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!
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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