Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Soothsayer

It was at the Mahabalipuram shores. The Fortune-Teller came up to us, armed with his parrot and the tarot cards. The Fortune-Teller was a slim man with bright beady eyes. He had the holy ash and sandalwood paste smeared on his forehead. He wore a faded shirt and a bright orange dhoti which lent color to his outfit.
"Want your futures seen madam?", he asked of us.
My sister wanted her young son to experience it. The little one was made to sit in front of the man, with the cards spread on a mat between them. The man called out to his parrot, a shaggy thin creature, to come and pick a card. The bird, however, took its time to come out of its cage. The man looked at my sister and said, "Please keep 10 rupees down on the mat".
As soon as she did, the bird came out and started its routine.
'Now that was interesting!', I thought to myself. I could've kept my loud mouth shut, but no! I had to pull my smarty-pants act there.
Out loud I said, "Well, your parrot seems to be very business-minded". The family did the laughing.
The man looked up at me and mumbled, "No, no, nothing like that...", he trailed off.
The routine was acted out. The man asked my nephew, "What's your name, little boy?"
"Vikram", came the shy reply.
"Come on out my dear, and pick a card for this boy named Vikram, come and tell us how his future is going to be. Vikram is the name. Tell us the happy future of Vikram", he crooned to his parrot.
The parrot picked out a card after rejecting many. The man delivered his usual spiel. He also suggested some do's and don't's. Some of his recitals coincided with reality. Then the boy was asked to pick a card on his own. The oration followed and wound to its natural end.
We were pleased and that was the end.
Or so we thought.
Now he asked us again. "Anybody else want to have their futures foretold?"
We all smilingly shook our heads. Atleast that was what I was doing until I realised that my sister was looking at me. "Do you want to have a go?".
I shook my head again, smiling.
The chant was taken up by others, the man included. "Go on, have a try", was the general cry.
"Alright", I succumbed. And sat in front of the cards. I put the 10 rupee note down.
"What's your name madam?", he queried.
"Mathi", I said.
"Mathiarasi", said my sister.
"Come on out my dear, and pick a card for this lady named Mathiarasi, come and tell us how her future is going to be. Mathiarasi is the name. Tell us the happy future of Mathiarasi", he again crooned to his parrot.

We all waited.
And waited.
The stupid parrot did not budge.
He crooned again.
The parrot refused to come out. I watched in growing fascination.
He asked me, "Is there another name for you? What do your friends and family call you?"
I replied, "Mathi".
He now repeated his crooning routine with 'Mathi' in place of 'Mathiarasi'.
There was no response from the parrot.
"Maybe we should try with someone else madam", he said in a doubtful tone.
My cousin leaned in and said, "Try Vijayalakshmi"
"Is that your name madam?", he asked her.
"Yes", she nodded.
The crooning was repeated now with 'Vijayalakshmi'. He had hardly finished his call, when out came the parrot like it was waiting and started to go through the cards!
"That's unfair, how dare you do that?", I mock-yelled at the parrot.
He tried to placate by saying something about 'these things happen for a reason madam we can't control them' and so on.
My family was fascinatedly laughing. I got up and made place for my cousin.
Her fortune-telling was over.
The man now looked up at me quizzically and asked, "Don't you believe in this, madam?"
I shook my head again, smiling, "No"
"Maybe that is why. I'd like to try it once more Madam. I feel bad that such a thing happened for you. I'd like to see your future. Please don't think it's a waste of 10 rupees. Please try again. But this time, before we start, please think of your favorite God".
"I don't have one", I told him.
"You don't have one? Which God do you worship", he asked.
"I don't worship any God", was my rejoinder.
He did not give up.
"Won't you think of any God when you begin some work?", he asked again.
I shook my head, which had become a much repeated gesture!
"Not even your mother and father?", he asked determinedly.
"Well, I don't worship any shape. All I have is a belief in a superior power", I told him.
"Well that's good", he smiled satisfied."Please think of something before we begin", he bade me.
I racked my brains to think of something....anything... But you know how it is. When you want to think about one single thing, your mind either goes blank or you think about a million things at the same time. Mine was the former case.
He could wait no longer. He had started the crooning, with 'Mathi' this time.
And now, the tricky parrot came zooming out of its cage, zeroed in on a card, thrust it into his hands and zoomed back.
I was a little hurt. I looked at it and asked, "That's it? I don't get the full performance? Just the climax?"
That was the cue for our man to start his speech in all its glory.
"The parrot reflects your mind. You took a long time to make up your mind about this. The parrot did the same. But when you had made up your mind you do not delay in action. The same case with the parrot. It took the card correctly for you."
Here he opened the card to show a picture of Lord Vishnu.
"What a lucky card for you madam! You have got the card of Vishnu, the God who has powers to both create and to destroy. You will be powerful in your actions too.
The depth of the sea can be measured even, but it will be very hard to know what is in the depths of your mind.
Other people can fry bajjis in oil, but you madam, can fry them even in water.
You may be a normal girl in your birth house, but you will be the Mahalakshmi of your husband's house.
If your husband hits you with his hand, you have the ability to hit him with your words. And that will hurt him more.
Most of the confusions and unhappiness that were preying on your mind would have vanished slowly. The birth of January is a very good time for you. If you have any belief in it, please go to a Vinayagar temple and give him a garland of grass."
I was grinning widely all through his oration. When he came to the frying bajjis bit, all my family started grinning excitedly.
I was now asked to pick a card. I picked one. He opened it to show the picture of Lord Vinayaga.
"See madam, do you need more proof? I just now told you that you should visit Vinayagar Temple and now you pick a card with His picture on it. Please madam, if you have belief in it, do go and present Him with the garland of grass. You have good times ahead of you", I was now smiling uncontrollablely. He looked up at me and said, "And you can conquer others with that smile of yours".
That did it.
I laughed outright. Not at him though. I was impressed despite my beliefs. He had achieved what he had set out to do. Even if nothing else, he was a good salesman and a showman. The 10 rupees was well spent!
I may or may not have had this entertaining show for my benefit if only I had kept my mouth shut when he began his show. So being a loud-mouthed smarty pants does help sometimes!!!