Every evening at dusk as I sit in my verandah watching smoke from cooking fires rise from the valley below, I seem to hear the voice of my long gone mother calling her little ones indoors from the garden, because it was do waqt (the moment when two times meet) or dusk. Years later with children of my own, I often pondered upon this and some other quaint 'ideas' that had been passed down generation to generation in many families. I came to the interesting conclusion that all such beliefs may have had a rationale behind their origin - a rationale that was, perhaps, lost in time to become superstition.

Do Waqt or dusk was stereotyped as the point in time, when certain types of activity were considered detrimental. On a general note, this belief appears to have originated in antiquity, when people locked themselves in the relative safety of their homes at sundown, for fear of wild beasts and robbers.

Many readers of my generation will remember, when as children they were sternly discouraged from plucking flowers at dusk. A query would elicit the explanation that this was a time when unseen entities were up and about amongst the blooms and were likely to possess us if we disturbed them. Under modern-day scrutiny, this belief appears to have originated to safeguard the young ones from snakes and other creatures, especially when outdoor lighting was far from being what it is today!

Another activity that was not looked upon with favour was cutting finger and toe nails at dusk. It was stressed that this brought bad luck and was best done during daytime. When viewed logically this was designed to eliminate the possibility of people cutting themselves in poor light with nahnis, a very sharp metal scalpel-like tool that was used (and is still used by rural barbers) to pare nails.

It was considered poor form for family members to be in bed as day merged into night, unless one was sick. While this belief was, perhaps, designed to ensure that people offered their evening prayers, it was also stressed upon so that evening meals were consumed in time and the family followed the adage "early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise" in letter and in spirit.

We often got chided for playing with fire, or more specifically with matches, because doing so was likely to result in wetting ones bed at night. As we came of age, it became apparent that this chastisement had no connection with bedwetting, but was apparently aimed at protecting errant children from the possibility of fire-related accidents.

Every child loves a story and I often find myself unable to resist requests from my grandchildren to narrate one at any time of the day. This was not how it was when we were of tender age, as storytelling was considered to be a nocturnal pastime and the practice by day was liable to make our travelling loved ones lose their way. Aghast at the possibility, we readily desisted, not knowing that this was but an intelligent ploy by our elders to avoid wastage of daylight work time in pursuit of activity that could be profitably utilised to put us to sleep at night.

The onset of monsoons generated excitement in bosoms - both young and old. Much to our frustration, we were often deterred from running out as the first rain drops began to fall. This frustration increased as we watched children of our domestic staff splash about ecstatically in the water that accumulated in our front lawn. My paternal grandmother's logic for holding us back was that rainwater caused lice to proliferate in the hair. Our counter ploy was to present our case before our maternal grandfather, who would wink and point to the verandah door with a hearty laugh. I have yet to find a rationale for my grandmother's fear of rain, except for the fact that a soaking during her childhood somewhere in the 1880s, must have been related to colds or other ailments connected with exposure. As it is, my grandchildren love the feel of raindrops on their small upturned faces, while the rest of the family watches in amusement from the sheltered position in our verandah as monsoon clouds unload their moisture on the city.

But wait! I have just seen a black cat climb the wall into my lawn and have decided to put to test the universal superstition that if such a creature crosses ones path, it brings bad luck. Perhaps, in one of my next columns I will give my readers a report on the results of my experiment - so till next week it is au revoir and cheerio!

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