DID YOU SEE news items of blue dogs walking around the streets of Mumbai without any sense of wonderment? You might, on the other hand, have read articles of women getting their hair mysteriously cut on waking up and got just a little anxious. Your emotions would then be the antithesis of the truth value of the occurrences. The first was real and the second almost certainly a mass delusion.
In Indian English literature, magic realism has been so overdone and by such clumsy hands that it has become insufferable. It is done to exhaustion because the soil from which it is so easily drawn is abundant and ever fertile. What are the odds of someone on his morning walk coming across a blue dog? But there they were at the edge of Mumbai in a place called Taloja. It took a couple of days for an answer to come in the form of a chemical factory illegally releasing dyes into a river in which these dogs had swum. So many elements of India come together in a blue dog—the absurdity of its occurrence, the casual acceptance of it, the cause that lies in negligence and corruption, a piecemeal solution (shutting down the company) only because it made news and therefore had to be addressed.
When it comes to women with the cropped hair, an entire north Indian belt of UP, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi has seen this phenomenon. The Indian Express traced the first person afflicted by it: a 13-year-old whose hair was cut repeatedly over two months from May to July. She lived in Nagaur, Rajasthan, and was susceptible to not just hair cuts but red marks on her body brought about by fearsome apparitions which included a cat. The article said, ‘Sometimes Leela would see a woman, sometimes a man, and other times a cat. Never would she see a face. Once, a relative says, they found wheat dough on her chest with needles stuck on it while she slept, “despite a dozen men guarding her”. After every such “vision”, the girl would get red marks all over her body. Often, she would find her hair “cut”.’ The affliction’s details are vivid, the sort that, like Chinese whispers, would excite the imagination of an irrational and afraid neighbourhood. Others would then have their hair cut with even more extraordinary concomitant experiences, like a woman in whom a trident mark also appeared on the stomach. Before haircuts, there was the mass delusion of Ganpati idols drinking milk and monkey men roaming around.
The Indian mind does not just absorb a good story, it wants to be part of it. So you have highly educated people who take myths literally. To them there is no doubt that Ravana had ten heads even if not a single human being among the entire seven billion in the planet has more than one. Ten heads were the order of that age; that it is not present now proves nothing; or a ten-headed man is just around the corner, we just haven’t run into him. And he probably might have a pair of scissors, too, to cut some hair.