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But somehow, I continued with the rituals that I had seen my father follow during each eclipse. Even today, I make it a point to go on leave from work, pray and fast through the entire duration of the eclipse.

india Updated: Apr 05, 2006 02:50 IST

I grew up with my parents telling me that eclipses are bad and one should avoid being outdoors when the shadow they created fell on Earth. How I hated being inside while other kids were playing out in the sun.

My most bizarre memory is of the solar eclipse in 1980. That day, Doordarshan had telecast Chupke Chupke at noon. But in my house, I watched as my pregnant sister was confined to a room in darkness. According to an ancient belief, poisonous gases are released during an eclipse. These are even believed to affect the womb. So pregnant women had to be kept in total darkness. Well, 26 years since that day, I can vouch that my niece is hale and hearty.

But somehow, I continued with the rituals that I had seen my father follow during each eclipse. Even today, I make it a point to go on leave from work, pray and fast through the entire duration of the eclipse.

There were times when the lunar eclipse would arrive late at night. My father would be praying. I picked up that habit up too. But the greater itch was to try something that a distant uncle used to do. He would pray standing waist-deep in water during an eclipse.

At 42, I decided last week to try something similar. The train to Haridwar had a number of American Hindus. I knew then I was not the only one attempting something like this. When the time came -- 4.30 pm to be precise -- I entered the cold Ganga with my priest friend Narayana Bhatt. It was freezing and the current was very strong. We were supposed to be praying in waist-deep water, which we managed with difficulty. But after years of being told that eclipses were dangerous, it was a great feeling to be out in the sun.

Across the river, some of the eateries had shut. Some of the shopkeepers were taking a dip before the evening aarti, after which they reopened their shops. As for me, all the fear of rigor mortis setting in after being in freezing water for almost two hours came to nought. I walked away feeling great. What did I gain? Well, nothing that can be explained in words.