(First appeared in the Hindu Business Line, November 28th, 2013)
There are at least three people assessing me as I enter a large veranda and take my seat, facing one of them, for my first encounter with Nadi Jyotisham (astrology based on palm leaf). I have my camera with me and I am wearing a floppy hat.
“The camera must be costly”, says a voice from behind me. I escape economic profiling by saying, “Yes, new cameras cost a lot, but second hand ones are cheaper”. “You get them cheap in Malaysia and Singapore”, the voice from behind is exploring my travel range. I play it vague with a half nod. The youth sitting in front of me hands over a printed ‘menu’ and explains to me that the opening gambit will cost me Rs 150, something like a minimum entry fee; each of the 15 additional areas of insight (wealth, love, et al) will cost me Rs 150. I confess to him that my budget for the evening is just Rs 150.
A little after my left hand thumb impression is taken thrice on a sheet of paper and I reveal my date of birth, I am called in to an adjoining cabin. The jyotish is in a white shirt and dhoti. He has with him a palm leaf ‘book’ with wooden planks for covers. Interspersed with slokas comes his explanation of Nadi Jyotisham’s origin but he firmly stops me from making notes. “Where do you live?”, is his first question, in Tamil, and I say, “Chennai”. “You were not born there’, he intuits. Big deal! It is obvious to anyone, from my shaky Tamil. He keeps asking me whether I have lived abroad, conjugating the idea differently a couple of times, maybe influenced by my ‘touristy’ floppy hat and the camera.
“Are you a Brahmin?”, I say “No”.
“Are you a Hindu?”. I say “No”.
“Christian?”. I say “Yes”.
“Your name is D Souza.. Fernandez.. Alfonzo…. DeCruz” … With that, his armoury of Christian names is exhausted. May be he has had mostly Goans and Mangalorians among his Christian customers. Or maybe just a bad day in the office – he has been yawning repeatedly throughout, reacting sheepishly to my solicitous enquiry about sleep lost the previous night.
“Your father’s age is 75 to 80.., 82, 83, 85 …”, he is on a fishing expedition, but not getting my nod, gives up at 85. Then he states/asks that my father’s name starts with J-K-L-M-N-O…. Clever! Any empathetic subject will involuntarily nod when the right letter is mentioned. But bad luck – A for Abraham is too far. “Both your parents are alive…”, he states, and as I instantly begin to disagree, gives his last syllable a twist that makes it an enquiry. This becomes standard operating procedure. If his statement is right, I would agree and he scores a point. If he is wrong, he was only asking, not stating. Very clever! So each time, I start asking him whether it is a question or a statement. He doesn’t enjoy such precision being demanded.
Our eyes meet and stay locked, like wrestlers in a stalemated combat.
“This is what the leaf says. I think this is not your leaf”, he says as he steps out. He returns in a few seconds, saying, “Your leaf is not with us now. Try again some other time”.
It is an honourable draw. I can say that he got it wrong in most cases and feel smug about it. He can say that he didn’t have the answers because he didn’t have my leaf.
Yet, I gained my first experience with Nadi Jyotisham, that too, for free – the jyotish was gentlemanly enough not to ask for the money, treating it as a cancelled game. It also suits me that I got nothing with which to question credible friends who swear by their experiences of accurate predictions. Maybe I am yet to meet my leaf – a needle in a haystack of 7.1billion plus leaves, covering the human population growing by the second.
A draw is not bad. That keeps interest alive in a return match. If it is written on my leaf, that is.