1. If your right eye twitches, you’re plagued with a bad omen. If your left eye twitches, good things are bound to happen. My mom is an immigrant from India, and though she’s adapted to North American culture over the last 30 years, little pieces of her traditional upbringing still come out at the strangest times. My mom is practical, logical, and often calculating—and yet, she believes in karma, energy, and the divine cosmos. I was born with my left eye smaller than the right, and sometimes it spasms when I’m nervous. Maybe I’m going to be okay?
2. Hold your hand out in front of your face, your palm towards you. Can you see little spaces between your fingers, letting light shine through? If so, it means you’re bad with money, or so said my mother, who to this day remains perplexed that I can balance a budget without letting coins literally fall through the spaces between my fingers. My mom has no spaces at all; it’s like her hand fuses together so that nothing shall pass. (To be clear, my mother’s money is in a bank. She does not carry it in her paws from village to village.)
3. If you’re on your way out of the house and someone sneezes, you have to go back immediately. You just do.
4. You know when you eat too much sugar or fat, and little bumps rise on your tongue? This happened to me a lot as a kid—my diet was mostly Safeway cookies and Indian food so spicy that it would turn any adult’s bowels into liquefied ambergris—but my mom told me that you get them when you tell a lie. I’d go to her, upset about how sore and swollen my tongue was, angry that I had bitten it for the third time that day, and she’d look at me from over her glasses and say, “Well, who did you lie to?” I’d spend the night racking my brain, trying to think of what lie I had told that God was punishing me for. I told Laura I liked her jacket even though I didn’t. I just wanted to be polite! Sometimes she gets mad at me and digs her nails into my hand and I just wanted to avoid that! Even worse, though, was when I actually had lied to my mother about something significant—forging her signature on a failed exam, creeping downstairs to watch television after she and my dad had gone to bed, stealing my brother’s Mad Magazine because I wanted to look at cartoon boobies—and that little bump at the tip of my tongue served as a constant reminder that I was bad, I was a bad person, and that there were a few hundred deities in the sky watching me and tsk-tsk-tsking while I tossed and turned under my purple-and-pink duvet, feeling every inch of that guilt.
5. Don’t drink water standing up, because it’ll all go into your knees. I’ve seen my mother drink water standing up plenty of times, though she always drinks her tea from a metal travel mug, which probably has some significance, but I am too afraid to ask what that might be.
6. If a cat crosses your path when you’re leaving—any cat, even if it’s your own cat—you have to return home and try again. I got a cat a few years ago, and she would constantly walk over and around my mom’s feet when she came to visit. It’s like she knew. (To be fair, the cat is named Sylvia Plath, so I guess I’m asking for some kind of celestial disaster.)
Was she upset that her only daughter would rather dance with a broom than make real friends? Or did she really think demons would enter her home if I didn’t set the broom the right way?
7. You should never call someone’s name while they’re trying to leave home, as it will only bring bad luck. They, too, will need to come back home and try again. Almost all superstitions involve people having to go back home after leaving under cursed or otherwise unsafe conditions.
8. Eat yogurt and sugar for good luck if you’re on your way to an important exam or interview. My mom never made me drink milk as a kid, but it was customary to have a cup of plain, non-fat yogurt with dinner. This does not taste good to a nine-year-old (or anyone?), so my mom would happily pile several tablespoons of brown sugar on top to get me to eat it without complaint. I never questioned why it was suddenly acceptable for me to eat sugar at dinnertime.
9. Do not leave a broom upside down—it’s a bad omen. My mom never specifically mentioned this one when I was younger, but I do remember being five or six and playing with the broom like it was a man, dancing in the kitchen to the radio, and, after flipping it around so that the bristles were his face, she quickly told me to cut it out. Was she upset that her only daughter would rather dance with a broom than make real friends? Or did she really think demons would enter her home if I didn’t set the broom the right way? Both? It was probably both.
11. If a cow—or even someone carrying a dairy product—walks past you, it’s good luck. This, of course, comes from the holy status of the cow in India: nothing bad will happen to you if you are around a cow. (Unless you’re eating it. Do not eat cows. They do not like it.) You’re also bound to have a good day if you’re the one carrying something made of dairy. My mom tells me stories about how people will jump in the way of anyone carrying a tub of yogurt, just to get some of that sweet karmic reverb. When men leave their homes to go to work, their wives will stand at their fences with cups of yogurts for them to walk past. This is insane! Yogurt is not that good!
12. If you play with matches, you’ll pee your pants. I was too afraid of fire to ever play with matches, but my older brother would always be fussing with a matchbook when he was still too little to understand what “accelerant” meant. She told him he would have accidents if he kept it up, and he believed her, giving up his fiery hobby—at least until he realized that his dear sweet mom was, like most adults, totally full of shit.
13. If you touch a book with your feet, you’ll become illiterate. This one still follows me around. The last time we went to India, when my grandparents were alive, I knocked a book off my bed with my foot. My grandfather saw it happen, and it was the only time he ever yelled at me, pulling me up to look at him and explaining what a horrible trespass I made against literature and education. I did it again years later, by accident, in front of my mother, and she was equally incensed, threatening to take all my books away. Now my mom remembers this as a funny joke she told us to make sure we took care of our things, but I still wince when I see people put books on the floor, still scold my friends when they rest their feet on their coffee tables. A few months ago, I drove a dinner party to a screeching halt when I noticed an old university textbook was keeping a table steady and my foot was on it the whole time. Of course, both my mother and I recognize that our literacy won’t be affected by how we handle our books. But sometimes, I hear a hardcover slide off my bed and hit the ground, or feel a paperback hidden under my sheets hit my foot, and I have that same sick, sinking feeling I did when my grandfather, and then my mother, sprinted towards me. Both of them had this twisted look on their faces shot through with both disappointment and fear, both of them asking, “Hai bhagwan, don’t you even see how lucky you are?”