Author Archives: ishkh

About ishkh


Don’t Kick the Watermelon!

The Interviewer will be referred to as ‘I’, and the informant as ‘N’. Explanations and translations for Hindi words will be italicised and in parentheses. The Informant is a 67-year-old Punjabi father, raised primarily in Gujarat.

I: When it comes to bad luck, we hear a lot about bad luck in terms of nazar (the evil eye) and rituals for that, but are there any other rituals, that are maybe more specific and less widely known?

N: In the olden times, when people used to go through a series of bad luck or bad events, they used to think it was because of their… a bad spirit has possessed them. We say, “Maata aai hai,” (mother has come) or “Maata chadhi hai.” (essentially, the person has been affected by the mother) So, to get rid of the spirit, they used to do some rituals, pooja (prayer) rituals, and then with that, they get a watermelon, a big leaf, and a little bit of raw rice and a little bit of-of grains. Put it at a crossroads… and leave it there, and that will assume the spirit, the spirit has gone into the watermelon and the rice, and whoever kicks that in the future, some unknown person, poor bastard, that guy will take it out—that guy will get the bad spirit. 


The idea of the crossroads has always been intertwined with demonic lore, with the eponymous ‘crossroads demon’ stories, but this watermelon-fix is entirely new to me. However, what isn’t new is the idea of prayer and a natural resource as a demon-repellent — usually, it’s associated with salt, with drawing pentagrams and what-have-you, but those drawings are primarily more Western beliefs. What really intrigues me about this, is the idea that the demon is not banished to an ether-realm, a hell, or something of the sort: Hindu mythology hinges itself on reincarnation (one has to through other living beings, plants, animals, insects, etc., until they can have another human life, all depending upon their karma, their good and bad deeds), the circular nature of time and life, and therefore, it would make sense that there is no proverbial hell to send this demon to, getting trapped, instead, inside of another living thing. Therefore, although it may initially seem like any random person who comes upon and happens to kick the watermelon is cursed without real rhyme or reason, it’s deeper than that. If looked at through the lens of Hindu belief, it’s implicit, but it’s possible that it all comes down, once again, to karma: if the person has committed many bad deeds, and as karma states, has to live with similar energy in their own life, they will happen to bring this bad luck, or demon, upon themselves. If not, they will be saved from kicking the watermelon by their own karma, almost divine intervention. However, this is an implicit inference made by me, and nothing is set in stone.

White Things: An Account of Demon Possession

The Interviewer will be referred to as ‘I’, and the informant as ‘S’. Explanations and translations for Hindi words will be italicised and in parentheses. The Informant is a 52-year-old Punjabi mother, born and raised in North India.

S: We’ve had a possession in our own family! If you talk to mama (the informant’s mother), her own sister died… she was like that. She was a very bright, bright, exceptionally bright kid. I think she was just younger than mama, the second born. She was in college, one of those typical toppers, this and that, very bright. And… now I don’t know too much, but there was a family gathering, and it was like, “kisi ne kuchh khila diya hai,” (someone has fed her something) because she was… [she acts it out, makes a face by crossing her eyes and rolling them back, making a strained noise] like, as if she was possessed at times, she was acting crazy. And, I think she got… I don’t exactly know how she went, but she went (died). She was in college when she went, so young. I don’t remember exactly how, but I remember that this whole thing, I remember as a personal thing, I was always told this, we all were, in the family, because sometimes mama would tell us she was still around because her going wasn’t peaceful, not content, she would… like, feel the spirit sometimes.

I: Was this pre-partition or post?

S: Post, post. This was mama’s younger sister. She died when she was in college, but she was born pre-partition. See, what they said to us was that one of the relatives who was jealous had fed her something, haan (yes), that’s why they told us, “Safed cheez kisi se mat lo.” (Don’t take anything white from anyone.) Even when we were little, mama always told us, be careful of things people offer you, but never accept something that is white. She specified that. Like kheer (a white staple dish, like a sweet rice pudding), so never take kheer from anyone. Jaadu tona (Urdu and Punjabi for witchery, sorcery), is what it’s called in Punjabi, where someone’s fed you something, or you’ve ingested something, you’re spelled and then you act differently like you’re possessed or cursed, under nazar (bad luck, evil). You do weird things, then, act like you’re… you know, crazy, so you dance, or tremble, or shake, sometimes make weird noises. This story became, kind of… a teaching, a lesson for us, even though nobody really knows the whole story, not even mama.


Within Indian culture, the idea of nazar is common, something you need to caution everyone about and physically ward off—a method of warding off nazar is detailed, in part, in “The Lemon-Chilli Bad Luck Repellent” (, and a method used to ward off demon possession is detailed in “Don’t Kick the Watermelon!” (’t-kick-the-watermelon!)—whenever it’s suspected to have fallen upon someone. Simultaneously, the act of “behaving weirdly” is often generalised and exaggerated, the concern can be misplaced when put down to nazar or possession. This is why I asked the question about the partition: the partition was a turbulent time, after finally gaining independence from their colonizers after centuries, having to uproot and move from one region, now in Pakistan, to another, in modern India, through all the trials and tribulations of the time… well, it would have been very traumatic for anyone, especially a child. Therefore, I wanted to ask that question to bring another idea into play: the idea of untreated and un-recognised trauma, manifesting as this “weird behaviour”, being thought of as possession or nazar, leading to an early, unexplained death… it’s a grim thought, but that sequence of events is familiar, even without the supernatural explanation and course of action. However, this woman’s story is now a lesson to the children and adults of this family, a mysterious thing, the story being exaggerated and mystified further with time, while also being a lesson to not take things, especially white things (a common superstition), from anyone, rooted in a folk belief that these invite nazar, or even witchery. The evil eye, or nazar, is also observed in ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian ideology and texts, where they used incantations to ward off negative spirits and witchery, resulting in odd behaviour or sickness. [For more on this, see: “MESOPOTAMIA AND EGYPT.” Beware the Evil Eye: The Evil Eye in the Bible and the Ancient World: -Volume 1 Introduction, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, by John H. Elliot, 1st ed., The Lutterworth Press, Cambridge, 2016, pp. 77–104. JSTOR,]

The Lemon-Chilli Bad Luck Repellent

The Interviewer will be referred to as ‘I’, and the informant as ‘C’. Translations for Hindi words will be italicised and in parentheses. The Informant is a 43-year-old Sindhi man, born and raised in Maharashtra, India.

C: This is like our own desi (of the country, essentially self-reference by South Asians) evil-eye. To ward off evil. 

I: Great! So, what is it?

C: We call it nimbu-mirchi (lemon-chilli), I don’t know if it really has an official name, but basically you have… you thread lemon and green chillies, alternately, and you make about a six-inch length thread, and normally, you know how you have the evil eye? I think it’s an Egyptian concept, the eye to ward off evil? That’s kind of a similar thing, this is our way of warding off nazar (the evil eye, bad luck). So that is something, even now, when people buy a new car, a new house, a new office, or during poojas (prayer), this, that, the other, a new baby is born, weddings, whatever… it’s a very standard thing to put this. You’ll find it hanging, dangling under every single truck on the road, they still have it. They’re sold at all traffic lights, you’ll see some people, street-sellers going around with nimbu-mirchi pieces. And Saturday is like a special day when everybody’s supposed to buy it and do it. Like, that shani (Saturn, and also the prefix to the word for Saturday, but it is also used to refer to negativity), right? Something like that—shani bhari hoti hai (Saturn, and therefore Saturday, is heavy, and the negativity associated with it), or whatever. You even use chillies and salt, or lemons and chillies to remove nazar from people, you take it and swish it around their entire body to lift the nazar. My niece used to have a lot of chest congestion, colds, it was like her chest wasn’t even clear for four days in a month… we did it for her, my mother did, because she believed it was nazar. I know my friend’s mother did the same thing for her grandson too, it’s very common.


The idea of nazar is very common within Indian culture, and so is this particular ritual of removing or preventing it. Anywhere you go, you will probably see a nimbu-mirchi dangling somewhere, from the rearview mirror of a car, to the entrance of somebody’s house. Similarly, the chilli-salt/chilli-lemon ritual along with a chant or prayer is very common to alleviate people of strange, persisting illnesses or odd, out of character behaviour—another account of this can be found in “White Things: An Account of Demon Possession”, at Indians are largely a spiritual people, we like knowing things are auspicious, bringing good luck and warding off the bad, often relying on cultural superstitions and practices. So, culturally, both of these things make sense: the ritual, as well as the folk object that the lemon-chilli string is. What these practices convey falls within a very prominent folk belief: negativity (that comes with Saturn, as well as with negative emotions and the evil eye) must be warded off, discouraged, and good luck and blessings can be attracted, through poojas (prayer) and physical symbols of luck like the nimbu-mirchi, along with a person’s own lifestyle and deeds (their karma).

Humility and Humiliation: A Proverb

The Interviewer will be referred to as ‘I’, and the informant as ‘C’. Translations for Hindi words will be italicised and in parentheses, and the translation/transliteration for the proverb will be after the transcript. The Informant is a 43-year-old Sindhi man, born and raised in Maharashtra, India.

I: Could you tell me about a proverb that you feel like has a lot of significance for you and within your culture?

C: Sindhis really believe in this proverb, it’s something we use a lot, something I believe in, you can even see within me and my journey with my job. “Jainh khaado taro, tainh khey nako soor nako baro,” meaning, basically that if one eats the food from the bottom of the saucepan, he’ll not suffer from… pain or humiliation, so be humble, and proud of humble beginnings. Sindhis came to India during the partition from Pakistan, had nothing in their hands, didn’t even have proper homes, lived in tents. They worked on the street, small jobs, odd jobs, but worked hard. So, they believe in the idea that one who’s seen — one who’s seen life from the smallest point will never feel humiliated in any situation in life, will never feel small in those situations, will always rise up from those things. 

I: Is there any hypothetical situation that you would use this in. Say, someone comes to you, a niece or a sibling, how would you use this and in what circumstance?

C: You can use this in a situation where somebody feels that they have failed in life and have to work from ground-up again. So, this is a good way to tell the person, you know, don’t give up, there is still a lot to look up—forward—to. So, basically, you’re telling the person that, ‘Now that you’ve hit ground zero, once you work your way up from here, you’ll never face a situation that you can’t handle.’ One thing to remember is that Sindhi culture is all about never giving up and hard work, you will see us working very hard no matter what we’re doing, no matter what we’re selling, it’s about never giving up, we will always work hard and work our way up, it’s all about that. 

Original Script: جئن کادو تارو تائين کي نڪو سور نڪو بارو

Romanised: Jainh khaado taro, tainh khey nako soor nako baro.

Word for word: There would be no cloud-nine days without rock-bottom moments left below.

Translation: If one eats the food from the bottom of the saucepan, then they will not suffer from pain or humiliation.


As my informant stated, this is a proverb that is apparent and relevant to Sindhi culture and history and the way they are viewed in Indian society (as hard workers and businesspeople that are extremely diligent and dedicated to their craft/work), and also applicable outside of it, since advising hard work is something that is very common, both within the broader spectrum of Indian culture, and outside of it. This has a dual idea, of humble beginnings and hitting rock bottom (essentially the concept of ‘once you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way to go is upward’), but also of staying humble and aware of those humble beginnings, since they will strengthen one for the rest of their life. It points to the idea of suffering, of this rock bottom, as a way to grow and become more resilient, a common idea expressed all through the world when it comes to productivity, especially with the idea of working under capitalism.

Maya, the Dancing Ghost

The Interviewer will be referred to as ‘I’, and the informant as ‘V’. Translations for Hindi words, if any, will be italicised and in parentheses. The Informant is a 13-year-old Punjabi girl, born and raised in North India, attending a boarding school in North India.

I: So, you mentioned you played some pranks on your friends based on a ghost story they tell at your school. Could you tell me about it?

V: Yeah, sure, so basically, I’m in this old boarding school and this is a really old story that basically every student who ever came here knows. Maya was a dancer for the Nawabs (this refers to the royal families that would rule South Asian states, primarily during the period of Islamic rule), so she used to dance for the king and queen. She was beautiful and she used to dance really well, and slowly the king fell in love with her. And when the queen found out, she sent her guards to kill Maya, and they killed her on the thirteenth, and cut her into thirteen pieces, and she’s buried all around the school, because this is the same place where they were then. So, what we are always told is that on the thirteenth, if Maya can get all her body-pieces back in the same place at 12:00AM, like, at that exact time, then she can come back, and she will haunt our whole school. It’s kind of scary and fun because, basically, we prank all our classmates because of this, like, we scare people on purpose on the thirteenth, in the dorms, especially on any Friday the Thirteenth because everybody thinks that’s scary now. 


This is a particularly interesting iteration of a ghost story, because it visibly and obviously has both older, and newer elements. The idea of her being a royal dancer seems older, like a part of the story that has been preserved over the generations it has been told, especially since the location of this school in North India tracks. However, the idea of ‘thirteen’, the thirteen pieces and the thirteenth, points to a newer iteration, because thirteen, historically, is not a particularly unlucky number for Indians the way it is in other cultures. With the increasing prominence of globalisation and digital media, including social media, the homogenisation of information across cultures, and even multimedia such as horror movies and franchises, the idea of “Friday the Thirteenth”, and thirteen in general as a number that inspires bad luck and fear, has been propagated even to India. Therefore, I would hypothesize that the ‘thirteen’ portion of the story is newer, a modification, especially considering my informant here is very young and part of an especially globalised generation. There is a certain plausibility to this story, since it is rooted in a real time and place in India, even though it concerns ghosts and is largely believed by the student body of the school (or, alternatively, used as an excuse to play pranks), making it essentially a legend amongst this particular community, however niche it may be.