As good Catholics, we were indoctrinated into believing that any misfortune that befell us was the will of God. And we had no problem in accepting the teachings when it came to matters relating to Mother Nature. After all, it was obvious that no mortal could ever challenge Mother Nature’s fearsome aspects of thunderstorms, lightningstrikes, high winds, and other awesome forces.
However, we didn’t blame the Almighty for all our misfortunes. We attributed some lesser misfortunes to certain individuals who were supposedly endowed with supernatural powers to harm us. These individuals were believed to have an ‘evil eye’ or the power of disht.
In the village of Saligão, a handful of women had gained the notoriety of having an evil eye. The one who lived in our ward was named Conçeição, but who we called “Consu mauxi” (Aunt Consu). Her brother, Elias, was the escrivão – the village clerk who was also a facilitator in matters involving the Comunidade and district bureaucracy.
Conçu mauxi had a hooked nose and a permanent frown, and she walked with a stoop. She was fair skinned, wore light coloured saris, and was actually quite a nice person. I always greeted her as I would any other village elder and, as far as I could tell, she was no different from any other older woman in the village. But, she was known to have an evil eye.
The women with the evil eye were not witches as depicted in fairy tales, and neither was there anything sinister in the way they looked upon others. But it was believed that they harboured a latent envy that would activate the disht whenever they’d express their admiration of a person. The disht was then supposed to afflict the other person with some form of an ailment.
If I ever happened to break out in a rash, or come down with a sudden fever, or diarrhoea or some such ailment, my grandmother, Mãe, would first attribute my affliction to disht while my mother would take me to the doctor. Mãe would then ask me to recall the older women I had met in the days preceding my illness, particularly on a day when, for example, I was dressed in my Sunday best on my way to church. The interrogation would lead her to single out the evil doer who she would get to dispel the disht by having her rub her hand three times down my back followed by a pat on the shoulder.
But Mãe would be very careful not to point an accusing finger at the individual. She achieved this tactfully by asking a few of her friends, including the alleged evildoer, to do the back-rubbing bit so that they all felt they were collectively helping dispel the disht.
The other method of dispelling disht cast by an unknown person called for a combination of sorcery and divine intervention, a ritual that my grandmother had me go through a couple of times.
I’d stand in the kitchen in my pyjama pants while grandmother would place a few dried red clillies with some grains of alum in a clay crucible, set a match to the chillies, and wave the crucible several times all over my body as I recited the “I Believe”.
If the burning chillies didn’t sizzle, it was taken to be a sign of evil eye… and the wafting smoke would supposedly create an image of the evildoer.
Now, I don’t know if it was sorcery, divine intervention or modern medicine that did the trick, but I would somehow make a speedy recovery. Perhaps my unquestioning acceptance of all three courses of action kept me safe from more serious ailments.
One way to describe disht, I suppose, is to say that if we fell ill in them days, it was because somebody else had an eye on our good health.