Josiyam paakkareengala (want your fortune told?)”, she asked me. As I sat with my legs stretched out in the cool sand of Marina Beach in Chennai, I was approached by a 40-something lady. She was clad in a simple cotton sari, a wire basket in one hand and a black staff in another. Her hair was well-oiled, confined in a bun.
I have never really been inclined to any sort of astrology or fortune reading in my life. Never really found any logic in them and always stayed away from them. But that evening on Marina beach, seeing the plight of the poor women, I agreed to listen to her. Extremely persistent she was and, for a sum of Rs. 50, she volunteered to read my fortune (or is it misfortune), my family’s and my children’s future family. Whoa! Now that was some sort of a deal.
“Extend your palm and tell me your name,” she said. She placed a photo of a Goddess in front and on a plastic mat dropped 12 cowrie shells. Stroking my palm with her black wand and with closed eyes she said, “Jakamma nalla vaaku sollu.” (Jakamma tell the right things. She spoke Tamil). “Who is Jakkamma?” I asked her. Jakamma is our Goddess in the temple in Ettayapuram (a village in Tirunelveli District). We astrologers believe that our powers to predict are all by her grace. So before we make any predictions we must always begin with her name.
“You are a smart and clever woman…” she began, “…and have a very kind heart”. Hmm now this sounded nice. Who wouldn’t like hearing a bit of good stuff about oneself? She continued, “Though a very generous person, you are a spendthrift too. Money would flow out of your hand like water…” Ah!! So she was getting at some not so nice things too. I did a quick introspection in my mind. Was I a spendthrift? Well maybe, I just blew up Rs. 50 getting my fortune read, in which I absolutely had no faith.
For the next 20 minutes she rambled some predictions in a singsong manner, which I could make no sense of. Anyways, I sat amused. Despite my lack of faith in her predictions, I noticed the sincerity and conviction with which she rendered them. I liked the faith she held in “Jakkamma” and the belief that it is her power that helps her guide others. I paid her the promised amount and waving her magic wand she went in search of her next customer.
Visit any beach in Chennai and on the shores you could spot astrologers of sorts. Palm readers, Kuri Josiyum (the one I encountered with cowrie shells)) and Killi Josiyum (parrot astrology in Tamil) all promising to predict your future. Most astrologers belong to a community called “Kambalathu Naicker”. They worship the Goddess Jakkamma, and are inducted to the profession of fortune reading at a young age. It’s a custom that has been followed by the community for years. And despite their lack of education, these astrologers have in-depth knowledge on knowledge on stars, constellations and planetary positions.
As dusk falls over the sea in Chennai, it’s time to call it a day. The wand and cowrie shells go back into their wired baskets until the next day.
Have you ever encountered fortune reading? What was your experience?
This is a part of my journey exploring 26 lesser known shades of a country called India, with the #AtoZChallenge 2016!!!