My mother told me never to eat dairy and fish in the same meal. Last night, however, I threw caution to the winds and made myself some lemon-pepper shrimp and rice, and for dessert, I had a vanilla ice cream bar. If my mother had been here, she’d knit her eyebrows together and said, K., how can you eat ice cream with fish? And I’d say, Ma, it’s not fish, it’s shellfish. Dairy and fish are just one of my mother’s many superstitions, which include not cutting your nails after sunset, not cutting your hair on Wednesdays and Saturdays (I think… eep!), not wearing black when you fly, and so on.
And then I have my own superstitions: I can’t step on newspapers, or any paper that’s been written on. This goes back to when I was a kid, and I was in a vegetable market in Juhu on a Sunday afternoon. I was standing on a trodden newspaper with my my brother T., staring at some strange looking vegetables while my mother was off at another stall, bargaining with the seller. I don’t think I was a day older than seven. The stall we were at was little, but above it hung a large picture of the goddess Saraswati, Goddess of Knowledge. She smiled down at us benevolently, peaches and cream skin, a halo around her beatific face, her multiple hands holding multiple things, one of which was a book, and another of which was a sitar. And the vegetable seller at this stall smiled kindly and said, don’t step on that paper children. We asked him why, and he pointed to the painting and said, you know her? She gives you wisdom and knowledge, and then you go and step on it. You should not step on it. Say sorry in your head. And so we did, and ever since that day, I can’t help but carefully avoid stepping on papers. It’s hard on the TTC here, mind you, and I say sorry in my head at least once a day.
Another superstition I have is letting people cross over my legs. When I was six, my cousin told me that if someone steps across your extended legs and doesn’t step back, then you won’t grow taller. Curses, I thought to myself, and then spent the rest of my life getting people to cross back over every time they stepped across my legs, if I was sitting on the floor, or at a party, or wherever. Just to be mean, some people would refuse to do it, and many a time have I found myself sitting immobile on the floor, close to tears, refusing to move until the perpetrator of the leg-stepping stepped back. They all did once they saw I was serious about being afraid of not growing taller. And I guess it worked, because here I am, and I’m almost as tall as I wanted to be. These days, of course, the instinct to panic still arises every time I’m in a situation where someone steps across me, but I can now take a sip of whiskey, and almost forget about it. But sometimes, if you look carefully, you’ll see the expression on my face change as I start to mentally freak out and talk myself off the “Oh my god! You stepped over me! Step back! Step back or I won’t grow!” ledge. At the age of 32, I find it a bit hard to watch people trying to keep a straight face when they hear me say that out loud.