Here I am, taking a second, third and fourth look at officially released photographs of defence minister Rajnath Singh performing what has been described as a ‘shastra puja’ before taking delivery of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France under the Rs 59,000 crore deal which was inked in 2016. Singh was roundly criticised and mocked in innumerable memes and cartoons (“Government buys Rafale to protect the country, then they buy nimboo to protect Rafale”). The scorn was reserved for the optics which seemed regressive and medieval, with critics asking how such a puja would help the Indian Air Force. Would it make the jets that much more efficient? Safer? Would the puja benefit our pilots in the cockpit? Did it not look ridiculous for an Indian minister to be seen as being stuck in perpetuating superstition?
Ummmm — not really! We also break coconuts, tie green chillies with lemons, string garlands, sprinkle holy water, apply kumkum before taking delivery of anything we deem precious — from a brand new refrigerator to a spiffy car. It is a part of our tradition. And tradition does not follow logic. It is an emotion based on age-old beliefs. What was valid to our ancestors continues to exercise a hold over our collective consciousness even today. Nothing terribly wrong with it.
Just a few days earlier, we celebrated Dussehra across India. I know what I did that morning — followed rituals I had seen my parents perform. Apart from ordering marigold and wheat stalk garlands for the front door, there were garlands for the family cars, and special flowers with prasad for all placed before Ganeshji. Wait — I went several steps further. I placed flowers on my laptop (same one I am tapping the keys of right now), and added a pinch of turmeric and kumkum, with a few grains of rice. I did the same with my writing pads and pens, and the collection of books near my writing desk. My father and mother had instilled it in me to respect ‘vidya’ when I was a student, staying in my parental home. I maintain the practice, and urge my children to do the same. I really don’t care if people laugh. It is what I want to do with sincerity and pride. My choice.
Rajnath Singh’s double act in France provided great photo ops. I am surprised the Prime Minister didn’t want to photo bomb this occasion and climb into the cockpit of the Rafale himself. He was generous enough to let Rajnath steal the show, all rigged out in smart flying gear for the supersonic speed sortie (joy ride?), and then, more traditionally clad while performing the Ayudha puja. Were the French amused? Did they find it weird that an educated minister was indulging in such ‘exotic’ acts in full public view? Perhaps. But should we care or feel sheepish? Never!
The French are shrewd when it comes to money. A mega deal like this one is juicy enough to keep the smirks off their faces. Who knows, they may have even figured that one auspicious start like this one may lead to many more lucrative opportunities in the future. Let the minister indulge himself and his countrymen by offering a puja to a machine. Quite right. We have our ways, and you have yours. Does the world laugh when a champagne bottle is cracked on the hull of a ship before she glides into the water?
Superstition is a strange beast. It depends on how one deals with it. I confess I am superstitious — but not in a crippling way. I do believe in auspicious dates and periods, and refuse to start a new project, no matter how tempting, during the period that precedes Navratri. Have I lost out financially in the bargain? Undoubtedly. But I am not complaining. Rajnath Singh must also have consulted his trusted punditji, checked the alignment of the stars and picked the most propitious day and time to pick up India’s French toys. There is no time or day as auspicious as Dussehra — his timing was impeccable.
In the old days, weapons were worshipped on Dussehra. Today, it’s fighter jets. Same same, but different. Shopping also has its own convoluted rules and regulations based on which nakshatras are placed where in the firmament. Assuming India acquired its Rafales when all the stars were aligned in our favour, we can sit back and let our super competent pilots do their job. In Imran Khan’s case, he doesn’t need to travel far to read what the stars are foretelling. Remember Bushra Bibi, his latest wife is also a pirni (soothsayer) whose spiritual guidance he seeks and sticks to, according to Pakistani media. Maybe, he is also looking closely at his Chinese horoscope to further bolster his own fading star. The Year of the Water Dragon (according to 1952 born Imran’s natal chart) is not in sync with his pro-China ambitions. Bushra Bibi — help!
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.