“Don’t Cut Your Nails at Night” and Other #FakeNews All Indian Parents Teach Their Children

Modern Family

“Don’t Cut Your Nails at Night” and Other #FakeNews All Indian Parents Teach Their Children

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Back in the fifth grade, an idol of mine (Tom, from Tom and Jerry) had gotten himself out of a very sticky situation involving an angry bulldog by whistling a nonchalant tune at the opportune moment. For the next few months, it became a dream of mine to perfect this art form, so I too could innocently whistle as I made my escape from school. This piece of news – and my first to tenth practice sessions – did not particularly please my parents, who were desperate to find a way to make their 10-year-old shut up for a couple of seconds. So my mother told me whistling makes your lose your voice by the age of 20.

For those of you who work in the BJP IT cell, it’s important to note that this bit of information is #FakeNews. But as a kid, the thought of losing my voice permanently scared me enough to give up my dreams of becoming the World Whistling Champion. It also concerned me enough to approach random kids in my class (serial whistlers, all of them) and warn them about the consequences of what they were doing.

The saddest part of the story is that almost every kid believed me. You see, every single one had been fed another equally vague “fact” about their habits by their parents. It turns out Indian parents lie a lot to get their way, and because kids are stupid and impressionable, they tend to believe everything they hear.

The shortest person I’ve ever met believed to the age of 20 that they got this way because a cousin jumped over their legs once – and also presumably that genes are made of denim. A few were told swinging your legs on a swing would diminish brain power. Other pure-veg types were told even a single a bite of fish can give you mercury poisoning.

Most of these lies are based on some harmless superstition, others are just made up on the spot for pure convenience. But none that a few Biology classes won’t handle. Unfortunately the lies didn’t stop there. India is the kind of country where automated SMSs promise to help you get rich instantly, and marrying a tree is considered good for your love life. So obviously, whatever baba, priest, imam, or non-religious prime-time spiritual life advisor was in vogue at the time of your upbringing, has probably had an influence on your life.

"If you sweep the floors in the evening, Laxmi leaves your house, and you will be destitute, but, hey, you can’t put a price on a clean floor"

So you end up in situations where the guy who lives in your lane, and kind of looks like a holy man, tells your parents that eating meat causes immense gastric reflux, so you eat Maggi instead. Or you hear your dad say the words, “I’ve met a baba today,” and then find yourself wearing a fake ruby on your fingers for the family fortune. Meanwhile, if you sweep the floors in the evening, Laxmi leaves your house, and you will be destitute, but, hey, you can’t put a price on a clean floor.

And we, as kids, believed all of these alt-facts because we had to. Screw what they say in school, you can’t disrespect elderly holy men. So now it’s perfectly normal to walk into a room full of rational adults and hear the words, “I don’t eat that on Tuesdays because it’s the day we pray to Hanuman.” Now you might think something along the lines of, “Nice, Hanuman follows the Roman calendar,” but, instead, with your very liberal mouth, you will say, “Okay”.

The same white lies we were fed when we were younger, tend to turn into our not-to-fucked-with beliefs and routines, which will be argued as fact over a number of drinks. How do we, as presumably rational, educated, thinking young adults, continue to swallow these alt-facts? When we debate trolls or argue with those who glorify jauhar on the internet, why does it never occur to us to actually, cut your nails at night or shampoo your hair on Thursday? Why don’t we extend our rational outlook to these small factoids?   

Well, if it does turn out that wearing 12 rings on 10 fingers increases the chance that your gastritis is cured, then by all means, everyone with gastritis should go ahead and spend half their salaries on that. I’m sure the baba who suggested this wonder cure totally doesn’t have a ring shop, or anything to gain out of this.

But these days – online at least – people care more about emotions. A fact is a fact only until it offends someone else’s fact. It’s important to bring our “questioning” attitude home. Because white lies matter.