Author Archives: Ashwin Appiah

Superstition/Popular Belief – India

Driving Forward First

My informant told me about this one superstition that was very interesting. She said that whenever she would start the car she would drive forward first and then drive backwards. For example when she would back out of the garage she would drive forward just a little, and then start backing up. She has done this for many years, as long as I can remember. At first I thought it was very interesting and tedious but after interviewing her I understood why she did it.

She said that this superstition has been in her family for a while, her uncles and her dad always did this when she was young. As she started driving a car, she started doing this too because of superstition. The whole thing lies in doing everything forward first. My mom said in Hindu religion everything should be done first forward and then should be done backwards. This superstition would be a prime example.

I have seen a lot of my friend’s parents doing the same thing while I was in their cars when I was young. Unfortunately I do not hold to this superstition so therefore I don’t follow the drive forward first rule. I think that this rule is merely a superstition and cannot be let go because they have done it for a long time.

Especially in cars there are a lot of superstitions among the Indian community. Another example of this would be when my informant would touch the picture of a Hindu god she has every time she starts driving. This has to do with getting her blessings from the god before she drives so she does not get into a major accident. I sometimes do this ritual in a way because I believe in god and the power of god. This always makes me feel a little relieved and safe on the road.

Proverb – Tamil (India)

Yaanaikkum Adi Sarukkum

Even elephants do slip.

I got this proverb from my informant who has always said this to me when I was young. She got this proverb from her great-grandfather who used to tell her this to her whenever she got a bad grade in her exams. The proverb in literal translation means Even elephants do slip. Metaphorically it means that even the might slip and make mistakes at times.

When I was young my informant used to tell me this proverb too. Here is a sample conversation of when my mother used to tell me this proverb:

Me: Mom I lost in basketball today I never loose in basketball!

Informant: Don’t worry, you will win next time.

Me: But mom I never loose.

Informant: Ashwin, Yaanaikkum Adi Sarukkum.

I think that this proverb has a lot of importance in my life, as it was passed down many generations. Whenever I fail at something that I wasn’t supposed to I always think back to this proverb and assure myself that not everyone becomes successful at everything. This proverb was probably conjured by the famous Tamil poet Bharityar. He lived in the early 20th century and was a famous poet who thought of a lot of proverbs in the Tamil language. He is the Shakespeare to the language of Tamil. In conclusion, I think that this proverb is very meaningful and has a lot to it which will surely be passed down from generation to generation.

Song – India

Family Cooking Song

Onte gammum ontay samial kari odia

Tenna onta moorgnokai kali cut karia

Tech chadu howkam kali tarya

Koli kouli techam keri

Ovadu chadu tellate seidi

Aski ya chockate foiyai tora mora karya

In a city there was a cook

The cook took an onion and cut it

She put the onions into the pot

And she mixed it really well

She waited for a while and see if it was done

After that she took it and served for all to eat.

My informant is one of 6 children in her family and as she was growing up she had many chores to do around the house. One of them included helping her older sisters cook on weekends. She told me that her oldest sister told her this song when she was 10 years old. She said that most probably she made it up on the spot but she remembers it really well. She said sometimes when she cooks she unconsciously sings it because it stuck onto her that well.

I feel that when my informant was growing up in India, she did not have many things to do while cooking. For example these days one could watch TV or listen to radio and things like that. Even though my informant had those facilities they didn’t have them in their kitchen, which was separate from their family room. So they instead resorted to singing songs about cooking and enjoying themselves together.

Today while my informant cooks she rarely sings songs. She jut usually just watches TV or doesn’t do anything at all. As for my other relatives that live in India, they still sometimes sing songs. When I went to India last summer, my cousin still sang songs when she cooked. She learnt most of them from her mom (my aunt).


Five Second Rule

My informant explained to me the popular saying of the five second rule. He had first heard this at the age of 10 when he was in elementary school. At lunch in the cafeteria he had accidentally dropped his sandwich and his friend shouted out five second rule. He said that meant, he had 5 seconds to pick it up and eat it before he had to throw it away because there were too many germs.

He explained to me many instances where this has happened. I have gone through the same thing many times before. As early as 3rd grade I remember people telling me about the five second rule when I had dropped food, particularly solid food, on the ground.

The five second rule has been researched and proven to be false many times in the course of history. In 2005, a high school student at an internship in University of Illinois, conducted research on this particular topic of the Five Second Rule. She tested and found that there were no bacteria in clean surfaces on the ground. But she went out to found out there were significant amounts of E. coli bacteria on dirty surfaces of the ground. She also found out that when she put food on the ground the bacteria will be transferred in less than five seconds, negating the five second rule. The student went on to win an Ig Noble Price in 2004 for Public health.

Also a popular show on the Discovery Channel called MythBusters, also conducted a test of sorts trying to prove wrong the five second rule. The results they got proved the high school students findings that bacteria and other harmful things will come onto the food if dropped, in less than 5 seconds. They also went on to say that even two seconds of exposure is enough for it to transfer.

I have heard many variations from my friends. One variation I have heard is the 2 second rule and sometimes even the three second rule. I guess it differs from where you are from. My friend who told me about the 2 second rule is from the northwest region of the United States.


“Episode 39: Chinese Invasion Alarm, 5 Second Rule.” MythBusters. Discovery Channel. Feb.-Mar. 2007.

“Improbable Research.” Improb. 2006. Ig Noble Prize. 6 Apr. 2007 <>.

Counting Out Rhyme – India

Inky Binky Bonky

Father Had a Donkey

Donkey Died

Father Cried

Inky Binky Bonky

I first heard this rhyme when I visited India in 1992. At that time I was 4 years old. This rhyme was taught to me by my cousins who were around the same age as I was. We were choosing who was going to go upstairs and bring the board game and we used this counting out rhyme to pick the person who goes upstairs. I found it very funny when I heard this rhyme for the first time. Especially when the father cried, because at the time I thought that grown up men do not cry.

I have no clue where the origin of this rhyme is from. At first I thought it was only said in India but after some research I found out that it is also said here in the United States. I don’t think the words inky and binky are real. I think they said it just for the sake sounding fluid.

Counting out rhymes like these are very popular all over the world. There are many variants in many languages. For examples there is a “Farting” counting out rhyme in the Indian language of Hindi. There are many variants in English such as “eenie meenie mynie mo.” Most of these versions are said at a very early age like in elementary school. It most likely fades away by the time kids reach middle school.