My mother’s large collection of superstitions is a well-known fact in the family, one that is exasperating, secretly scoffed at, and even argued hotly over, but true, and there, nevertheless.
Umpteen instances of deliberately continuing to walk on when a black cat ran across the road in front of me – and suffering no particular bad luck – had not inured her to the horror of the situation. She still shrieked.
And many long years of coming back daily to pick up something I had forgotten, when I had just set out for office, still drew the same comment: ‘Not one morning passes without your coming back!’ I still shrieked.
Amma’s blind beliefs have become a family joke over the years. When she comes up in the morning with ‘I know something bad is going to happen today. I saw three black crows in my dream last night’, most of us exchange knowing looks, hide a smirk and get on with life as usual. The son used to be fascinated by Amma’s predictive powers and wait morbidly all day for disaster to strike. But that was many years ago. Now he, too, has joined the hide-a-smirk brigade.
But then, I began to notice the husband set off on the superstition route as well. It began when the Ma-in-Law was travelling to South Africa and I wanted to wash my hair. He put his foot down. ‘You don’t wash your hair when someone in the family is travelling,’ he told me firmly. ‘Oh yes, I do,’ I told him equally firmly, and proceeded.
Unhappily for me, the Ma-in-Law suffered a medical problem during her trip and even had to be hospitalized. It took me a year to convince the husband that it was not my clean hair that had made her ill. Defiantly, but not without a little trepidation, I still wash my hair every day, whether people are travelling or not, and then keep my fingers crossed. After all, one cannot give way to blind beliefs just like that.
To my amazement, the husband then began reading the weekly, daily, monthly horoscopes churned out by the print media, and worse, believing in them. To keep pace with him, I began reading them, too. I lost all faith in ‘man’kind the day I asked him whether he realized that those forecasts were being recycled on a periodic basis, and he said he did, but continued reading them nevertheless. And I had believed all these years that I had married a logical, no-nonsense engineer.
All that horoscope reading was bound to show results. And it did. On Monday, the husband needed a yellow shirt. We managed. On Tuesday, he demanded a black on blue colour scheme. At my wit’s end, I unearthed an old college shirt. The cuffs reached just below his elbows, and the buttons just about held together across his chest, but he went off as pleased as, well, a college boy. Wednesday brought red, but I was prepared – I had already bought him a red shirt on Tuesday. Thursday was blue, easily solved.
But Friday brought a shock – it demanded a pink shirt. I watched the husband swallow his discomfiture in no small triumph. This was the man who had refused to let me dress his one-month-old son in pink because ‘pink was not for boys’. But the pull of astrology was strong. As soon as the shops opened, the husband’s wardrobe witnessed the addition of a spanking new ‘pink’ shirt.
But the fun really began when we started looking for a plot of land to buy. That was the day a force bigger than astrology – Vaastu – entered our lives! This piece of land would not do, it faced due south. That one was West-facing, it was inauspicious. This one was Sher-Mukha – meaning the frontage was larger than the backyard. A Gau-Mukha – the opposite – was preferable. All very well, but we just could not afford those delectable plots of land that were absolutely correct Vaastu-wise. And what we could afford would not do for my husband. So we dithered for over two years, while property prices climbed and climbed.
Then one day, when I was almost despairing of finding that just-right piece of land and dreading spending every Sunday – as I had done for as long as I could remember now – chasing brokers and gazing at overgrown properties, the husband announced that he had found a plot. We went to look at it, and I could not stop laughing. It was a Sher-Mukha, facing south-west. No two sides were equal and the angles were crazy. Worse, we must have been the only people in the country to own a five-sided property!
‘Why?’ I asked the husband. ‘It was so inauspicious, it was a good four thousand bucks cheaper per square metre than anything around it. Isn’t that a saving?’ Well, suffice it to say that I’d back bania instincts to win against the stars any day.
First published in The Financial Express.