Saade saathi is the most dreaded phrase one can hear in a family where astrology and all that are revered. Seven and a half years of bad luck is sure to suck out anybody’s life force, even before it happened, and it was no different when this supposed bomb was dropped on me in eighth grade. “When you’re eighteen years old, this phase will start. Its effect will be visible from when you’re sixteen.” It wasn’t a strange man with beads around his neck and kumkum on his forehead who issued my death sentence, but my dad in boxers holding a mug of black coffee. “After this, you’ll never be as happy as you are now. Your life will be full of suffering and hard work.”
I call all this shady, but astrology is papa’s hobby, and amma and I don’t have the heart to ask him to stop with the miserable predictions. Amma believes that he would never let go of it, that this is his way of flirting with women and holding their hands. I’d like to think that what he says doesn’t bother me. When I laugh at this on the outside, a small part of me panics and faints. “You’ll go in the wrong direction when you turn seventeen,” was a statement that made the entire family look at me like I’d committed a crime. What? What will I do? Amma immediately asks me, “Boyfriend yaradru idana? Eneno madakella hogbeda. School bidisbidtini illandre. I’ll remove you from school. Hushar. And her warnings and accusatory glares never ceased.
When I turned sixteen, I got my 10th board exam results. It wasn’t bad for me, but for my parents, these were the “visible effects.” When I turned eighteen, I did horribly in my 12th board exams. There started my descent into getting “bad.” Amma continued watching me like a hawk until I assured her that I was boyfriend-less and that everyone around me was gay.
One evening I was sat down on the divan and handed a biscuit. “How would you feel if your mom and I fought all the time and separated?” I spat out the biscuit. Huh? This is new. “Exactly,” my papa continued. “Your first marriage will end in a divorce and your two children will be caught in the fray. They wouldn’t like it, would they? You need to learn to control your temper. Huh?
“What about you and amma?”
“We’re fine. I was just giving you an example.” At that moment, I would have gladly asked them to separate and leave my poor kids and me alone. This didn’t stop here. “You’ll marry a boy from some Iraqi or Parsi background. He’ll abandon you,” was something else I was apparently bound to suffer. How they still assume that I’ll want to be in a relationship after the trauma these future men have caused is beyond me.
Being an overprotective father, papa was never comfortable with the idea of me leaving home to study elsewhere. Recently, shocking everyone, he told me to spend some time with him and amma, that I’d have enough time to be alone when I go study in some foreign university. I asked him if he would be okay if I left. “The planets have said so. It’s there in your jatka. If not now, you’ll go in a few years. I can see a star formation in your palm. It shows that you’ll do something brilliant.” I was secretly hoping that this would come true. “But you need to get married early, or no one will marry you. So come back soon.” Gah.
Every Ugadi, amma keeps the panchanga in front of the lamp and prays for a good year. Customs dictate that the panchanga should be read only after the pooja is done and this is the only proper way. Papa, though, has a weird need to go through the book beforehand. As soon as I buy it in the nearby shop and get home, amma hides it the cupboard, under my pajamas. The entire week before Ugadi is a stressful time. Papa searches for it everywhere, and amma continues to hide the white book in new places. It falls out of the shelf when I’m pulling the towel, it’s stuck behind the mixer when I’m looking for coins, it’s near the gas cylinder when I turn off the regulator, and once, I even found it my ‘report card’ folder.
Papa always manages to find it before the festival and sneaks off to his corner on the couch to read it before amma finds out his transgression. And the morning of our new year, he is handed the panchanga and everyone in the family sits around him. He reads it, pretending to be surprised by the content. Since I refuse to listen to this, I get to sleep longer and avoid hours of discussion and drama that come after knowing one’s future. “What’s your rashi and nakshatra? Time and place of birth?” He waits for a reply. “Hmm. Looks like an okay year. Your son will get married this July, but you’ll fall ill soon. Watch your stress levels.” People believe him, and what he says, crazily enough, happens.
A few days back, I called papa asking him for his doctor’s name and address. A friend of mine was sick and she was looking for a good doctor. “Krupashankar. He must be near Double Road, or in Seshadripuram. Ask her to stick to homeopathy. Wait, what’s her rashi and nakshatra? It may be Saturn’s effect.” I don’t remember if he said Saturn or Jupiter. He lost me at rashi. And that night, I dreamt of Pluto having a dwarf-sized effect on my education.
After years of dodging my father’s prophecy making schemes, I made an error. While driving, I’d left my hand on the gearshift. Prime target. Papa had snatched it and was intently studying the grooves in my palm. Palmistry entwined with astrology was another passion of his. “You can’t be a doctor.” I knew this. See, I’m in my third year of BA. “You will suddenly come into money at the age of 33.” This is pleasing. Where’s the bad news? “You’ll be an amputee by 40.” There. I slammed the breaks and refused to drive any further. I needed to keep my limbs safe.