It was 9 pm at night and we had just ventured out on our customary walk. Having tuned into an early dinner followed by a stroll in the pleasant climes of wintry Mumbai, my husband was in for a shock as I made a sprint unannounced. One moment I was by his side and the next I was not. It was not until a few score meters away from him that I lost the momentum or rather gave up on it, the cause of the same not yet apparent to him. Grinning to myself and repeatedly turning back to check that he had not abandoned me in what seemed like the latest of my eccentricities he was not willing to indulge me in. What he did not notice was that it was not only him that I was checking for, but also the object of my fascination or revulsion rather, that I was confirming I had left far behind.
You see right as we turned the corner outside our house, did I come face to face with the green-eyed, four-legged, black feline shape. Yes, it was a black cat sauntering (seems the act was new to me not to that species) alongside, with an inclination to walk across the road, right when I was going to pass the way. Superstitions galore, my sprint was an attempt to beat it at it, lest I was bestowed with ill-luck for the rest of the hour. This maybe in the form of unmasked creatures breathing close to me, or an argument lost to the better half, or worse still, what if a speeding car were to come my way and and and… I mean the possibilities are immense of the kind of ill-luck that may befall one, were the feline of a certain color to cross your path.
Perhaps the ill-luck would have lasted beyond the hour, say in terms of a bad night of sleep, or maybe even to the next day. Perhaps that very treasured gift I had ordered for my daughter (at the last minute) didn’t reach on time because of the delivery delay. What if the speeding car that spared me the previous night were to make an angry unknown turn towards the … Okay so you get the point. Here I was breaking into a sprint so that I would save myself and all concerned the ill-effects of a black cat crossing my path. Having accomplished the requisite, thanks to the agility of my mind and body at that hour of the day, I proudly turned to look at the feline shape, which was walking (sauntering, sorry) on exactly the same side of the road that it had been on. Perhaps similar thoughts had passed its mind, the minute I had crossed its path!
A true believer of all that could not be explained, I remember the time my mother used to ensure we had a spoon of curd before leaving for what could be a life-changing performance- yes, my Board exams. It was supposed to bring me good luck, or perhaps simply keep the gut managed while I engaged in gutsy behaviour in the Board room. Yes, much as I hated what having a spoon of curd rather than a nice aftermint, did to my already-busy-with-digesting-a-hearty-breakfast stomach, I religiously followed the ritual. In fact, a true believer in it – after all, I was the school topper for the high school Boards- I have very religiously followed the practice with my relenting spouse and very supportive daughter. Of course, hoping that the latter would continue this good luck charm way into her adult years. However, we have had times when the curd didn’t set, so we had to manage with the falvoured yogurt purchased for breakfast. Flavoured of otherwise, curd should do its job!
But what I have had to always be wary of is the unpredictable sneezing that I was told brings bad luck especially when someone is departing from the house. In fact, at my relatives’, growing up, I remember the time we risked missing our scheduled train connection, all because one of the staff, (unaware of the consequences a sneeze could bring) was indulging in rummaging through a dusty storeroom, just when we were all set to say our good-byes at the door. Of course, much later in life, as I developed several allergies of the olfactory variety, I have had to give up on maintaining this jinx. You see, otherwise, no one got anywhere on time, and it led to several altercations of the domestic type, especially as my better half, early on in our marriage worried about what other eccentricities of mine would he discover. This especially since he assumed he had married one very highly educated, professionally-well regarded woman. The power of belief not being what he believed in, was an unknown which his logical, data oriented brain was unable to get its arms around.
In fact, he went onto tell me about this pet cat he once had of the – yes, you guessed it right- black variety- which he reared for almost two years during his tween age. But alas, as ill luck befell his house in the form ill-health, there were several who persuaded (or rather dissuaded) his vulnerable mother into not having that dark presence around. Poor child, returned from school one day to discover the little friend missing from its cozy basket. Crying, sulking, he had already learnt the effect a belief could have on the minds of people who otherwise were the epitome of scientific study, and being highly placed in educational institutions of yore.
While at it, I cannot but add my experience about the time I was taught to not call out to someone who was leaving the home (oops, I have done it again), say, to go to office, school, airport, or wherever it is. Obedient a child as I am, and a hard core believer in that which we cannot explain, I had no choice but to keep it within me that my father had forgotten to pick up his air ticket (this was before life went paperless). Having let him depart without the necessity, I shared the discovery with my mother as soon as she had turned back from the door, only to be made to do a sprint to the gate before the reversing car changed gears to lurch ahead to its journey.
You see, sprints are a part of my upbringing as much as the belief in beliefs. After all, it is what ensures mind over body and not the other way round! What would we be without the fun of rituals and rules, inexplicable as they may be, with questions and theories of origins being many!