“Don’t cut your nails in the house,” our grandmother used to lecture us when we were children; when our hearts were delicate, tender and amendable. “It would bring about misunderstanding and chaos in the family.” And who would want to have misunderstanding and chaos in the family? The fear of being the messenger of misunderstanding in the family was so great that we would avoid cutting our nails in the house.
“Children, always avoid sweeping the floor as soon as the guests leave the house,” she would instruct us. “The act would sweep away all our luck and fortune.” And for the same reasons, sweeping the floor immediately after the departure of the guests is avoided at all times in most of the Bhutanese homes.
It is also believed that cutting our hair after the darkness would actually shorten our lifespan and still today most Bhutanese consider it awful to cut their hair once the sun goes down. At least this was so in the villages. Of course now in towns and cities, people cut their hair even after midnights! No big deal!
“You should not discard your old clothes and throw them carelessly everywhere,” our grandmother used to preach us back then and she always had her reasons for imposing such restrictions. “It diminishes your luck and fortune if you do so.” How scary is that! And then she would go on to demonstrate us her propositions with stories.
I can faintly recall this story of a hunter, who accidentally catches a tiger in a trap that he has set out in a jungle. The cunning tiger convinces the hunter that if it were freed, it would help him find a heap of gold in the forest. And the man agrees to free the trapped tiger. But as soon as the man freed the tiger, the animal threatens to kill the man. Too idiotic of him to free the trapped tiger in the first place! Now the frightened man begs the tiger to spare his life. And in the end they agree to ask everyone/everything on how justified the man is to defend his life. First they encounter an old pair of leather shoes.
“Dear Shoes,” the tiger asks. “Tell me why I should spare this man’s life.”
“Kill him,” the shoes tell the tiger. “You see, man is one ungrateful creature. When we were new, he had worn us both in rain and shine, but now that we are old and torn, we are dumped here.”
Having gained one supporter, the tiger continues his search in the jungles. And on the way the disputing duo run onto an old and faded gho, which was stuck on a tree branch. On asking if the tiger should eat the hunter, the discarded gho justified why the tiger is right in killing the man. “When I was brand new, the man has worn me with pride, but now that I am old and faded, he has thrown me in the jungle.”
And likewise the story goes onto tell how so many old pieces of clothes testifying the man’s ungratefulness towards them. Of course the hunter’s bows and arrows rescue the hunter at the end.
And today as we advance scientifically and technologically, such medium of value transmission is branded as nothing, but superstitious. Illogical. Unfounded. Meaningless. These are some scathing remarks we make on our age-old beliefs. But it is time that we justify why our age old-beliefs are more than superstitions and render them logical interpretations.
I wonder and reflect on the craftiness of our forefathers in trying to convey the intended messages to the listeners and I am tempted to interpret the above beliefs. The intended message comes hidden. For instance, logically there is no way that the act of cutting nails in the house would invite misunderstanding in the family, but who would want that to happen? Thus in fear, such acts are avoided. But if we think again, the act of cutting nails in the house dirties the place. Similar is the case with cutting hair in the house after darkness. It is illogical to say that if we sweep our floor as soon as our guests leave our house, but from the curtsey point of view it is impolite and improper that we send our guests through a cloud of dust.
But I particularly find relevance in the belief that carelessly discarding our old clothes exhausts our fortune. Old clothes and any wastes for that matter, impose serious threats to our natural environment. We have so much talks going around on the need for addressing our waste management issues, but isn’t it wonderful to think that our forefathers had long understood the consequences of our carelessness? They expressed it in a more metaphoric manner.
Through these beliefs our forefathers tried to impart social values and etiquettes. Folktales served as the medium of transmitting our time-tested age-old values such as honesty, dignity of labor, compassion, integrity, hard work, helping the needy, etc. Today we live in an era dominated by modern values, where science and technologies rule the day. But let’s not totally bury our age-old beliefs and brand them mere superstitions.
Let’s render them logical interpretation and develop appreciation.
P.S: This piece was published in Bhutan Times August 7, 2011. Apologies if you had to read it again.