The twilight zone of reason

The twilight zone of reason

Satya Mohanty

We, Indians, are most likely to live in the twilight zone of superstition and science, mostly in the same order. When Mahmud of Ghazni attacked the Somnath Temple, the priests, instead of seeking help from the nearby rulers, decided to use powerful mantras to stop his advance. Inevitably, it did not happen. Then, following their plan B, the priests decided to get inside Garbhagriha, close the door with sarpaphasa and chant mantras to impede the invader from entering the sanctum sanctorum. But the invaders finally broke in, and beheaded all the priests.

The recent solar eclipse was the moment for me to realise this life in the twilight. I got a message from a well-wisher, advising the chanting of Suryagayatri mantra for health, wealth and prosperity for one year. Why one year? Why not longer? Answers to these questions were not available on hand. It got me thinking whether there was any proof, or is it handed down as distilled wisdom because the generation earlier believed in it. It was an untested statement.

During Covid management, a senior state functionary was emphatic that ayurvedic medicine offered to some people was showing good results. She was silent whether a simple randomised control trial was carried out. Predictably, the story fell flat, despite extravagant claims. In a scientific problem, soothsaying was being used and great disservice to ayurveda was done. Practitioners of ayurveda have come out with their own concoctions, priced high, and many are marketing it as a cure for Covid. Arguably, good herbal medicines for increasing immunity are being peddled. Preying on corona scare, marketing of repurposed drugs for immunity looks like the sale of ‘snake oil’ for a bomb. No test, no clinical trials and no scientific findings were put out. Many may ask what is there to be proved, as our ancestors had said so. But our ancestors never faced this virus. Charlatans are out with their hocus-pocus and they are being edified for this.

So was the claim on International Yoga Day that pranayam can cure Covid-19. Where is the proof or positive evidence? Pranayam does improve breathing, but is not necessarily a talisman against a new virus. An exaggerated claim cannot ensure that the rubber meets the road. Finally, it would be a disservice. On television, there was a debate between three astrologers and a doctor. Usual suggestions were to wear some stone or to conduct puja. The doctor point-blank asked where was the evidence! For a natural phenomenon, how can the antidote be in a stone?

Al-Biruni, the 10th-century Iranian polymath, has recorded that his invitation to wise people in India for discussion met with indifference. They were not interested in learning or sharing knowledge or in the verification or validation of the methods by which science grows. If you live in the twilight zone, semi-darkness is inevitable, as is pushing science away from life.

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