x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Desi girl: No one can escape superstitions completely

While Friday the 13th is a decidedly western concern, we desis are no slouches when it comes to old wives' tales.

You know how Friday the 13th rolls around once or twice every year? It’s a day when a lot of people rein themselves in. According to National Geographic News from 2008, an estimated US$800-900 million (Dh3-3.3bn) is lost in business on this day. I suspect that number has only grown since.

Well, it would only make sense then that I would choose this ominous day to fly long-distance, wouldn’t it?

Always up for questionable social experiments, I was delighted to discover that I will be taking not just one but two long distance flights on the forthcoming Friday the 13th.

Rubbing some serious “bring it” in the face of superstition, I will be taking off from Milan late night on Thursday the 12th, landing in Dubai on Friday the 13th then taking off for Vietnam. Hopefully, a superstitious friend of mine added ruefully.

Even though I grew up in a fairly modern household, when I look back now I realise that no one can escape the clutches of those old wives’ tales and homespun superstitions. There will always be that one guy who whispers menacing forebodings with sadistic, poker-faced delight.

To this day, I dread walking under a tree after sunset, sometimes going so far as to cross the road or circle around the shadow cast by the tree to avoid walking underneath it. Because I grew up hearing that you can get possessed by spirits if you walk under a tree after sunset.

I still feel a small chill run down my spine every time I have a good hair day. Because flirtatious jinns are known to fall for maidens with fair locks.

It’s all fun and games when hiccups mean someone is missing you, crows cawing outside your house mean guests will soon arrive and an itching palm means money will come your way.

But when you physically force a left-handed 8-year-old to start writing with their right hand, you know you’ve gone too far. I might have a primary schoolteacher to credit for my ambidexterity, but her superstitions did get slightly out of hand (excuse the pun). She firmly believed that only a devil-child uses their left hand for anything the right hand should do. And so I tearfully learnt to write with my right hand at the ripe old age of 8. My left hand still writes like an 8-year-old!

Another one of my favourite superstitions is the “evil eye” and the creative ways newborns are protected from it. Baby too cute? No problem. Just paint a fat black dot on its forehead, smear its eyes with thick stripes of kohl and tie ratty black threads around its chubby wrists. Your baby is now a certifiably ugly lump that no one will even look at, let alone give the evil eye. It’s even more amusing when you see adults arming themselves with this same arsenal because they’re worried about the evil eye thwarting whatever success they have pending.

Superstitions (and worries of tempting fate by flouting them) aside, the one thing I have faith in is that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes, the reason is that you’re stupid. No amount of kohl and black string can serve as protection against that.

Ujala Ali Khan lives in Dubai and loves all things desi


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