for a long while. When the string frayed and gave way, I didn't bother to get a new string, though. The blessing about pain is that it fades, and you tend to forget it as soon as it stops. There would be no siblings in the world otherwise.
I'd given baghnakh to a cousin who had spondylitis. She said it improved her condition. I gave them to a friend, and she too said that it seemed to help. They didn't have quite the dramatic relief I did, but they wear baghnakh still.
I wore baghnakh without expecting any results, and was surprised to find it effective. But still, this makes sneering at astrologically gullible people rather difficult. Who am I to scoff?
There is a reason why I am talking about this. I'd hurt my back again, and I was in agony. Painkillers didn't work, hot compresses did nothing, and physiotherapy didn't help. So I dug out those strange pods. Perhaps they would do the trick again.
When the cousin gave them to me, they were already strung. I had to do it myself this time. Ingredients needed for Operation Baghnakh are: two baghnakh, a longish length of tohn shuto or thick yarn, a bodkin or a tapestry needle, a pair of scissors, a bottle of nail polish and pliers.
Baghnakh you can get in any shop that sells material for religious rites. It would be a good idea to get at least four times the length of string you think you will need. There will be botched attempts and unsatisfactory lengths, so you will be doing the stringing two or three times. The bodkin (I have such an appliance) or tapestry needle is for threading the string, and to push it through the baghnakh.
The nail polish is for stiffening the end of the string so you can thread it at all. The type of string used for amulets is a yarn made of several strands, and they will fray without the stiffening, unravel and make threading the needle a long and frustrating experience.
The pliers are optional, actually. I found that the aperture in the baghnakh was narrow, and it required some force to push the needle through. Then I found that my arthritic fingers couldn't draw it through. I pulled the needle through with the pliers. I suppose it is worse if you have to make the aperture in the first place. Waiting for the varnish to dry took the longest time in the operation.
After all the time and trouble, I wore the baghnakh charm again, a couple of days ago. Yesterday morning I got out of bed with the usual groan. My backache was very much there. The baghnakh didn't work, this time.
Wait, I threaded them onto black string. Perhaps it ought to be red for it to work. Now I am off to get some red string.