What’s Your Superstition?

Watching Rafael Nadal’s pre point wedgie picking the other day, and his obsessive alignment of water bottles, stirred memories of the irrational superstitions that I grew up with.

They were mostly harmless. Perhaps nicer ways of getting children to comply with the norms of safety and propriety of the time, as compared to my daughter’s imperious, “Because I said so!” to her children’s umpteenth “Why?”. (She claims I suffer from selective amnesia, but I don’t remember ever sounding like that!)

Then again, try telling them – today’s precocious children – why bad luck will befall them if they cut their nails at dusk, or sneeze as they leave home or leave their shoes lying upside down, without getting into a protracted debate!

Not that we were gullible either. But we never dared question, how it was at all possible our dirty nails could sully God’s milk, that he always partook of at dusk!!! And we held back our sneezes, for fear of our outings getting scrapped. We never brought a wet umbrella into the house, and concealed from them, if God forbid, one of us ever broke a mirror. We did notice though, that they always had an antidote. A way of working around the bad omens!!

I seriously suspect the old wives who thought these tales up, must have been obsessive compulsive. And looking to save themselves some labour, while ensuring their families didn’t cut off more than their nails in poor light.

From Ipad 599 copy
Quick palm reading session in Gion, Kyoto

Belief in magical intervention, in luck if you will, plays to people’s inherent need to find connections where none exist. The knowledge feeling that you have somehow aligned all the forces of the universe behind you, is said to aid success. Nadal and scores of other athletes are proof!

But there are the negative claims that corrode the mind and affect one’s decision making. The dependence on astrology and auspicious times for example, the belief that certain people are impure and inauspicious. or that the way a wife dresses, or not, can affect her husband’s lifespan!!! I cannot for the life of me, imagine what good these irrational beliefs could have effected then or now.

As an adult, I have always prided myself on being a rational, logical human being. Even when my daughter accused me of hypocrisy, for donning my symbols of marriage – a sari, my black beads, the sindhoor – every time I went visiting my ailing mother in law. That was respect and consideration, not belief. I know her (the daughter’s) generation will not pretend, and I respect that too. And envy them that liberation.

But when I travel, and the locals tell me it will bring me luck to circumambulate a stone scarab in Luxor, or traverse three consecutive bridges in Suzhou, or touch the Madonna’s orb at Montserrat, I ignore my husband’s smirk and just go along, for the fun of it. (I did draw the line at caressing Dalida’s boobs!). 

And on the days I leave home for an important appointment, and realise I need to go back in, to pick up the car keys I have left behind in the rush, I swear I can hear my dear, departed mother-in-law’s disapproving voice, urging me to set my butt down for a few seconds, to nuetralise the bad luck that I have surely brought upon myself by turning back! On those days, depending on how desperate I am for a favourable outcome at the meeting, irrationality wins, and I do a quick curtsy atop the closest chair, before racing out, ready for battle. If it works for Nadal…….

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“If a black cat crosses your path, it signifies
that the animal is going somewhere.”
~ Groucho Marx

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Hi, I'm Madhu. Wanderer. Travel blogger. Story teller. Bitten late and hard by the travel bug, I am on a mission to make up for lost time.

52 thoughts on “What’s Your Superstition?

  1. A very interesting post Madhu. It does look as if a few believe in the superstition of not caressing Dalida’s boobs! 🙂

  2. What a fun post, Madhu. I ADORE Rafa Nadal, and keep my fingers crossed that he has a long, fruitful tennis career because he is an absolute joy to watch. But I DO worry about him and his many tics and rituals. There are times I think he’s going to wear himself out before he ever serves the ball!!

    My only superstition is to try not speak of events or plans that I’m excited about, because you know…sometimes fate : ) stands in the way….

    1. I adore him too Elisa! Guess he doesn’t want to upset whatever cosmic alignment is working for him right now! That doesn’t say much for his self confidence 😀

  3. Madhu, I really enjoyed this post. As a kid I encountered the usual western superstitions – black cat, walking under a ladder, broken mirror – I have no idea where those came from! But my Mom’s only seriously held superstition was the fear of having a bird in the house – so having a canary as a pet was out of the question. I remember the one day a sparrow managed to mistakenly fly in through an open window, My Mom (normally very level headed) totally freaked out. I think she scared the poor bird more than it frightened her! 🙂 Needless to say, I finally coaxed the little bird out … and nothing bad happened … but it certainly was memorable! ~Terri

    1. I can imagine her panic! I could fill several posts with my mother in law’s paranoias and her state of panic when no one would pander to them, and she was certain the worst kind of calamity would befall the family. She was very annoyed when an astrologer told her she would never suffer any grief whatsoever, except those of her own making. We never let her forget it 😀

  4. Thoroughly enjoyed this post! 😀 and I can relate to quite a bit of it – some from your, and some from your daughter’s perspective 😀 I wonder which ritual the Bryan Twins forgot – but yay for Leander!

  5. Great post Madhu.
    I offer my own life-long superstition. I’ve no idea where it came from and I’m unclear about the penalties for not adherin g to it: I’m alive and well after all.
    I am required,nee forced to hold the collar of my shirt if I come across a herse in motion (important) carrying a coffin and continue holding it until I see a four legged animal.

    It seems innocuous enough but I have driven one-handed for many miles into the country in search of sheep, cows, goats and dogs and cats, or headed for a city park where I might find a dog-walker to relieve me of my burden.

    My son Jack (going on 27) is hooked by the same compulsion.

    There’s no choice, you understand?

    1. You are joking right??? If you aren’t, you should consider a permanent move to India. At least you wouldn’t have to drive far to find four legged creatures 😀

  6. Oh, Madhu! You have set me thinking…. and remembering… I was always the culprit in the sneezing-as-you-are-leaving department and how loud my mother’s silence would be then!
    There was also the eating out of the pan thing (then your marriage-day was doomed to bad weather). In sheer stubbornness, I would insist on eating the last rice handful in the pan mixed with the dal lining the sides and bottom, and would you believe it? it rained cats and dogs on my marriage day. Thankfully my mother was too preoccupied to make the connection, but in my head, I did! And I wonder, if those superstitions are supported by good solid empirical proof.

    Great post, my friend! I shared your blog with my English class at college. They loved it.

    1. Ha, in Mangalore eating raw grated coconut was said to result in a very wet wedding day and mine was the last, day long downpour of the season! I remember wishing I hadn’t indulged quite that often 😀
      Honoured that you thought my blog fit to share with your class Meenakshi. Thank you for your constant support. See you soon 🙂

  7. Loved this post Madhu. Reminded me of all the crazy superstitions we were subject to while growing up… Don’t cut your hair on Thursdays, don’t cross over your baby brother while he’s sleeping… He won’t grow tall (he is 6 ft tall now BTW), don’t hand a knife or scissor directly to someone… It will lead to a fight, spotting one black bird means you will have a sorrowful day, two would mean joy… Yadda, yadda, yadda. Thought I was beyond it all, till this weekend when I realized that I don’t want to live in an apartment on the 13th floor… Cos 13 is my “unlucky” number. Yeesh! Also loved your gallery. What an interesting collection of photos from around the globe 🙂

  8. Very interesting post, Madhu! I so enjoy reading (first I wrote hearing – I think I can almost hear you…) about old habits and superstitions from your part of the world. I didn’t recognize that many – but some.

    The Marx’ quote about the black cat is very funny, because that is something I cannot get rid of…I have to say ” tvi, tvi, tvi” if such a cat crosses my road in order not to bring bad luck on me. I also never walk under a ladder. Those two things never seem to leave me…otherwise I don’t have any problems with old superstitions.

    I can well understand what you write about dressing up in a special way out of respect and the things you sometimes do for the fun of it. these are the ways I have too.

    1. Guess we all have our “Why tempt fate?” moments 😀
      To say you can almost hear me, is the best compliment I can think of Ann Christine! Thank you so much.

  9. It most certainly does seem to be working for Rafa, so I’m not going to knock it, Madhu. 🙂 Thanks for making me smile.
    Mam would never have her hair cut on a Friday and it stays with me still, however dumb. My husband went off to have a haircut last Friday, despite my warning him. “What?” was his response, with a withering look. Should I ooze sympathy that he’s not had a good week? (smug smile 🙂 )

  10. you have set me thinking Madhu, but cannot find anything more than “cross your fingers” for good luck and “touch wood” for guaranteeing a certain outcome … yours are marvellous and intriguing, I too wonder how could they have developed and become so powerful over the years (glad to hear that village is progressing past the horror of untouchability) … however like you I do join in local customs when visiting sacred places, for fun, and to deepen the experience of being there 🙂

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