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What's life without a few hiccups

Columns 2024-04-29, 12:05am

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Dr. Sudhirendar Sharma



Sudhirendar Sharma

A friend casually remarked that hiccups, or 'hichki,' are not as frequent as this once were, prompting me to ponder what's life without a few hiccups. Several friends agree that recalling a recent hiccups episode is indeed rare. Does that mean the diaphragm in the body has ceased its involuntary spasms to produce the characteristic 'hic' sound that multiplies several times per minute? If hiccups are indeed becoming rare, what does it hold for its associated beliefs?

My mother held the belief that hiccups were a sign that someone close to us harbored negative thoughts about us. As soon as I would get hiccups, she would suggest potential culprits, with the hope the hiccups would bounce back to the thinker. I found humor in this superstition, pondering if hiccups were a way to dispel bad energy before it returned to its sender. While I didn't take these ominous thoughts to heart, the idea did entertain the notion that I was on someone's mind.

These beliefs unexpectedly influence our lives, with hiccups often interpreted to predict future events. I've learned that in some cultures, hiccups are viewed as a sign that not only brings back memories but also signals the start of a new journey. Aside from beliefs, hiccups can be an unwelcome nuisance, yet they have been transformed into a source of delight by a category of hiccups restaurants offering unique drinks with a creative twist.

For a majority, hiccups are still an unwelcome annoyance. Charles Osborne holds the world record for continuous hiccups. Following an accident in 1922, he suffered from non-stop hiccups until his death in 1990. Although much has been discussed regarding hiccups, the ordeal of this Iowa native stands as the longest recorded bout of hiccups. Interestingly, this unpleasant condition perpetuates the superstition that hiccups mean you are on someone's mind.

All said, I find myself stuck to the folklore which suggests that getting hiccups means someone is talking about you or missing you. How far is this true remains obscure?  In medieval times, hiccups were thought to be caused by the mythical creature called 'elves'. Whatever be it, there is no denying that hiccups are often annoying and frustrating because they can disrupt life at the most inconvenient times. Is the cultural construct around hiccups aimed at comforting us? 

If my experience indicates that hiccups are indeed getting uncommon, could it mean that our diaphragm has effectively managed involuntary spasms or is it related to the fact that not many people seem to miss me? Since communication through WhatsApp helps us remember most of our contacts, it's conceivable that our brain may have stopped triggering the hiccup response. 

A friend suggests that we better consider digital notifications as the new hiccups. 

(Dr Sudhirendar Sharma is a writer and researcher specializing in development issues. He is based in New Delhi, India)