Islamabad recently went through a severe bout of thunder and lightning and I was rather surprised when a number of people attributed this to the doomsday prophesies that did their rounds as 2012 rolled to a close. I took pains to tell them that Margalla Hills and its environs had always attracted lightning displays because of ‘good conductor elements’ in their geological structure and such storms were not unusual.

It was during the worst of this nasty weather that the young man, who prepares our daily sustenance and is fond of linking almost everything directly or indirectly to his village near Sahiwal, walked up to me with a grave face and said that he had witnessed a similar storm few years ago at his home. My smile must have encouraged him because he then began to unwind details of the incident - this is his story.

“Our village consists of a number of mud and brick houses and a banyan tree flanked by a chappar or small pond used by the women for washing clothes and watering animals. As is known to most people, water and black colour attracts lightning and so it was that lightning forked its way down to the pond, where a black cobra had taken shelter. The bolt struck the reptile and embedded itself in the water. Next morning one of our village elders visited the spot and saw the dead snake in the water and decided to take it out as it was poisoning the spot. As he tried to pull the carcass towards him with a stick, he freed the trapped lightning bolt, which rose into the sky with a tremendous sound, throwing the man several hundred feet from where he was standing.”

I did my best to imbibe the storyteller with a rudimentary understanding of how thunder and lightning were created, but all my efforts appeared to fall on deaf ears, as he insisted that he had witnessed the whole episode along with many of his village folk.

One of our domestic help applied for a ‘longish’ leave, as his wife was ‘sick’ (a rurally conservative mode of referring to expectant females). Before leaving, the man shuffled up to me and asked if he could take one of my wife’s old magazines showcasing baby woolies, to his home. My curiosity turned to disbelief at the revelation that his wife and mother-in-law had asked him to bring pictures that featured beautiful toddlers. The two women intended to fix these in their small room so that the unborn newcomer assumed the complexion and looks reflected in the images.

I watch elderly females belonging to my own extended family in courteous amusement, when I hear them intoning “dushman zeraypah” or ‘May your enemies be trodden underfoot’, as they put brand new shoes on their grandchildren’s feet. While I find nothing wrong with the phrase itself, I find its timing rather interesting.

It is a common belief that if a crow sits on your terrace or roof and raises a ‘ruckus’, you can expect guests to arrive that day. I remember an aunt, who actually prepared extra meals, whenever she heard one of these feathered rascals do its act on her roof. While I see no linkage between the raucous black bird and guests, I have often contemplated exploiting the phenomenon to evade some uninvited ones.

Hiccups are described scientifically as involuntary reflexive contractions of the diaphragm that may repeat several times per minute. Their rhythm or the intervening gaps is relatively constant and a bout generally resolves itself without medical intervention. I have seen perfectly sober people rattling off names of their loved ones and friends in the belief that the phenomenon is caused by someone, who is remembering or missing them.

Black cats are magnificent members of the feline family, but some people avoid them in near panic. This is because of an age-old belief that if this ‘bête noir’ (in the literal sense) crosses one’s path, bad luck would follow. Travelling through rural Punjab, my driver applied the brakes as a black kitten skittered across the road. My query was answered with an embarrassed mumble that he wanted to check the tire pressure. Well versed with the related superstition, I waited for the moment when another person or vehicle would cross the path taken by the animal and break the ‘curse’. It was, therefore, no surprise when a goods truck overtook us and we were instantly on our way.

As I wind up this week’s piece, I have begun to experience an itch in my right palm, which I am told is an indication that I am about to receive a monetary windfall. This is one superstition that I can live with.

The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.