Categories
Index

Borderless, September 2021

Editorial

The Caged Birds Sing…Click here to read.

Interviews

Professor Anvita Abbi, a Padma Shri, discusses her experience among the indigenous Andamanese and her new book on them, Voices from the Lost Horizon. Click here to read.

Keith Lyons talks to Jessica Mudditt about her memoir, Our Home in Myanmar, and the current events. Click here to read.

Translations

Be and It All Came into Being

Balochi poetry by Akbar Barakzai, translated by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

Adivasi Poetry

A poem by Jitendra Vasava translated from the Dehwali Bhili via Gujarati by Gopika Jadeja. Click here to read.

A Poem for The Ol Chiki

 Poetry by Sokhen Tudu, translated from the Santhali by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar. Click here to read.

About Time

Korean poetry on time written and translated by Ilwha Choi. Click here to read.

Of Days and Seasons

A parable by the eminent Dutch writer, Louis Couperus (1863-1923), translated by Chaitali Sengupta. Click here to read.

Road to Nowhere

An unusual story about a man who heads for suicide, translated from Odiya by the author, Satya Misra. Click here to read.

Abhisar by Tagore

A story poem about a Buddhist monk by Rabindranath Tagore in Bengali has been translated by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read the poems

Arundhathi Subramaniam, Michael R Burch, Sekhar Banerjee, Jeff Shakes, Ashok Suri, Tim Heerdink, Srinivas S, Rhys Hughes, A Jessie Michael, George Freek, Saranayan BV, Gigi Baldovino Gosnell, Pramod Rastogi, Tohm Bakelas, Nikita Desai, Jay Nicholls, Smitha Vishwanathan, Jared Carter

Nature’s Musings

In Sun, Seas and Flowers, Penny Wilkes takes us for a tour of brilliant photographs of autumnal landscapes with verses. Click here to read.

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

In Memory Gongs, Rhys Hughes creates a profound myth tinged with a tongue in cheek outlook … Click here to read.

Essays

Crime and the Colonial Capital: Detective Reid in Calcutta

Abhishek Sarkar explores the colonial setting up of the Calcutta detective department in 1887. Click here to read.

The Myth of Happiness

Candice Louisa Daquin ponders over the impositions on people to declare themselves happy. Click here to read.

Once Upon a Time in Burma: Of Babies and Buddhas

John Herlihy takes us through more of Myanmar with his companion, Peter, in the second part of his travelogue. Click here to read.

Bhaskar’s Corner

Bhaskar Parichha explores links between Politics & the Media. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

Cyclists

Mike Smith muses about a black and white photograph from his childhood. Click here to read.

Leo Messi’s Magic Realism

Sports fan Saurabh Nagpal explores the magic realism in famous footballer Messi’s play with a soupçon of humour. Click here to read.

Infinite Possibilities & Mysterious Riddles

Keith Lyons gives a lively account of traveling across borders despite the pandemic. Click here to read.

Word Play

Geetha Ravichnadran explores additions to our vocabulary in a tongue-in-cheek article. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In When I Almost Became a Professor, Devraj Singh Kalsi gives humour tinged reasons on why he detached himself from being an academician. Click here to read.

Stories

Flash Fiction: Turret

Niles M Reddick relates a haunting tale of ghosts and more. Click here to read.

Silver Lining

Dipayn Chakrabarti travels through moods of the day and night. Click here to read.

Captain Andi is in love

Dr. P Ravi Shankar explores a future beyond climate change in Malaysia. Click here to read.

The Cockatoo

Revathi Ganeshsundaram captures the stardust in ripening years. Click here to read.

The Missing Tile

Saeed Ibrahim’s story reflects on the ties between an old teacher and a student. Click here to read.

The Literary Fictionist

In Return of the Ghost, Sunil Sharma explores the borders between life, ideas and death. Click here to read.

Book Excerpt

An excerpt from Kobi’ and ‘Rani’: Memoirs and Correspondences of Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis and Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Somdatta Mandal, showcasing Tagore’s introduction and letters. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Rakhi Dalal reviews Anvita Abbi’s Voices from the Lost Horizon. Click here to read.

Basudhara Roy reviews Bina Sarkar Ellias’ Song of a Rebel and Other Selected Poems. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Wendy Doniger’s Winged Stallion and Wicked Mares. Click here to read.

Categories
Teacher's Day Special

The Missing Tile

By Saeed Ibrahim

Roy paced up and down on the balcony of his house looking out onto South Mumbai’s leafy,  tree-lined Laburnum Road.  There were only a few of the iconic yellow flower-bearing trees left that had once flourished on either side of the road  and lent their name to this peaceful and picturesque locality. Other trees had outgrown and replaced the laburnums, but together they still provided the street with its shady overhanging canopy; although with the construction of newer and taller buildings, the area had lost some of its quiet charm.

Roy was getting increasingly restless. Normally one could set one’s watch by the punctuality of the postman as he turned the corner into Roy’s street on his mid morning delivery rounds. For some reason, he was unusually late this morning and this added to Roy’s nervous anticipation. It was the day that the results of his final exams were meant to arrive by post. The results would get delivered to his house in the normal course anyway, but it was somehow more exciting to track the postman on his rounds, meet him at the gate and get his report card from the postman’s hands directly, avoiding delays of any sort. Besides it was vacation time and Roy was at home all day.

 At last he spotted the postman as he entered the lane opposite his house. He followed his every move from his vantage point on his balcony as the postman entered each house, delivered the mail and exited again before going up to the next house. Roy waited impatiently for the postman to finish his circuit of homes in the lane opposite, before he made his way to his house. But to his utter disappointment, the postman skipped Roy’s house and continued on his way to the next street.

A thousand doubts plagued Roy’s mind. How come his report had not arrived? Had he fared badly in his exams? Had there been a delay in despatching the reports at his school and would the results arrive the following day? A deflated Roy abandoned his post at the balcony.

But the following day he was at his balcony vigil again at the appointed hour. This time, however, he was not disappointed. With mounting excitement he rushed down and met the postman at the gate. The postman knew from experience what Roy’s agitation was all about and he decided to play along with him. Holding the much anticipated envelope aloft he teased,“Not so fast young man! Before I hand you this envelope you must first tell me what you are going to give me if you get good results.”

Roy could barely control his impatience and blurted out, “Whatever you want, sir. What about a box of sweetmeats?”

 “I was only joking, son,” the postman replied handing Roy the report card. “But do tell your mother to save some sweets for me at Diwali or Christmas.”

Roy ran up the steps two at a time, and getting into his flat, let out a whoop of joy as he tore open the envelope and scanned his report card. He had stood first in class and bettered his rank by two places from the last exam. He could hardly wait to share the good news with his mother but he would have to wait until the evening before she returned home from work.

At twelve, Roy was a sensitive, well-mannered and studious young boy who excelled at his studies. Tall and lanky, he was not much into sports and outdoor games but had a fascination for books and spent almost all his spare time reading. At a young age he had devoured almost all the classics and was extremely well read. Thoughtful and considerate, he had a protective attitude towards his mother who had been widowed at a young age and left with bringing up a small child entirely on her own. She was devoted to Roy and the two had developed a strong bond built on mutual understanding and caring.

Still bubbling with the excitement of the morning’s news, Roy placed his report card on the dining room table and went into the kitchen to warm up the food his mother had prepared and left for him before leaving for work. After lunching, Roy went up to his room and picked up the unfinished book he had been reading that morning. So absorbed was he in the world of Dickens and the “Tale of Two Cities” that he had lost track of time. With a start he put down his book as he remembered that it was already six in the evening, and he had to go pick up the loaf of bread and sachet of milk that he bought each evening and delivered to Miss Rita.

Miss Rita was an elderly lady who lived by herself in the next door flat to Roy and his mother. She had contracted polio as a child but despite her handicap (she could only move about supported with leg braces and crutches), she had shown great courage and determination in getting herself a Master’s Degree and a teacher’s qualification. She had been a highly successful and popular senior school teacher of English and History over a career spanning thirty years. Nearing retirement, she had been struck by the post-polio syndrome, a condition that affects about 30% of polio survivors years after recovery from an initial attack of the poliomyelitis virus.  For Miss Rita, it had meant renewed and progressive muscle weakness and fatigue, making even movement around the house limited and extremely painful.

Life had forcibly slowed down for her and she now spent all her time indoors. But she was not one to wallow in self pity. Being a deeply devout woman and also an extremely practical one, she found strength in prayer but also in fruitful activity. She was good at knitting and crochet and made little baby items that she donated to the Church mission near her house to be sold for local charities. She was also fond of baking and turned out delicious cakes and biscuits which she made and supplied on order to the households in the neighbourhood. Her Christmas hampers too were well known with their assortment of home-made goodies – Christmas cake, chocolate fudge, marshmallows and marzipan.

Roy and his mother had been very supportive. Roy’s mother would often send up food items, especially on weekends when she had the possibility of spending more time in the kitchen. Roy often ran errands for Miss Rita and got her a loaf of bread and a sachet of milk every evening when he had finished with his homework. Often he would stay back and spend some time with Miss Rita telling her about his day at school and discussing with her the latest book that he had read. She in turn would run a critical eye over his work assignments, suggest books for him to read and having discovered that he had shown a curiosity about Shakespeare, would sometimes read to him extracts from some of the more famous plays. Over time, a close rapport had been developed between the two.  Roy found in Miss Rita a valuable mentor and guide, and he provided her with the much needed comfort and solace in her lonely old age. Being kind and respectful to elders came naturally to him, and Roy probably did not realise how much his daily evening visits meant to Miss Rita. 

The activity that brought the most pleasure to them both was a game of Scrabble. Miss Rita made it a point to never “let” Roy win, and she was elated when on occasion Roy, unaided and entirely on his own, achieved a higher score and won the game. There were two ground rules that Miss Rita insisted on. She always encouraged Roy to make use of a dictionary to look up the meaning of a new word. (It was largely due to her that Roy had, for his age, developed a vast and varied vocabulary.) And each time before winding up the game Miss Rita would remind Roy, “Don’t forget to count the tiles and make sure they are a 100 before you put them back in the bag. It’s so easy to lose even one tile and spoil your game.”

Illustration by Danesh Bharucha

The Scrabble games became almost a routine for both Roy and Miss Rita and the evening sessions sometimes extended to weekend afternoons as well.

 Fresh from the excitement of his excellent exam results, along with the bread and milk that evening, Roy now carried his report card to show Miss Rita.

 “Congratulations Roy. You have done so well in all your subjects and topped your class. I am so proud of you. It’s time we had a little celebration,” Miss Rita beamed as she manoeuvered her wheelchair to a nearby sideboard and reached for a bar of chocolate.

 “Thank you Miss Rita,” replied Roy blushing. “Could we please have a game of Scrabble today?”

“Of course, Roy. Go fetch the board and the bag of tiles.”

 Roy eagerly set up the board and the game got underway. In the last round Miss Rita was leading with thirty points and it was now Roy’s turn with the last seven letters on the rack staring him in the face. With the utmost concentration Roy arranged and re-arranged the letters trying to get a word that made sense. After several attempts he arrived at the word “RAIMENT” which looked strangely familiar but he wasn’t too sure. He went up to the bookshelf and brought down the familiar “Oxford English Dictionary.” He let out a cry of triumph as he read out aloud: “Noun, old use: Clothing, Garments.” He had scored a BINGO.

He had just finished adding up the scores when he heard a light tap at the front door.   “That must be Mummy.”

 Engrossed in their game, they had both not realised that it was 8.30 pm. Roy’s mother had returned from work and was now reminding Roy that it was time for dinner. Roy hurriedly put the Scrabble tiles back in the bag and stored away the board and the dictionary in their usual place. He excused himself, said goodbye to Ms. Rita and left to join his mother at dinner.

The next time they played a game of Scrabble, as Roy was re-checking the tiles he found that there were only 99 tiles. One tile was missing. He looked all around – on the table on which the board had been placed, on the two chairs that they both occupied whilst playing and all over the

floor of Miss Rita’s sitting room. The tile was nowhere to be found. There was nothing to be done. They just resigned themselves to having lost the tile and continued playing their Scrabble games with one missing tile.

And so the weeks passed into months and the months to years. Having entered the senior classes the pressure of school work meant that the Scrabble games became less frequent until in his last year of school, having to prepare for his college entrance exams, the Scrabble games were dropped altogether. Although Roy continued to visit Miss Rita regularly as before with his daily bread and milk delivery, the time spent together became perforce much shorter. At times it was for Roy a quick dash in and dash out of Miss Rita’s flat.

Roy secured top scores in his college entrance exams and won a scholarship for an undergraduate programme at a foreign university. He bid farewell to his tearful mother and called on Miss Rita to say goodbye. Although she was going to miss him, she was overjoyed at the tremendous opportunity for higher studies abroad that had come his way and she bid him goodbye with many blessings and good wishes for his success. Roy promised to keep in touch and to write her letters whilst he was away.

Undergraduate life, however, kept him busy and he was unable to keep to his promise. After the initial letter or two the correspondence to Miss Rita stopped completely. She was disappointed but she never complained and kept herself abreast of Roy’s welfare by checking regularly with Roy’s mother, her next door neighbour. She was happy that at least he had kept up a more or less regular correspondence with his mother.

Roy did well at college and the wider exposure increased his self confidence and opened up for him a whole new avenue of friendships and experiences. After a gap of three years he was preparing for his first trip back home. He knew exactly what to buy for his mother as she had sent him a list almost six months earlier. He was still wondering what gift he could get Miss Rita when he received a letter from his mother giving him the sad news of Miss Rita’s passing away the previous month. She had had a fall and broken her hip. With his mother’s help she had been moved to a hospital and the doctors had decided to perform a hip surgery as soon as she was a bit stronger. But she had not recovered from the shock of the fall. Her health had steadily deteriorated and barely two days after being admitted to the hospital, she had passed away peacefully in her sleep.

Roy was deeply shocked and devastated by the sad news as he packed his bags for his trip back home. He arrived home with a heavy heart and felt little joy at his homecoming. A week after his arrival his mother took him aside and gave him a box which she said Miss Rita had left with her asking her to give it to Roy whenever he came back home. It was almost as if she had had a premonition that she herself would not be there to give it to him personally. With tears in his eyes Roy opened the box and a flood of memories engulfed him. Inside the box was a card of beautiful handmade paper with the following words penned in flawless verse written in Miss Rita’s flowing hand:

“My dear Roy,
I’ve tried to find the right phrase
To mirror my mind for you
Without distortion. It’s difficult.   
There’s depth and sincerity to reckon with, 
And the habit of elected silence 
About things that tug at heartstrings.

I won’t wish you success because
It will be yours, your due and best dessert
For talents you are blest with
And have learnt how to employ. 
Prosperity should not elude you -- 
Your industry points that way. 
Through childhood’s span of years
You’ve gained in friends and their affection. 
You are loyal yourself,
And you must make your friendships last, 
Giving as much happiness as,
And more than you receive. 

There is nothing I could do to add to 
The lustre of your intellect
Or the graces of your character. 
But I would like to ask that 
You walk always the way 
That follows the righteous path.

Affectionately, Rita”  

Along with the card was the Scrabble board and cloth bag containing the Scrabble tiles. By the side was the well-worn “Oxford English Dictionary.” A small bump appeared between its pages, like a bookmark inserted to earmark a page. With trembling fingers Roy opened the dictionary. There, sitting face up was the missing Scrabble tile — the letter “R” in bold black lettering on a smooth ivory background.

Illutration by Danesh Bharucha

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Saeed Ibrahim is the author of “Twin Tales from Kutcch,” a family saga set in Colonial India. Saeed was educated at St. Mary’s High School and St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, and later, at the University of the Sorbonne in Paris. His short stories and book reviews have earlier been published in the Bengaluru Review. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Stories

The Crystal Ball

By Saeed Ibrahim

Rohit’s interest in star signs went back to his school days. His teacher, Professor Godbole, apart from being a Maths teacher, was also an amateur astrologer. It was from him that Rohit had learnt about the alignment and movement of the planets and their effect on a person’s life and character. Later on, with the pressures of his engineering studies and his subsequent employment as a software engineer, Rohit did not have the time to pursue a serious study of the subject. However, his faith in astrological predictions had remained.

Rohit was convinced that astrology provided an effective guide to steering one through life and planning one’s future. He regularly followed the “What the Stars Foretell” column in the newspaper, and it was the first thing he looked at each week in the Sunday magazine section. Not that Rohit’s current situation in life needed any particular guidance or reassurance. No dark clouds appeared to darken his horizon. For a twenty-six-year-old, he was on a fairly good wicket and not doing too badly by most standards. His job was paying him well and living with his parents, he had few overheads. He liked his work and was popular amongst a small group of friends.

Each Sunday, he joined his buddies for a game of badminton at a sports centre near his home. The four of them would take turns to book a court in advance and after sweating it out on the court, they would get together for a round of beer followed by a game of carom in the games room. On one of these Sunday mornings, Rohit and his friends had gathered together as usual in the clubhouse after their badminton game. His friends often pulled Rohit’s leg about his penchant for astrology.

“Hey Rohit, have you checked your weekly forecast today? You can’t afford to miss this one!” teased his friend Prakash.

Rohit had to take his elderly father for a morning blood test and for the first time in months, he had not had a chance to see the weekly horoscope column in the newspaper. Prakash pulled out the Sunday paper from his backpack and, clearing his throat, he read out aloud the prediction for Rohit according to his birth sign:

You may be required to take some tough decisions at work. Some of you may be walking on thin ice.” Prakash paused for effect and looked up at Rohit. A look of consternation appeared to cloud Rohit’s face. He leaned forward to listen more attentively to what his friend was saying. Prakash seemed to be enjoying the effect his words had had on Rohit. “Hold on folks – there’s more to come!” he announced, as he continued to read from the newspaper:

 “Avoid getting involved in any unnecessary conversations at work. There are hidden enemies who may be conspiring against you. The health of a parent may cause concern.”

Rohit hastily grabbed the newspaper from Prakash, wanting to verify for himself what Prakash had announced. His face turned pale as he read the ominous prediction.

“Is everything alright, Rohit?” Sameer asked with concern.

Rohit did not answer. He looked troubled and disturbed by what he had just read.

Prakash, guilty at having upset his friend, offered:

“Relax, Bro. Don’t take it to heart. We know how utterly unreliable these forecasts can be.”

“You shouldn’t be taking this seriously. These words are not targeted at you. If anything, they could be applicable to a thousand others,” Akbar tried to reassure Rohit.

But Rohit appeared distracted and preoccupied. He felt the need to be by himself and excused himself saying:

“Sorry guys I have to leave you. I have to check on my Dad. He has not been keeping too well.”

On reaching home, Rohit went up directly to his room, pensive and a bit shaken. He would not have given serious thought to the enigmatic warning in the week’s forecast had it not been for the fact that it seemed to strike home with accuracy. At his software firm things had not been terribly favourable of late. The economic slowdown had had its impact on the IT industry as well. Many of the smaller firms had been badly hit and there had been job cuts and retrenchments. Had the recession caught up with his company as well?

What tough decisions were in store for him at work and what was the meaning of the words “walking on thin ice?” Was his job at risk? Was he likely to be fired on account of downsizing as some of his friends in the industry had been?

The second part of the forecast was equally confusing and worrying. Who were the hidden enemies mentioned and was there a plot being hatched against him? Henceforth he would have to be on his guard all the time. And of course, as far as the health of a parent was concerned, it had hit the nail on the head. His father had been quite unwell recently and this had been a source of worry for both him and his mother.

With these disconcerting thoughts plaguing his mind, Rohit left for the office the following day. He had decided that he would try to be extra diligent in his work so as not to give rise to any complaints from his boss. Also, keeping in mind the warning from the horoscope, he would go about his activities keeping his ear to the ground, alert to any suspicious behavior around him.

Later that day, in the office corridor he saw a group of his co-workers huddled together in conversation and talking in whispers. As he passed by, he noticed that they had stopped talking. Was there some conspiracy afoot and was this the group of hidden enemies that he had been cautioned against? Maybe it was just his imagination. He dismissed the thought and went ahead towards his workstation. But the following day in the lunchroom, his doubts were confirmed when he saw the same group of colleagues sitting together at a table and looking meaningfully towards him. When they realised that he had noticed them, they quickly lowered their gaze and looked away in another direction.  Rohit was now convinced that the group was plotting against him. But what was he to do? For the moment he had no proof to support his doubts. Maybe it was best that he bide his time until he came upon some concrete evidence.

However, his peace of mind had been destroyed and his sleep that night was troubled and disturbed. Try as he would, he could not get the words of the forecast out of his mind. The following Sunday he avoided meeting his friends and remained brooding at home. With uncertainty and self-doubt plaguing him, he needed some sort of reassurance that these forebodings would not come to pass and jeopardise his career in any way.  He thought of consulting his astrologer friend, his former Math teacher, Mr. Godbole, but found, to his dismay, that his old mentor had passed away only a few months ago.

He had almost given up in despair, when on going through the classifieds, his eye was caught by the following ad:

“Worried about your future? Get your fortune told and find out what destiny holds for you. Contact psychic reader Madame Aishwarya”.

There was a phone number given beside the name and Rohit hurriedly noted it down before returning the newspaper to its usual place in the living room. His parents normally took a nap after the family’s Sunday lunch and Rohit decided to use this opportunity to make the call. He nervously dialed the number and with a beating heart he waited for the phone to be connected.

On the fifth ring, the phone was picked up and a tired, gravelly voice at the other end announced:

“Yes, who is this?”

“Good afternoon, Ma’am. Is this a good time to talk to you?” Rohit asked tentatively.

“Well, not exactly.  But go ahead. Tell me who you are and why you are calling”

This is not going to be easy, Rohit thought to himself, as he braced himself and stammered back:

“I am Rohit and …I… err… saw your ad in the paper today, and… err… I was wondering if I could have a consultation with you this evening.”

“Is this for yourself? If that is the case, you can come today at 6 pm. Call this number and ask for directions. I charge Rs. 1,000 for a fifteen-minute consultation.” A number was called out and the call was ended abruptly.

Rohit just about managed to jot down the given number. He felt a bit unsettled by the strangeness of his telephonic interaction and the mystery that seemed to surround Madame Aishwarya. Why hadn’t she explained the address herself and what was this other number he had been asked to call? He was in two minds about whether to pursue the matter and make the follow up call or just forget about the whole thing. He finally decided that having come this far, he may as well continue. He picked up the phone and dialed the given number.

“Royal Lodge, good afternoon,” a male receptionist’s voice answered.

Rohit was taken aback. He thought maybe he had dialed the wrong number. He had half expected to be put through to Madame Aishwarya’s secretary. But… Royal Lodge???  The mystery seemed to deepen.

“Royal Lodge, good afternoon,” the voice repeated.

“I was given this number by Madame Aishwarya,” blurted out Rohit. “I have an appointment with her at 6 pm this evening.”

“Yes Sir. Madame Aishwarya is a long-staying guest at our lodge. Would you like me to explain the address to you?”

The Royal Lodge, as it turned out, was a modest-looking guesthouse located in the centre of the city, close to the railway station and the main bus terminal. It was one of several reasonably priced lodgings opposite the city’s transport hub that catered mainly to budget conscious travelers, itinerant traders and salesmen and young employees entering the job market.

Rohit arrived early and was told to wait as Madame Aishwarya would only see him at the appointed time of 6 pm. Striking up a conversation with the receptionist, Rohit learnt that Madame Aishwarya was a clairvoyant who had once been sought after by princes and prime ministers alike for her amazing psychic powers and her ability to foretell the future. She had fallen upon hard times and was practically abandoned by her high-flying clientele. She now lived as a long-staying guest at the Royal Lodge. She slept for most of the day, saw clients by appointment in the evenings, and did a weekly horoscope column for a daily newspaper.

When it was time, Rohit was led up a narrow staircase and ushered to a guest room on the second floor. His discreet knock received a brief “Come in” in the same raspy voice. Rohit entered a small, darkened room lit by a single blue electric bulb that suffused the interior with an eerie half-light. One wall of the room was hung with a single, large portrait of a long-haired god man with a sandalwood garland adorning the frame. A strong aroma of incense pervaded the entire room and added to the other-worldly aura of the small, confined space. In the middle of the room was a rectangular table and hunched over it was the figure of a rather large woman in her mid-sixties, dressed in a black, ankle length kaftan and a spotted blue head scarf worn over a striking, though heavily made-up face, which could have once been described as handsome. Apart from a heavy, beaded necklace and large earrings, Madame Aishwarya wore no other jewelry.

“Take a seat, young man. You are allowed a consultation of fifteen minutes with three questions that you would like answered.”

In the centre of the table was a quartz crystal ball, of a size somewhere between a cricket ball and a football. The crystal ball was mounted on a small metallic stand and next to it was a lighted candle whose flame illuminated a number of tiny crack-like imperfections on the crystal, throwing up sparkling rainbow type images. Rohit sat transfixed, totally mesmerized by the sight in front of him. The lady now closed her eyes in concentration and after a few minutes she re-opened them, placed her hands over the orb and gazed intently into its depths.

Rohit had come with the idea that he would unburden himself of all that had been troubling his mind, but totally awed by the lady’s persona and the fascinating object that she held between her hands, he appeared to have lost his tongue. Forgetting about the three questions, Rohit, with some difficulty, managed to get across in a few words his concerns relating to his workplace and his fears about losing his job.

“Dark shadows are hovering over you at your place of work. Evil forces are at play to thwart you in your career. I hear whispers and see an open pit lying in front of you.” intoned Madame Aishwarya as if in a trance.  

Rohit gripped his chair and broke into a cold sweat.

“But fear not, young man. You will ward off your enemies if you wear a moonstone close to your skin. The moonstone is your birth stone, is it not? It will keep the evil forces away and draw only good vibrations towards you. Health-wise, don’t be afraid of sickness in your family. If a person you are close to is ill, he will soon be healthy again. Romance and marriage are in the air for you. Your parents will arrange your marriage and it will be a perfect match. I see several children.”

With these words, she rose from her seat, blew out the candle and covered the crystal ball with a square of cloth, indicating by her actions that the consultation was over.

“You may place the fees on the table here. I think you know your way out,” she informed Rohit in a tone suggesting that he was dismissed.

Rohit was speechless and stunned by the clairvoyant’s words. He put the money down on the table and stumbled out of the room confused and bewildered. He had expected some comforting words of reassurance, but the lady’s sinister words had only served to re-enforce his misgivings. His father was already well on the road to recovery and his health was no longer a matter of concern. As for marriage, it was the last thing on his mind right now.

Dejected and disillusioned, he trudged to the office the following morning. He had not got over his dark and depressing frame of mind and he found it difficult to concentrate on his work. Mid-morning, he was summoned to the manager’s office. This was what he had feared all along. It was only a matter of time before the death knell would sound, and this was it.  Today he was going to be given the dreaded pink slip.

On entering the manager’s office, he was surprised to see that he was not alone. There was his immediate supervisor, the manager, and the CEO of the company, all of them seated in a row. He would have preferred to be given the bad news by just his supervisor, instead of being humiliated in front of the entire senior management team.

“Good morning, Rohit. Do take a seat,” the CEO called out in a cheery voice. Why did he have to sound so cheerful? If only he knew how nervous it made him to have to face all three of them together.

Rohit barely managed to return his greeting and with a weak smile, he sat down in the chair in front of the manager’s large desk.

“Your supervisor and manager have been telling me…” the CEO began to speak, and Rohit swallowed hard and lowered his head, waiting for the axe to fall.

“They have been telling me how happy they have been with your work and the additional responsibilities that you have undertaken. It has also been a year since you have joined the company. It is now time for you to get a promotion and an increase in your emoluments. Congratulations, Rohit! You have been made a team leader and you will henceforth report directly to your manager.”

Rohit could hardly believe his ears. The three stood up to shake hands with him, and the manager informed him that the human resource department would give him his new terms of appointment sometime later in the day. Rohit struggled to his feet, mumbled his thanks to the trio and left the room in a daze. It took several minutes for reality to sink in and before he could breathe a sigh of relief. When finally, the impact of what he had just been told dawned on him, a cry of joy escaped his lips as he pumped his fist in triumph. With a spring to his step, he returned to his desk, barely holding back the temptation to immediately call his family and friends to announce the good news to them.  

With renewed self-confidence and a restored belief in himself, Rohit returned home that evening with the realisation that his fears and misgivings had after all been totally irrational and unfounded. So much for crystal balls and astrological predictions!

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Saeed Ibrahim is the author of “Twin Tales from Kutcch,” a family saga set in Colonial India. Saeed was educated at St. Mary’s High School and St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, and later, at the University of the Sorbonne in Paris. His short stories and book reviews have earlier been published in the Bengaluru Review. 

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