Monday, 14 July 2014


India, being the hub of diverse cultures and traditions, is also home to myriad superstitions. There superstitions abound. They are usually attributed to lack of education. Yet, they are followed stringently, even by the so-called liberated, modern, scientific minds. Though most of them don't want to believe them, these practices are so deep rooted that Indians are not prepared to take the risk of ignoring them. Some of these beliefs are centuries old and have a story behind that makes them logical, but we simply forget why we started doing it and now do it mechanically. Some have their basis in religious beliefs, others in scientific facts and others in no conceivable reason.
One superstition that cracked me up was when one of the cooks, Anitha, after witnessing two or three of the rows I had with my 'bosses' there (showing my strong character, which is something a woman never does in India), stared at my toes and blurted, "Now I know why your husband left you! Your index toes are longer than your big toes! That's why!" I laughed my ass off!
On another occasion I was cutting my nails and some of my students screamed blue murder. They came running to warn me of the dangers of doing so on that day. I don't remember which day it was, but one of them told me that cutting your nails on a Friday or Tuesday is considered bad luck. But then another student said that it was not on a Tuesday, but on a Thursday. So... And the same happens with your hair. Mind you which day you go to the hairdresser's!
A separate chapter is needed for menstruation! That is a taboo. Nobody speaks openly about having their period or needing a sanitary towel. I've also had some funny stories trying to 'smuggle' a sanitary napkin in a class. Menstruating women are considered impure and unclean. This, of course, gives rise to many superstitious beliefs. Women on their period can't touch certain plants. They would die (the plants, not the women). One day, Leena, the other cook, whispered in my ear to pluck some leaves of a plant to cook; she said she couldn't do it because she had 'that thing'. When I told her that I also had 'that thing', we had to go and find a purer soul to do it.
A woman who is menstruating is also supposed to stay away from temples, mosques and all religious spots in the house itself. The cleaner in charge of sweeping the church next to the school where I taught had to ask the other cleaner to do it. She simply crossed herself and went past the church.
When a girl's first menstruation arrives there is a ritual. The girl is specially dressed and decorated with bracelets and mehndi; she has meetings with women as well as the whole family. Each girl undergoes a short separation time, when she is fed special food to get extra strength. During this time she is visited by friends; she can't leave the house (for 9 days, if I remember correctly). Elder women sing songs for her and prepare her a scented bath. She is usually wrapped in beautiful fabric and she receives presents.
Astrology is an integral part of Indian culture. Even today, many people prefer to do some things such as entering a newly made home, fixing a marriage proposal or a marriage date, starting a new business, etc., according to their astrological belief. These auspicious dates are often decided by an astrologer.
Then they have the lizards. If a lizard makes a sound when you make a statement, that's a good omen. It indicates that what you said is true. If a lizard falls on your body, that also means something. And they do fall! Never in my life has a 'Spanish' lizard fallen on me. Yet, while I was in India, they fell on me every other day! If one falls on your head, then you are ready for a clash; if it falls on your shoulder, that means victory; if it falls on your hands, you may expect financial profits. And that goes on and on and on.
Another jinx is seeing a black cat. Especially when you're going to work. You are supposed to turn round, go back into your house, pray and then go to work. Either you do that or your work that day won't be successful.
Never ever use your left hand to give or take anything (you know what the left hand is used for in India!).
It also brings bad luck standing in a doorway. You cannot stand on the threshold. You either get in or out. That is exactly the opposite of what we are told here, where there is risk of having earthquakes.
And the last superstition I can recall has to do with babies. This one made me laugh out loud! Anitha had a baby. You know that Indians make a fuss about the skin colour. The darker, the uglier! So, Anitha had a pretty dark baby. She is quite dark, too. So no surprise whatsoever (for me). She admitted that she was to blame, but not because she is rather black, but because she didn't have pomegranate or powder milk while she was pregnant! If she'd had, the result would have been completely different. I wonder if Indians think that the mothers of albino children are on a pomegranate and powder milk diet all their pregnancies and the diet gets out of hand at some point. Ah! I had forgotten! Women always sit on the floor to do all the tasks, but during her pregnancy she insisted on sitting on the floor and not using one of the low stools we had in the kitchen. The reason? If you sit on a stool or a chair while you are pregnant, your child's nose will be huge! My mother must have sat somewhere really high!
Another superstition babies have to put up with is having that kohl dot their mothers put on their faces to ward off evil eye. The 'logic' behind this process is that doing so makes the child in question look ugly, and therefore unattractive to the evil eye.
I possibly forgot some of the superstitious stories, but with this bunch you can have an idea of how credulous (I didn't want to use the word gullible) Indians are!