Once upon a time I had a future of possibility. The world was my oyster. The sky the limit. I made plans for a brilliant adulthood of stellar academics and a professional career. I was to be a biochemist, a journalist, a lawyer, the first woman president and a Nobel laureate. I was to marry and have brilliant, beautiful children who’d all be Student of the Month at their respective elementary schools. I would travel to underdeveloped nations, changing the world and saving the rainforests.
Then, one day, the Nadi Jothida came into my life and filled my clean slate of a future with six pages of a Tamil poem. I could dream no longer.
It seems only inevitable that I should have arrived at this point of no return. Despite my historically jaded disbelief in palmistry and zodiac signs and tales of extra sensory perception, I have never been able to shake the callings of my culture. As an Indian, horoscope reading and chart consulting are in my blood. Astrology and numerology are an intrinsic part of my heritage. Family members have been married through the matching of horoscopes. Weddings planned in accordance with the planetary alignment.
Grandparents often phone home to relay the message of a fate-predicting astrologer: Your current malady will improve in three months but will be followed by a car accident, or this is a bad month for your star; don’t eat any shellfish. Other teenagers may have scoffed at the idea of visiting the future-foreseeing Nadi Jothida, but for me it seemed only natural.
The Nadi, I was to discover, is a scientific group that has in its possession the writings of the holy sages and relays their prophesies to paying customers in over sixty locations in India. Commercial though it seems, the Rishis of ancient India were indubitably an omniscient bunch.
Agasthya, Kousika, Vasistha and other sages had visions of who would come to inhabit the Earth after their passing. The King of Tanjore discovered their predictions inscribed onto palm leaves and translated their faded foretellings into Tamil. During British rule, the Nadi acquired these powerful leaves and “Nadijyothsa” has since been in operation. The Rishis’ predictions focus solely on human life, excluding those who aren’t fated to visit the Nadi.
While visiting with grandparents this summer in Kerala, I tracked down the local Nadijyothsa, romantic visions of a bearded Nadiman in a saffron colored mundu in mind. The visit was ironically ill fated from the start. My mother and I set out one morning and found ourselves on the doorstep of a common astrologer who shook a few shells in our faces, scratched his paunch and declared that I needed Ayurvedic medicine to improve my concentration.
He then named his fee and sent us on our way. Disappointed, my mother and I searched the streets of Cochin for the true Nadiman. Finally, hours later, we arrived at his humble abode. And humble it was: small with no front yard to speak of, located on a side street next to a panwalla and a banana cart. Breath bated in anticipation, I knocked on the door and found myself faced with a clean shaven twenty-something, umbrella instead of palm leaves in his hand. He was the Nadiman’s assistant, and he would have to suffice.
He began by sorting through a book of “leaves” (thin rectangular strips of parchment) to find that one which revealed my future. Trial and error: he’d ask, for example, if “Gitanjali” was my mother’s name and throw out the leaf if I answered in the negative. In order for a match to be certain, both parents’ names and my name had to be affirmed. My mother and I sat, mosquitoes furiously sucking at our arms and legs, and waited.
“Your mother’s name is Shobha?” he asked, and I sat up with a jerk, nodding excitedly.
“Your father’s name Sundaram or Sundarama?” I replied in the affirmative.
“Your name Rohini or Ragini?” A perfect match.
The Nadiman’s assistant proceeded to transcribe the predictions into a notebook for preservation. All the while, I tried to remember if my mother had called me by name, if my father had been mentioned in previous conversation. I couldn’t be certain.
And so I sat, unsure, as the reading began. In orthodox, shuddh Tamil the Nadiman’s assistant revealed to me my future, year by year. I would marry he said, and when. I would have kids he said, and described the circumstance. I would be employed he said, and in what field. I would fight with my husband; he named both the context and the date. I would travel, and he said where. I would suffer, and he said how. He told me when I would be happy. When I’d feel successful. When my parents would pass away. When my brother would suffer. He told me who, what, where, and when. He told me how and why. Then he told me when I’d die. No biochemistry, no journalism, no saving the rainforests.
My life as prophesied quite literally passed before my eyes. As he read, the Nadiman’s assistant stripped me of everything worth living for. Possibility. Surprise. Hope. Fear. The realm of the unknown—my fate—swiftly materialized into a future I detested. A life I could neither identify with or aspire toward. I was left with a pit in my stomach and resentment in my heart.
In retrospect, I can’t think why I wanted so badly to visit the Nadiman. Of all the gifts we’ve been given in this life, whether by chance or by God depending on your belief, the greatest is possibility. The possibility that anything can happen if you will it so. The ability to make any or every possibility a reality, as trite as it may sound. I spent days in silence, mulling over the prophecies of the Nadiman, feeling as if I had lost a great chunk of my life and could never regain it. I had exchanged my right to improvise for a script set in stone.
I’ll never return to the Nadiman. Never consult another shell-shaking astrologer, horoscope-analyst, palmist, fortune-teller, or tarot-card reader. For despite the thrill of knowing the future, unsettling disillusionment often follows discovery. I’ve now come to terms with the Nadiman’s predictions. I’ll always remember this experience, as I do so many magical, exotic memories of India, but I have still to mark my own path and find my own way.
To paraphrase Napoleon (when a palmist commented on his lack of a fate line), I make my own destiny. Prophecies of the Rishis or no, I have a future to tend to and the mysterious unknown to aspire toward. Que Sera, Sera. What will be, will be.
Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan, 16, is a lover of school and an aspiring essayist.