Friday, July 17, 2015

Superstition and the middle finger

I will start off with something I saw at the Wimbledon this year. It was the final, with Team Roger, starring the clean-cut Edberg and, on the other side, it was Becker and a few others supporting Djokovic. Nothing unusual, except this - After the ten minute warm up, when the players sauntered on to the court, the TV camera zoomed in on Team Novak. Here I saw a ritual being carried out.
Every member of Team Novak was "fist-bumping" with every other member of the team. This cannot but be a ritual, born out of superstition.
I always enjoy a match between these two, for my own reasons. I am not "invested" in either of these players. What I mean is, in the good old days of John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, or Mats Wilander it was not my mind but my heart that was tuned to the match; to be precise how McEnroe was doing. Very often that resulted in arrhythmia.
With Novak and Roger, my heart beats with a constant rhythm. I must have missed many a superstitious gesture in the olden days, but now I unerringly catch them.
There may be another reason for this change in me between then and now. I was superstitious, and how, and now I am not, again, and how!
The change did not come upon me overnight. It was gradual. Slowly I recognized that if I infused myself with more and more rationality, I shed more and more from the basket of my superstitions, like a snake molts. I also realized that not sticking to my superstition (I was forced to as cable transmission was worse than normal) was not the reason McEnroe lost that French Open final to Lendl in 1984. It was merely that Lendl just seized the opportunity that came his way and that opportunity was not the result of my actions. Of course, I have no proof of what I just claimed.
But, that is just the point. If something cannot be proved its opposite also cannot be disproved. I realized this as the strength of superstitions. If TamBrahms believe in Rahu Kalam, it is just that the idea that sustains it cannot be disproved. Even if I was to launch something during the designated inauspicious time and it was to become a success, it would be dismissed merely as an aberration. After all, for every rule there is an exception, the saying goes!
Then, how exactly can we fight superstition? This is a wrong question. There can be no "we" in the question. Superstition can be fought only in a hand-to-hand combat. Each individual must first decide to get rid of his or her superstitions. What can be the starting point of it? Sorry, I have no clue. It just happened to me. There was no on-the-road-to-Damascus moment for me. Perhaps some unexplained affinity to rationality.
But, once the seeds are sown in one's mind, there are many things one can do, if she is so inclined, to cultivate further the resistance to superstition.
First, decide that you will not ignore the superstitions. Indeed, you will recognize them from far. Then, decide that you wish to trespass them.
As the second step, trespass it. Carry the required courage on your sleeves. Overcome the resistance to such actions from within and without. Don't be afraid to stick out like a sore thumb.
The third step is perhaps the hardest. Do not ascribe the result of your actions against the prevailing superstition to anything remotely connected with it. This statement has to be thought through as it works in at least two ways. If your actions did not pan out the way you had intended, do not go back to the superstition seeking succor. This is not very difficult, if you are courageous.
The more difficult thing is to ensure that you do not start on another superstition; that is, decide to do each and everything against the superstition. This is, indeed, the beginning of superstitions. Do a balancing act - acknowledge but ignore superstitions. Take it from me, who has gone, indeed going down that path - I found it very hard on my mind. It changes you so fundamentally, it is hard to describe because one tends to forget who or what one was. Remember, the more recent a superstition it is harder to get rid of.
For this reason alone, you should remember the old superstition, just so you can recognize a new one in the making.
Repeating the above steps at every moment of one's life is the surest way to get rid of superstition and half way to getting rid of stupidity.
Coming back to where I started. It was NovaK Djokovic who unexpectedly lost the French Open final to Stanislaw Wawrinka. I do not know whether Team Novak did the fist-bumping ritual then. Assume it did. Then, it should not have repeated it at Wimbledon, if it believed in it.
Assume it did not do it at the French. Then, it must continue doing it till ... Novak loses. What will the team do after Novak's next loss; say at the upcoming US Open? That is the million dollar question.
Perhaps show each other the middle finger!
That way goes superstition.


Indian Satire said...

Guess everyone has their own superstition, only thing it should irritate or shame others.

mandakolathur said...

Balu, I believe it should shame oneself, primarily!