Sundeep Bhutoria

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Rituals that linger on

The government has decided to pull down the curtains on 160-year old telegram service in India from the mid July 2013. This once invaluable service in our era of SMS and emails has outlived its utility. That is often the story with technology which gets obsolete every now and then in the wake of new inventions.
There is a similar parallel between technology and rituals i.e., both may become obsolete. However, one glaring difference is that the rituals, howsoever obsolete, have a tendency to linger on while technologies fall and rise by the wayside. To put things in perspective, let me relate a recent incident.
Few days ago I got a Brahmin dakshina card by post (pic) from someone known to me. His grandfather had expired at the age of over 85 years which I knew of. It was a very simple bereavement card in black border and black ink printed on white paper card requesting me (recipient) to donate the amount of money enclosed with the card to my family Brahmin priest.
But I was surprised to find that the envelope, supposed to have the money, was empty. Not only that, there was a fresh staple mark that alluded to the fact that someone during the transit had taken out the money and re-stapled the envelope. It was nothing new as it had happened a numbers of times before as well. But I also observed that these cards with money seems to be decreasing year after year.
But still the number of such Brahmin dakshina cards sent by post or courier each year runs into lakhs and presumably the losses too are staggering. This is a very common traditional bereavement ritual aimed at soliciting the support of different Brahmin priests to pray for the departed soul.
Traditionally, following death in a family, the card used to be sent requesting the recipients to send their Brahmin priests to collect the dakshina in person. Times have changed and it was not always possible for the Brahmins to collect the money which generally used to be a paltry sum of Rs 11 or 21.
Also, not all the families have such traditional Brahmins. In fact, many times I get envelopes containing Rs 5. However, the fact of the matter is that the entire purpose is defeated since the money never reaches the recipient at times. As far as Grade A couriers are concerned it costs more than the money itself being sent through them and if one declares that the envelopes has money in it, the couriers, as far as my knowledge goes, wouldn't even accept it.
With due respect to the sentiments of the senders, I think they should think seriously and take a call on whether they should at all continue with this tradition or do away with it just as the government is planning to phase out the telegram services in India which has served its purpose and is no longer relevant in this era of fast communication.
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