One for sorrow, two for joy

  • Parminder Kaur, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Apr 06, 2015 13:19 IST

This is not about the quintessential excuse to toss down a drink or two, be it to drown sorrows or celebrate joy. But it’s about an innocent belief bordering on superstition that I have harboured since my school days.

‘One for sorrow’ is a children’s rhyme that has its origin in 16th century Britain, wherein the number of magpies (a black and white bird with a long tail) one sees determines one’s fortune. It goes like: One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told.

Not being a part of my school curriculum or play group, I still can’t figure out how and when this rhyme got embedded in my memory. But as innovatively as we have replaced Chinese dumplings with gobhi manchurian, I replaced the magpie with our native mynah. Though my first choice should have been the homely sparrows twittering all over our house, thanks to my mother’s generous biscuit treats. But now when I look back, it seemed to be an intuitive choice, as those old world sparrows (as they are famously called) have literally become extinct. It’s been years since I spotted even a single one of those diminutive species, except on Google gallery.

Coming back to the rhyme, I had my own version of it, one for sorrow, two for joy, three for luck and so on. I remember spotting one mynah on my way to the pre board exams and desperately searched for two, till I entered the exam hall. But neither the mynah nor my exam scores showed mercy on me. Well aware of the fact that the innocent bird was not to be blamed for my poor performance, I still took refuge in my ill-gotten belief.

It almost became a habit to catch a glimpse of the yellow-beaked mynah everywhere and anywhere possible. While a flock of birds brought cheers, sighting a lonely one disheartened me. The biggest irony was me having this fixation despite a strictly non-superstitious upbringing. My parents believed that every day is auspicious for doing everything, right from running errands to getting married, a cat crossing your path doesn’t invoke misfortune and any time is a good time (muharat) to initiate anything significant.

If your intentions are fair and efforts sincere, you’ll achieve what you strive for. So to justify this irrational behaviour and to lessen my guilt, I introduced a positive element in this rhyme by swapping one for sorrow with one for success. Now, mynahs only beget fortuity and happiness for me.

On a positive note, this fetish transformed me into an avid bird watcher. And yes, till date I instinctively count mynahs but these sightings are getting infrequent. I wonder if this lovely bird is also flying into oblivion and dread the day when unplanned urbanisation will compel me to improvise the rhyme to none for sorrow.

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