One of the regular readers of this blog enquired about the lack of posts for a week now. When I said that I didn’t seem to have anything to write about apart from being a little busy, she said “writer’s block? That must be because of all the drishti. You just boasted about 500 posts and see it has affected you immediately.”
Of course she was joking as neither of us believe in all this kann drishti/ buri nazar/ evil eye theory and find it amusing when not being irritated by it.

While growing up in our house in Chennai, we had rented out a portion to a family and every friday evening , they had a ritual to remove the effects of evil eyes that may have been cast on the members of the family. The grandmother of the house made them all sit together and held some chillies and salt in her fist and made circles in front of them – 3 times clockwise and 3 times anti clockwise, all the time murmuring something about defusing all bad eyes . During this process no one was allowed to speak. After this, she threw the chillies and salt on some live coal kept in the backyard. While we choked over the pungent smoke that wafted from the backyard into our side of the house, she always commented , “see, so many chillies and yet no trace of any pungency. That is all the drishti (evil eye) that has made the chillies so bland.”

The funny part was that we did not understand what was attracting all these alleged evil eyes to the members of their house – they were very ordinary people in every way, nothing exceptional, no super achievers. Apart from this weekly ritual, there were extraordinary drishti removing sessions if a child was sick or had a decreased appetite or if anyone came first in class or wore something new. Basically it appeared that the whole world had its evil eye focused on that family and every event in their house was something they looked upon with jealousy. The rest of us in the house were even scared to look at them properly or compliment them on anything for fear of being accused of casting drishti on them. Among ourselves though, in our irreverent way we called it ‘eye-putting’ (as a literal translation of the term in Tamil which was ‘kann podradu’ meaning casting eye). It was all so amusing to us that while playing if anyone sneezed or fell down we would make them sit on some steps and pronounce that people have kann potufied on her. Then one of us would imitate the ‘nazar utharna’ process of that old lady and we would all go into silly giggles. We were a wicked lot!

We were chided for this by the older people in our houses too who did not completely dismiss the power of evil eye in bringing distress to the object of the negative feelings but mercifully they drew the line at putting a black dot on children’s cheek or forehead to neutralise anything negative. I considered the old lady of the neighbourhood as a bit of a freak but over the years, I have been surprised that there is a similar superstition in almost every part of the country and across all levels of society – black dots, a string of chillies, crushing a lemon, burning camphor, breaking white pumpkin, hanging a scary face drawn on a pumpkin or made of papier mache and so on.

It is interesting how people fear losing their wealth, health or happiness by becoming the object of jealousy. In all this fear and insecurity they become incapable of accepting genuine appreciation without fearing that they are about to lose whatever it is that invited the appreciation. In fact, sometimes, I am scared to offer open praise about how beautiful and healthy a child looks or even how lovely someone’s house is. I don’t want them to blame my evil eye every time the child sneezes or has loose stools or there is an air- crack on their walls. Why should people be so insecure about what they have earned or achieved? Why do they fear losing something they know they deserve? or don’t they feel they actually deserve it?

At the root of it all, there seems to be a kind of acceptance that misery is a natural state and happiness is temporary even if you have worked for it and earned it; and an inability to have pure happiness with one's successes and prosperity without a tinge of guilt or fear. It seems that there is only so much supply of happiness and prosperity and you should feel guilty about having cornered a big chunk of it! So one fears losing one’s good fortune by flaunting it openly and attracting the evil eye through jealous thoughts. Perhaps these customs evolved to temper overt exhibition of wealth and conspicuous consumption so one did not increase the misery of the have-nots through comparison. It also became a convenient excuse to explain away failures and losses and sudden fluctuations in one's fortunes – ‘it is sombody else’s doing, not mine’.

When my son was about 4 months old he had a severe attack of bronchitis and he suffered from acute wheezing trouble. So his health had its waxing and waning phases every month. And my neighbours invariably advised me to do something to remove the effect of evil eyes. It was tough to resist when the issue in question was my child’s health but I refused to comply. He was cured by homeopathy and I don’t think the medicine had anything to do with defusing the drishti. But my good friends and colleagues often argued why I was so adamant about something so harmless which might, just might, do some good. This is why it is tough to get rid of superstitions because most of them seem totally harmless and if they worked, it was fine; if they didn’t, nothing lost. May be. But I wasn’t going to be party to something that cast a doubt on the rest of humanity as having an evil eye.

So there, I have told you, I do not have any problem about acceptance of your open praises and eulogies. So in case you have been holding them back for fear of being mistaken for kannu pottufying, please pull all stops and bring them on.
39 Responses
  1. Alapana Says:

    Sigh!!! When i was a kid my grand ma used to argue that my mom must not pack lemon rice for lunch and reasoning is that its bright yellow color will attract lot of people to look at it and that will cause Drishti:(((( Well, the said dish being my favorite i always took it but even today i feel a bit scared to look at someone eating lemon rice.
    When we recently had our house warming ceremony SIL brought a photo frame of Vigneshwara with nice big eyes, she said i need to hang it outside the house so that everyone will look at the photo and forget the house:(( Now i am in a fix,i want people to look at my house, praise it but then SIL's are always powerful part of married life and if you want to have a harmonious married life then you better not argue is the advice of my friend:))))
    And about the red chillies, i have been the victim of it as a child, huh, why childhood, till recently my colleague used to suggest me to tie a black thread around my leg so that i would not have the "Oh the very famous accidents" which i used to have regularly like hitting into the wall, skidding on the floor,great fall from the chair etc etc. One small black thread will help me from all this??? Hmmmm,i followed not that but just being careful and thankfully not many accidents now:)))
    But seriously performing special puja or the said methods of warding of an evil eye if have a solution for all our problems then life would have been so simple and we would have been brain less couch potatoes, Nothing needs to be done, use some drishti method and yoohoo,things are done:)
    But all said and done,if anyone does it all with out hurting others i let it be.If my mom brings me a black bead band to tie around my neck i take it from her and when she leaves the band goes into storage.
    But,But, if anyone wants to give me a special gold ring with a special stone or pearls etc etc then i am all ready, Drishti or no Drishti, gold in any manner won't hurt {specially now with the prices}

  2. Mama - Mia Says:

    Usha - i didnt believe in it at all till i got married! i still dont believe it at paranoia levels but Kabir does have black tika on his forehaed! i said a BIG no to the one on cheek!!! vanity vanity! :p

    my MILs is a firm believer of buri nazars! what is most exasperating about this is the fact that nothing good or happy can be shouted off the rooftops!! me, i am such a blabbermouth that i find it impossible not to share happy news with everyone around me!!

    i LOVE showing off Cubby and see him getting fawned over wherever we go! and then i love talking about it too! but i cant do it with her!

    law averages says that at some point or the other things are BOUND to go wrong! so doomsday predictors can NEVER be wrong! a paradox!! hehe!

    so i keep telling M the simple logic of life is what goes around comes around! if you have not been petty and jealouys of other peoples success and happiness, no reason why you should get the evil eye! :)

    a rambling comment as always!!!!

    really missed reading you! :)



    ps: didnt we heap enough praises in last two posts!!! some people!! ;)

  3. The post is so well composed! :)
    I belong to the "let's go ahead with the harmless superstition" club.. mostly when it comes to loved ones.

  4. Pradeep Nair Says:

    Sometimes these are strange. Sometimes for me, if I disclose to too many people my plan (may be an outing, or just anything) it fails to take place. It's difficult to find out the reason. Only accept that in life there are many inexplicable things.

  5. Shruthi Says:

    Such a well-written post! I am also often asked why I don't put any dots on my daughter's cheeks... when I say I don't believe in it, they ask me why not do it just to "be safe"!

    I have also been asked if the reason I don't put up snaps of my daughter on my blog, is because I am afraid of "drishti"! :D

  6. Praveen Says:
    This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Praveen Says:

    My paati always does this "drishti suthi" thing whenever I am in Chennai. She belives its coz of all that drishti I got polio in my 8th month. As a kid I used to run away before she gets the salt and the chillies. I don't like it, but at times indulge her, poor old granny.

    I know of this guy who works for one of the big 4 auditing firms. He went to this "swamiji" in Sivajinagar before his CA final exams to "drishti kazhuchify" with some hot lemon water and some nonsense poojas. he had lot of drishti it seems. He cleared his exams in the first attempt with high scores, but continues to beleive "this" as one of the reasons. I was laughing my ass off when he told me this.

  8. hillgrandmom Says:

    I would say 'Thy belief makes thee'. But Usha, it's true, most of us do feel guilty when we have many things in life going well. I know I for one always feel I don't deserve it.
    But then again I can't imagine that a benevolent Supreme Being would take away our happiness because we are happy about it!
    btw, When you think about it, in the old days, when the chilly thing probably originated for 'burinazar, the main thing you were exposed to, outside your home would have been all sorts of noxious infections and probably the fumes did drive away some of the infections around you(??)

  9. Sujatha Says:

    Drishti parikaram aside, how did the homeopathic medicine cure your child? Did you try allopathic remedies without any result?

    Homeopathy never worked for me, when I tried it. (But I was a lousy candidate for the placebo effect anyway.);)

  10. you are so eloquent.i'm not much of a believer, in superstition,though there are some who would take it to the limit, i don't walk under step ladders,a little wierd,i know...but i just don't want bad luck following me around :)

  11. rajk Says:

    It's amazing how, time after time, you come up with issues that are so relevant and yet, seemingly so commonplace that no one else seems to think of writing about it!! Congratulations, once again!
    I have this dilemma with my hubby very often. He tells me to 'kannu suthufy" our son every time someone compliments him and I don't want to do that but don't want to seem "a bad mother" for not wanting the "welfare of my child" either. Good to know someone else has gone thru such experiences...!!

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Well, superstition or not, the love behind their concern is what matters.. Have no problem with it. My grandparents are happy and i am too

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Wow, I admire your spunk. It takes a lot of that to tell people that you wouldn't even consider it. I sometimes tend to put up with somethings, beacuse my grandmother would have said it, and I wouldn't feel like arguing with her. It is amazing though how much confidence people would like to have on a black thread rather than themselves

  14. Anonymous Says:

    @usha:i've been told i am able to laugh and maintain cheer despite the shit falling over me.And as I begin to roll on, I am becoming a serious convert to the cause of drishti.And shucks!someone's put 'kannu' I can't find padigaram or readymade 'lemon and chillies' to hang around my neck or my house.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    This drishti thing irritates me too as often it is taken to ridiculous extremes. I think it originated when life events were more prone to the vagaries of fate. Today with modern medicine, professional education, lack of war, we are more in control of our destinies. In earlier days they needed to find some reason for the bad things which happened. Today we have only ourselves to blame. well, not all the time I guess, but to a large extent.

  16. Unmana Says:

    "There seems to be a kind of acceptance that misery is a natural state and happiness is temporary even if you have worked for it and earned it." Funny, when I've been happy for the last couple of years I often found myself afraid that things wouldn't last. I said to myself, "I'd never realized that the default state could be 'happy'." Somehow we don't seem to take happiness as a right.

  17. Indian in NZ Says:

    Someone's fishing for complements already get so many Usha !! Ok, here it goes again - Such a well written post always!! I mean it :-)

  18. Amita Says:

    Fishing for compliments indeed!
    But you're an awesome writer and I think its good to say nice stuff to people. I think that the whole evil eye thing is a projection. If you are a happy person and you rejoice in the good fortune of others, you don't fear the evil eye. But maybe thats just me!


  19. Rathi Says:

    Would it surprise you if I say that 'kan poduraaning' followed by the remedy of 'salt/camphor sutthuraaning' is alive and well in sunny Singapore? In my home (comprising of 2nd and 3rd gen singapore born indians), it has become an almost daily affair after the birth of my niece and nephew.
    I find it all rather strange that people actually blame a baby's incessant crying on a visitor's comment about how cute she is.
    An even stranger fact is that, my parents still follow this practise albeit having been born and brought up in Singapore.

  20. Unknown Says:

    I think that energies play an imp. role..and like all things there exists positive and neg. energy..while a baby falling ill might not be because someone just "kannu podafied" on him/her it may be because of some vague neg. energy projected towards them..I think that does have an effect. Maybe it is a slightly more scientific expl. that blaming it on plain ol' jealousy :)

    Tho yea I have never understood how salt and chillies can drive away neg. energy..that one baffles me!

  21. Unknown Says:

    Load of rubbish I say - we call it nojor legecchey . As if anyone has the time and energy to go casting the evil eye om others .

  22. Jane Turley Says:

    Nope, I don't believe in all that superstitious stuff either.. although come to think of it anything that might improve my cooking could be worth a shot.

    I always deliberately walk under's a kind of silly rebel of these days I'm going to get a pot of paint on my head.. or worse!

  23. Preethi Says:

    hehehe... loved the end!! kannu pottifying has plagued me too... or rather the drishti taking.. I am often asked drishti suthi podaraya by my grandmom and aunt and mil. In our house that means lighting a camphor and doing an arthi with that.. I keep telling them it will turn on the fire alarm so cant do that!! :P when my son was younger the kala tikka (drishti pottu) haunted me as people would keep asking me why I did not put it.. I dont believe in it/ he is a boy for heavens sake I dont want a bindi on him was just too difficult to explain... so I would say "Oh he is allergic!!" :P

  24. Anonymous Says:

    aiyo usha madamngo
    why you are encouraging all this
    kann pottufying ? Aalready aal these boys are doing wonly eye exercises by putting their kann on
    girls. Then these mamas/mamis with pretty daughters are going to say this usha mami only giving such advice to boys, and coming to fight. Just you are keeping catapult for self protection ? f

  25. I so so so agree with everything you say! You are not supposed to say that a child has eaten well. Immediately the plate will be rotated around the child's head :)

  26. Usha Says:

    Alapana: The kind of things people come up with - no lemon rice uh? I have seen this vinayaka in many places in chennai - apparently he is a new avtar of pullayar. He has lost his novelty already so people will look at the house, don't worry.
    It seems like you can write a thesis on the various maens adopted to ward off evil eyes! :)

    Mama-mia:I have seen most grandmoms insist on this black dot on the child's face. In my opinion, it makes the child look even cuter and the purpose is defeated!

    Bhai with chai: I suppose most superstitions belong to this category - we follow them without giving it a serious thought.

    Pradeep:Things go wrog - as they say, the best laid plans can go awry but I don't believe it is caused by evil eyes.


    S.praveen: It is natural human tendency to blame our misfortunes on others.
    So there are professional drishti removers? seems a lucrative profession.

    Hillgran:Do you think this si very Indian? To be guilty about our good fortune?
    I am not sure if chillies are known to do that - turmeric, yes.

    Sujatha:There was doctor called srinivasan on avenue road. We took the child once to him. Thereafter every month we would go and collect the tablets which he would pack after enquiring on progress. In 2years he was totally free of it and it never came back after that.
    I do not think this was a case of placebo for he was 4 months old.

    Rouhana: I guess certain beliefs get handed down and settle in our psyche. Then we fear to disregard them.

    rajk:such experiences oh, if it was elsewhere they'd have called child protection services I think. My neighbours were really cross with me.

    rithika: Ya , a love so blind that it fears the whole world to harm the loved one.

    Binaryfootprints: When you are trying to clutch at anything to give you hope, a black thread is probably a strong rope.

    Maami:Yes reading you, i would not have imagined that you have shit falling over you. if anything you come across as someone totally in control of everything in your life. Uhoh, I just kannu pottufied or what? sorry sorry.

    Nita: Totally agree. I am surprised when scientists avoid rahukala for satelite launches.

    Unmana: Dont blame you girl,it has been dinned into us from an early age.

    2b's mom: hehe, welcome.

    Amita: I feel good to offer praise where it is due but am always constrained by this drishti business - don't want to push it too much. :)

    rathi:Why am I not surprised? because I know the tamilians in singapore and srilanka still hold on to the practices and beliefs their ancestors carried with them centuries ago and refuse to give them up.

    Random vignettes:explain this to me, a mom is not supposed to look long and hard at her own child for fear of casting drishti. where is the possibility of negative feelings here?

    Mrs G(as Jane calls you!): Load of rubbish - I agree entirely.

    Jane: hahah, just the kind of thing I'd expect you to do. and when you get that paint on your head, please remember to take a picture and post it. ( wicked me!)I will send it to pierce and he will NEVER look at you again!

    Preethi: Oh yes, standard query:'suthi podaraya?'That means all is well with the child!

    James Mylaporean: aiyo Jamie uncle, naan apdo sollaliyakkum. adu sight podradu illayo. edukkum ennoda appla kozhaviyai ready ai vechukaren. Aaranum adikka vandakka use pannikalam illaya?

    Inq akka:yes you are supposed to lie about the weight, what he/she eats, how well he/ she sleeps. In fact in thye world of drishtidom, mom bloggers would be banned, methinks. :)

  27. Anonymous Says:

    My SIL had a healthy baby and whenever I enquired about the child's weight after a checkup she would give me some numbers. Only after I had a child of my own did I realise that she was lying about the weight so that her child does not incurr my dhrushti. It seemed so petty to even think that your own family would put dhrushti.

    Well written post.

  28. Hip Grandma Says:

    so right you are!i remember my g'daughter megha being colicky and myself saying 'she was playing so well all evening may be it was my own evil eye' and my son admonishing me and asking me to return my degrees.I did not really believe it yet i said it 'cos i had heard it so many times since childhood.

  29. Anonymous Says:

    I am often reminded by my parents and in-laws in India, that I should 'drishti suthify' my daughter, especially when she is sick or doesn't seem interested in eating. I have some limited belief in it - I do it when I remember, but I usually forget.
    On the other hand, I have been trying to buy a painted rakshasa face to hang outside my home during halloween - some interesting decoration, that cannot be found in the US.

  30. Swati Says:

    I also thought it was superstition till I had Aryan. Somehow I started believing little after the baby. And yes , Kala Tikka sure make them cuter :)

    Well written post as always!

  31. Anonymous Says:

    Thank god for small mercies that R... u maami is not in anyway connected to you.

    You write so well, your perseverance and diligence is amazing, your posts are interesting and lively, your facility with English language is excellent... Indha pugazh podhumaa innum koncham venumaa ... lol

    On a more serious note, your posts are amazing and the variety you bring to your blogs is brilliant.


  32. noon Says:

    Oh man - am I the only one here who actually is superstitious enough to say "Touch wood" (or such random things) to ward off my own "Dhrishti" when ever I say good things like "KB ate so well today!". Oh but Usha - it exists...a mother's dhrishti (not jealousy - but you know some other abstract thing!)'s partly just habit...partly a joke...but if my sister asks me how KB's eating is going or KG's is - I just say "DADT" - don't ask, don't tell! :)) To indicate it is going well but if I say it, the spirits will hear me and the next day he won't eat well!
    It's random I know..I don't do any of the "Aarthi" "block dot" type things to ward off dhrishti but I do feel scared to linger on and feel good about a day having gone well! :)

    And this post was hilarious - I was laughing so much! :) There - I have put kann! :)

    I know what you mean - I too feel nervous to say "Oh wow - kid is eating so well" or "wow - your child looks so healthy"! :) The next sniffle may then be balmed on me! :))

  33. DC Says:

    no new posts? hope nobody 'kannu potufied' seriously! hope all's well.

  34. Thought Room Says:

    Nice post, I am a great admirer of your blog, and your writing. Perhaps this kannu potufying happens because we spend too much of our time thinking what others may be thinking and feeling about us, not realising that every body is doing the same. Every body is too buzy thinking about themselves and their lives, and hardly have time to think of others, yet we find inventive ways to validate our beliefs that we and our lives are too important, and need to be protected.

  35. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Usha,

    Once i had a accident while riding my scooty, my mom went to the accident place and did the "nazar utharo" thing, me always a non beliver of supertitions felt so good after that. What made me feel good was the fact that my mom and family gave me so much importance and pampered me. Maybe these are the ways that you are made feel importatnt in your family. but
    Making someone else feel guilty and proving themselves to be superior using these supertitions in not human.

  36. Mahadevan Says:

    To cast an evil eye or warding off an evil eye are all age old practices. Some can be explained rationally, some cannot. When we build a house according to Vaastu, warding off the evil eye is inherent in it. Many vehicles in the Highways have slogans, warding off evil eyes. Some of the earlier rulers used to cultivate persons, capable of casting an evil eye.

    As for superstitions, some of the film producers exemplify this. Kapil Dev used to look at the Sun before going to the batting crease. When Kapil Dev was playing that great Innings in the 1983 World Cup, Manager Man Singh ordered that nobody should move and for nearly three hours everybody remained in the same posture. Mohinder Amarnath would have a red handkerchief hanging out of his left hip pocket.

    Superstition is inductive logic, without establishing causal connection.

  37. My mother and aunt raised me without superstitions. Growing up, I thought everyone agreed that superstitions were nonsense. But now that I've seen a bit more of the world, I think our species of great ape is inherently superstitious and, unless we are educated to not believe in superstitious things, our default position is to believe in them.

  38. Unknown Says:

    Hmmm I didnt know about the mother not staring at the baby that is certainly the silliest thing I have heard all day long...

  39. Anonymous Says:

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