Beyond belief

Superstitions exemplify the saying, 'One man's meat is another man's poison.'

After a function that went off extremely well on November 13, I overheard someone remark, “Good thing it was Thursday, not Friday!” Possibly, the event would have proved as successful if the 13th had been a Friday. Millions worldwide, however, regard that number, coupled with that day, as a catastrophic combination.

Even my mother, generally quite rational, attributed a fall she had on February 13, 2009, to the fact that it was Friday. The following year, exactly on that date, she lost her sister. I gently pointed out that this greater calamity had taken place, not on Friday but Saturday the 13th!

There is no doubt that superstition is ingrained in the human psyche. My brother and I once had a cat named Lizzy. She was black and beautiful, and we loved her dearly. Not everyone shared our fondness.

On one occasion, as Lizzy sat sunning herself on the gatepost, our landlord approached the house to collect his rent. Sighting the feline, he turned around and drove away. Although our pampered pet, who shunned exercise, had not stirred from her perch, it seemed to the man that a black cat had crossed his path.

Since in some countries black cats are supposed to bring luck, superstitions exemplify the saying, ‘One man’s meat is another man’s poison.’ What somebody views as innocuous might strike another as inauspicious.

Nearly five decades ago, I was visiting my friend Saroj and a lizard fell on me. As I was able to shake it off, I was not unduly upset but Saroj’s mother was overwrought. Dragging me to the bathroom, she poured a bucket of water over me. Saroj later explained that if a lizard landed on anyone, the person would drop dead. I was alive only because the considerate creature had alighted on my shoulder instead of my head.

When I was not at Saroj’s house, she was at mine. She would come over after school to play board games. Before settling down on the living-room floor, we would make ourselves comfortable by removing our sandals. While I left one or both of mine upside down, Saroj always put hers together in a ready-to-wear position.

To do otherwise, she said, was to invite misfortune. I used to tease her about it, especially when she went through a losing streak at Ludo or Snakes-and-Ladders. Illogical though Saroj’s fixation then appeared, lately I find myself placing my slippers by my bed in her meticulous manner.

I have to be particularly careful with footwear this season. Among the superstitions attached to Christmas is one that warns people against giving away shoes belonging to loved ones. Apparently, this charitable deed will not, as one might expect, earn extra gifts from Santa. Rather, donors will be left gaping in shocked disbelief as their family members walk out on them!

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