Struggles of the Rational Evil Eye

Last week was great; closed some long-anticipated deals, recruited a great leader to the team, had lots of positive press from external visits; and then, on Tuesday, SMACK! Got hit by a racquetball and ruptured my eardrum with 2 holes and now I have significant hearing loss.

Whenever things seem to be going great, why do accidents like these happen? One has to wonder if these accidents just happen to me? Just when things seem to be moving along “great”, a projectile comes from the “left field” that knocks me off base.

There was a time, when I prescribed to the notion that life just “happens”. One day you are really happy, followed by a sad day and then again swinging back – imitating a perpetual pendulum; there was, really, no point in planning or strategizing outcomes. Someone in my undergrad statistics class told me that “Life is a Bell Curve”; 10% happiness, 10% sadness and everything else, is kinda “in-between” or as Bangalees would say, mota-muti (Just OK).

Is that what life’s about? Do we get doses of good and bad news on an (almost) alternate basis? Or maybe when we are ‘riding high’, we tend to let down our guards and are typically prone to make more mistakes.

There are some friends who view life from somewhat of a dark angle; their view: life is nothing but a series of disasters and accidents, and one has to be paranoid about everything/everybody. Having drunk the coolaid from a glass that’s always half full, somehow, I have avoided the subscription from the Gloom Doom Quarterly.

Now let’s take a completely different angle. Maybe it’s not all “rational”; maybe we can take the superstitious route of eastern cultures, where the concept of Nojor (the Evil Eye) is common. From the northern African villages to the great expanses of Turkey, India or reaching all the way into China, billions of people, for centuries, have taken the concept of “evil eye” with different degrees of seriousness.

It is a common belief in eastern cultures, that, whenever something good happens, there are evil spirits lurking from that dark corner and BAM! a racquetball hits you. In Bangladesh, the dearest of your possessions (typically young babies) are spotted with a black dot on their forehead so that this Nojor thing does not get this cute baby sick. The cultural psyche of Nojor is so strong, that one of the common characteristics of Bangladeshis, when asked how they are doing, will never say, “Fantastic”, or even “Great”. Typically they will clasp and rotate their wrists, and describe their condition as “Mota Muti”… meaning not very good but not bad either; Just OK.

In the West, there are similar superstitions when we notice the concepts of “knocking on wood” or “keeping one’s fingers crossed” when things are going good. When you are born in the superstitious corridors of the East but grow up in the rational West, it feels like one side of my brain craves for rationality and tells me that everything has a reason (or mathematical calculation); on the other hand, my irrational Eastern brain is pleased with American Airlines when it doesn’t see a 13th row on their aircrafts.

As I look at my children, who are not tortured by these dualities, sometimes, I wonder how these mysteries will figure on their psyche. I admire and appreciate their sense of the casual, care-free spirit where these superstitions haven’t (yet) burdened them. My four year old has the natural instinct of what’s good and bad for her. She is inherently cautious by the pool and leery of strangers; her instincts seem to guide her a lot better than all our experiences.

We will let them be their free self and form their own beliefs; however, the beautiful “Nazar” we got from Istanbul is hanging by the door that protects us. Not because some evil genie will visit us; but because it puts our mind at peace; this discombobulated Eastern/Western brain is not yet ready to take any risks; it’s almost like a low premium life insurance. I want to believe I will never need it. But I haven’t yet learned how to live without it.


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