Dark billowing monsoon clouds followed by rain that drives away summer heat, instinctively triggers excitement and a feeling of joy in both young and old. Interestingly, it also brings out the hidden child inside us spontaneously, making us do things such as ‘bathing’ in the rain, heading straight to the nearest ‘pakora’ and ‘samosa’ outlet to bring home these traditional snacks and generating a general feeling of wellbeing that makes one want to sing (vindicating the unforgettable Hollywood track labelled ‘Singing in the Rain’). To me, getting soaked in a downpour brings back memories of my grandmother’s insistence to take a shower afterwards, as rain water was reputed to breed lice.

We always took this notion seriously until we came of age and realized that precipitation was the purest form of water and the ‘lice’ theory was a myth. It was then that I began digging into similar beliefs handed down from generations and found that even in this age and day of scientific breakthroughs and education, there was a segment of society that continued clinging to these notions without ever questioning their logical genesis.

Take for example stories related to lightning and the belief that these natural bolts of electricity were likely to strike black colored objects more often than white. My grandmother often chided us for going out in a thunderstorm saying that our dark colored hair would reduce us to a smoldering mass. We now know that color has nothing to do with where lightning was likely to strike.

Earthquakes also spawned ‘old wives tales’ that we now know to have no basis. It was commonly accepted that earthquakes were responsible for genetically produced physical and mental disorders. I can distinctly recall our family cook’s panic stricken voice berating his pregnant wife to lie immobile on the floor of his quarters, during a tremor that struck Lahore in the Nineteen Fifties. What the man failed to understand was that his family had more to fear inside a brick and mortar structure than outside it. Another earthquake myth that still endures is that falling during a tremor, caused injuries that either do not heal or re-manifest pain for life on the exact time and date of the incident.

Dust devils created by heated air and whirlwinds were believed to be unseen entities travelling from one place to another. Children playing outside were scooped up and taken indoors on spotting this weather phenomenon because of fear that they would be ‘taken away’ by these ‘things’. We now understand the origin and dynamics of wind columns that spiral upwards carrying dust and debris inside them, but I have seen the old mindset manifesting itself in this day and age, during my rural meanderings.

I was always restrained by an elder member of our joint family from plucking flowers after sundown. Her reasoning sounded like a plot from a horror movie. Dusk was the time, when invisible entities were up and about doing whatever these beings do – one of which was possessing young boys and girls plucking flowers in the garden. It was my mother, who put me wise to the fact that the tale was a ploy to keep children away from dense shrubbery that was a favorite habitat of snakes and other harmful nocturnal creepy crawlies.

My father once killed a snake inside one of our bedrooms a very long time ago. How the reptile had got in was anybody’s guess, but nonetheless the dispatching of what turned out to be a venomous species was followed by the deliberate squashing of its head (on repeated instructions from a female grandparent). The reason – according to a belief, snake eyes had the ability to retain the image of their killer, which if seen by its mate could lead the vengeful serpent to its victim.

Black cats carry a sinister reputation of linkages with bad luck and witchcraft, but I have found them to be cuddly and wonderfully responsive pets. Then there is the custom in some rural households to put one hand on the head, while drinking water on waking up thirsty in the middle of the night. What effect this gesture has, is anybody’s guess and I would be more than delighted to be educated on the subject by any informed reader.