Of Beliefs and Superstitions

“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” -BERTRAND RUSSEL

When we were small elders told us that a cat crossing our passing path brought bad luck. We were asked to take a few steps backward to avoid bad luck.
Our culture like any other cultures has many beliefs and superstitions. Most of us are, no doubt, superstitious. Often during childhood, we were told by our grandmother and parents not to look at broken or cracked mirrors because, they said, they were not good for our future. The broken image on the mirror would perhaps frighten a small child. Our grandmother never allowed us to eat from cracked plates or drink from chipped glass because she believed they would bring bad luck and unhappiness to us. Those days most families used utensils and dishes made of brass. Whenever a plate or a bowl or a tumbler developed cracks my grandmother would invariably go to the market and exchange them with new ones. She would regularly check the utensils in the kitchen.
During a visit to one of my friends in a remote village in Bishnupur district, she offered us tea in chipped cups that had no handles. She made no excuses about the cups. She would not have offered us tea in cracked cups if she had good ones. Under the circumstances, it was better to ignore the appearance of the cups and drink the tea. We thanked her for the tea which tasted good. What was important was her gesture not the cups. I learnt a valuable lesson from her.
Friends and relatives send me vegetarian and fish dish prepared for a feast at their homes in tiffin carriers when I failed to attend them. Sometimes I find containers that have cracks in them. Do I throw away the dish because it is put in cracked containers? No, never. How can I? It is not their fault if the dishes developed cracks. Do we have to discard a tiffin carrier because one of the containers has developed crack.
These days we use steel, melamine, glass and clay products which cannot either be exchanged or mended like the brass products. Most families, I am sure, have chipped plates, bowls, cups, saucers and glasses in their kitchen cupboard and are not willing to part with them. We do not want to throw away the beautiful and expensive cups and saucers which have developed cracks despite our careful handling and hope the cracks would miraculously disappear someday. I also have chipped mugs and cracked plates and I do not want to throw them away.
The present generation may not have the same experience what my generation had while growing up. We were not allowed to throw away the dirt after sweeping the floor after dark. It was left in a corner of the room or the veranda to be removed the next morning. Taking of one’s wet clothes from a place to another was a strict no, no. Clothes must not be washed at night or no wet clothes should be left outside the house during night. Nails and hair could not be cut at night or on one’s birthday. New clothes should be bought on particular days of a week. A woman must not cut pumpkin and so on. Some of us still strictly follow them.
Time has changed. I did not want my daughters to follow my superstitious beliefs which have been instilled into me since childhood. I never warned them about the cat crossing the path or looking at the cracked mirror or seeing someone sweeping the floor with a broom.
I believe most of us must have looked at a broken mirror or eaten from a cracked plate or drank from a chipped mug or glass while growing up. Have you come across any person who said he was poor because he ate from a cracked plate or he was successful because he never drank from a chipped glass?
Normally Meitei families do not dry Phaneks in their courtyard. If they dry them at all they should be taken down if the man of the family is going out. The sight of Phaneks drying on a line is not considered a good one and man always tries to avoid them. One often finds women blocking roads and lanes by hanging Phaneks during bandhs and blockades to prevent men from passing them. I do not agree with them. Phanek signifies a woman’s modesty.
After she passed away, my mother would place my grandmother’s Phanek on the Phamen Phak (the mat placed on the veranda where the eldest of the family sits) every time my father would leave home for some days. My father would kneel and touch it with his forehead before leaving home. The Phanek symbolised my grandmother.
I still remember one particular incident that took place when I was a teenager. I was asked to take down many Phaneks which were hanging on a line in our courtyard as my uncle was going out. Before I could remove them all, my uncle came out from the house. I was scared I would be scolded. My uncle told me not to bother about them. He said he was no more affected by their sight after seeing old saris use as curtains while visiting his rich non-Manipuri friends in Thangal bazar.
The elders perhaps were trying to prevent us from using the chipped mugs or cracked plates lest they hurt us while eating and cleaning them. If they could explain to us why hair or nails should be trimmed on a particular day or why Phaneks should not be dried in the courtyard or women must not cut pumpkin, we would not have been frightened.
I learnt that broken dishes can harbour bacteria and our exposure to lead.
(The writer can be reached at nsabitam@yahoo.com, nsabitam@gmail.com)

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