lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Monday, June 05, 2006

Knock on wood

When it happened the first time I was surprised and amused; now I get irritated.

Consider this: you are in a car in the residential sections of the city and a cat saunters across the street. The driver stops the car, reverses a little and then goes on.

Cabbies in Calcutta are big on this superstition. There are a lot of cats in my area and I use cabs all the time. Like Queen Victoria but in plebeian singular, I am not amused any more.

Superstitions are rife, and many are personal fetishes or talismans or a very private belief about tapping into a fount of good luck. We don't remember the origins or rationale that became a superstitious way doing any thing; yet we indulge in superstition, even now in the glorious twenty-first century.

Do you have a lucky shirt? Do you wish on the first star you see in the evenings? Do you throw a pinch of salt over your left shoulder to ward off bad luck when you spill salt? Do you say 'Gesundheit' when someone sneezes? Do you avoid cutting your nails after dusk? Do you avoid walking under ladders? Do you read your fortune for the day or the week in the papers or magazines? Do you add up numbers to see if they tally with your personal number? Do you knock on wood?

Some of these beliefs or superstitions can be traced back to some rationale. Spilling of salt, when it was a precious commodity would be considered unlucky, naturally. Clipping your nails after dark in days before electric lights would be a risky thing, so making it a taboo makes sense. Likewise walking under the ladder may invite a splash or a dropped bucket of paint and is sensible to refrain from. When it was believed that a sneeze could eject one's soul and let in evil spirits, saying 'Bless you' was to invoke protection for the sneezer.

Let's not discuss astrology or numerology. Wishing upon the first star you see may be romantic, but how can a rational person expect it to work? How can you bring yourself to believe mass-produced fortunes or think that numbers influence your life? How can changing the spelling of a name according to numerology change a person?

Expectant mothers with their due dates on the sixth of June are nervous, apparently. Some flippant or intrepid ones are joking about naming the baby, if male, Damien. Very brave of them, I'm sure.

06.06.06 - what's so ominous about this number? Or 666 even? This is the purported number of the beast, or Antichrist, who will appear on earth during the last days, according to Revelations.

"Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six." Revelation, 13:18

Based on this and the half-baked theories of numerology, people fear the number 666.

Read Eric W. Weisstein if you like, to see how this number has fascinated people and how many interesting things they have discovered about the properties of this number.

Or read the astrologically inclined beliefs about what is in store for the world on the day.

Considering that there are so many calendar systems, to attach importance to this day in one calendar system is ridiculous. Why can't people stop and think?

I look at stars but don't wish upon them. I just clean up if I spill salt. I clip my nails in the evening in good light. I walk under ladders if it looks safe. I don't need to know the forecast for the week, I have got it planned out. I don't worry about 06. 06. 06.

I was born on Friday the thirteenth, you see.



Anonymous Badari Narayanan said...

I was born on the Friday the Thirteenth - me too. Should I pinch you and cry out 'same pinch, do not touch me' or would you object to that? : )

3:57 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Badari- That brings back memories. We used to be big on 'same pinch' in school.:D

4:32 pm  
Blogger Rimi said...

Yeah, likewise! Except it was more of a 'I got you first! Now YOU can't pinch me back!' sort of thing. Lali, gmail's being a bloody nuisance. We shall continue out most intriguing conversation laterwards. I'm off to Holt now. Nobody dare disturb me.

6:51 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Come on Rimikins, your birthday isn't on 13th. Orkut vouches for that. Um, I think.

Haffun with Holt. Much fun. ;)We can carry on the conversation later.

7:12 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Oh, you meant the 'same pinch' stuff. Still and all. :D

7:13 pm  
Anonymous Rajesh said...

do you cross your fingers when you tell a white lie?

7:34 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Rajesh- I don't tell lies, white or otherwise. *fingers crossed behind my back*

4:02 pm  
Blogger Priya said...

Ditto. Superstitions irritate me. And I'm stuck between two families full of Superstitious Psychos! Good to know I have company in cleaning up, walking under ladders, clipping my nails whenever I want to and caring two hoots about the forecasts. Oh, I don't wish on stars either. I think they just look beautiful up there on a clear moonlit sky. Glad to meet you, Ma'm.

5:34 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Priya- A kindred spirit, indeed. welcome, and keep visiting. :D

6:01 pm  
Anonymous PTC said...

05-03-1982 is my dob.add up the digits and see if it is the same for someone else you know of..maybe someone in your family :)

7:26 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

ptc- Next will you ask me to read your palm? Or maybe tea leaves? :D

10:39 am  
Blogger Speech is Golden said...

I actually believe in some of the superstitions. Like, I don't go to the barber on Tuesdays or Fridays (even in Australia), don't cut nails during 'sandhya velai', don't sleep facing south, read astro predictions in the newspaper everyday (mostly at 9 PM... jus to see wat 'was' in store). So what does that make me???? :(

1:39 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ram- These are mostly habits and customs you pick up as practiced at home. What you say about reading perdictions at 9PM tells me you are aware these are just that. A family's traditions.

2:20 pm  
Anonymous Rajesh said...

so you read palms? read mine?

11:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It had always been dinned into our heads to cut our nails on a Friday. What I understood from this was, that you atleast get into the habit of cutting your nails every week. Its a question of cleanliness.

Maybe most of the superstitions have their beginning here. The insistence of elders to make children do things in a particular way with out explaining the why's or what's. There's a thought for you Matilda, to follow up!

2:45 pm  

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