Two for joy

A resolution to stop being superstitious. Touch wood!

January 13, 2017 04:28 pm | Updated 04:45 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar

This New Year, I made just one resolution – to stop being superstitious. Belief is a constant flip-flop between the rational and the irrational. Your logical mind comes in handy when a superstition isn’t working in your favour, as when the sight of an all-black jungle crow in solitary splendour makes you recall the ‘one for sorrow, two for joy’ rhyme stuck in your head from school. ‘All hogwash!’ you rationalise. ‘How can one poor crow that is blissfully ignorant of your existence bring you sorrow?’

Yet, let that selfsame poor, ignorant crow return with another poor, ignorant and equally dark companion and your good sense evaporates; your heart thrills at the sight. You exclaim delightedly, ‘Two for joy!’ One promptly bombs your head with enviable precision and the other squawks in unholy glee. Oh joy! The experience ought to rid you of this belief; instead you end up convincing yourself the opposite is what works for you – that one black crow brings happiness, number thirteen is lucky, a black cat crossing your path signifies glad tidings, a fork falling with a clink on the floor might win you a lottery…There’s always a way to work around these things.

I remember the occasion when my husband walked into the kitchen unannounced and found me standing with my head thrown back and hand flung over the left shoulder, my fingers seemingly flicking air. “Are you practising to bowl left-handed?” he asked, impressed.

I gave a guilty start. He had entered with feline noiselessness and like a child who is caught red-handed with hand inside the sugar bowl, I jerked my hand back. He continued to linger and sure enough, spotted the salt lying about on the floor. “Salt!” he exclaimed, pleased with the quick identification.

“Yes, I dropped it,” I confessed.

“But what an odd way to scoop it up!” he commented. “Were you combining that with some stomach-flattening exercise?”

I came clean. “It’s bad luck to spill salt. Tossing some grains over your left shoulder will neutralise the bad luck.”

The diehard sceptic scoffed. “What rot!”

“Whether you believe in it or not,” I added quickly, seeking refuge in the physicist Niels Bohr’s words. The story goes that a journalist, surprised to find a horseshoe hanging over the Nobel laureate’s door, asked him how a scientist could be superstitious. Bohr is supposed to have replied, ‘whether you believe in it or not, I understand it brings you luck.’

“That superstition originated because salt was very expensive in ancient times …” my husband switched to his lecture mode. I stalled the torrent of words.

“Yes, yes, and wasn’t to be wasted. I know that; I’m not completely ignorant,” I sniffed, surreptitiously pitching some salt over my shoulder. Quite a few superstitions have a rational story behind them which gets blurred as time passes while the superstition thrives.

I glanced through a book on Indian myths and superstitions and was amazed at the wealth of superstitious beliefs it recorded. We don’t need to import superstitions; we have more than enough to take us through all our rebirths. With good days and good times to visit or begin something new, what colours to wear, whose face to see and whose to avoid, which foot to put forward first, what direction to take as you set out, it’s a miracle things actually gets done here.

Most people take refuge in the buffer of superstition to justify any misfortune. If someone had a bad fall, relatives reassure them – “don’t worry, something dreadful was on the cards, but fortunately this minor accident circumvented it.”

A friend, on hearing about a death, remarked with tongue-in-cheek black humour, “some awful calamity had been earmarked for him, but luckily, it was dodged this way.”

Do examiners know that candidates get good scores because they wear the same ‘lucky’ set of stinking clothes for all the exams? Is the Indian cricket team aware that they win matches because viewers freeze themselves till the end in the awkward positions they had adopted when the first opposition wicket fell? Does Nadal realise he won the 2008 Wimbledon because I watched the final seated cross-legged on the floor, head at an angle - the position I was in when he first broke Federer’s serve in the third game? My legs were numb for hours, I got a crick in the neck, but Nadal bested Federer and that’s what mattered.

But no more foolishness. January 1 was a Sunday, and Sunday was an auspicious day to stop being superstitious. I’m keeping my fingers crossed...


[A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academic and author of the Butterfingers series]

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