The Palm Reader

Palm Reader

“Without children, eating food is like taking medicine.” Her eyes hold mine fast as she sets her mouth in disapproval – she has already told me that I don’t have any children. “Do you have anything else to ask me?” “No, I can’t think of anything.” Her mouth twists in disappointment and disbelief. “How long will I live?” I grope, more to appease her than out of any curiosity about my life expectancy.

I sit facing the space between her intensity and the reluctant, bemused, and slightly embarrassed Khartik, acting as my translator, sitting behind me; alternately twisting to face each of them as they speak. I really don’t have anything to ask this woman.

“You should ask this lady; you’ll see her soon – she’s a real character. Ask her if you should buy this place.” The palm reader is one of many people who inhabit Pichaya Manet’s world, coming and going through the kitchen door of his guest house, Villa Pondicherry. In a few minutes, she comes into the dining area where we have just finished lunch, and sits down on the floor. She has the lean, hard body cultivated by a lifetime of physical labor, and teeth completely stained by paan. She beckons to Mark with her free hand and pats the floor by her side. In her other hand, she clutches a foot-long scepter made of dark wood, interspersed with silver bands.

We are both a little stunned. After a long minute, Mark reluctantly goes and sits across from her. He has no choice. “Your right hand?” She asks. “Yes, my right hand.” “Very well.” She proceeds with a litany of modulated words, translated as: “You don’t have to pay any attention to what I just said, it is a prayer.” She strokes Mark’s hand with the scepter, and begins to speak, gesturing in a way that I have never seen before: stroking her upper lip with the side of her index finger, then tapping her upper arm with the same hand. “You had many problems with women in the past, but those problems are now over.” Sing-song, sing-song. “You own two houses.” Sing-song, sing-song. We both lose interest in this very soon, until she asks “Do you have anything to ask me?” At which point Mark says “Are we going to buy a house in Pondicherry?” – his obsession for the last two weeks. “When?” She takes out a handful of small cowrie shells from a wooden box and throws them on the floor. “In April.” Sing-song, sing-songв…

Suddenly, she is beckoning me. And I have no choice but to replace Mark on the floor. Enough of my friends have gone to fortune tellers and nadi readers that I no longer question their sanity, or reevaluate my judgment in having them as friends. But I never thought that I would be presenting my hand to a palm reader… She takes my left hand, and begins with the prayer. In retrospect, I wish I knew the words to her prayer. What gods does she invoke? Does she pray for me?

I only remember some of her pronouncements:

My body is healthy, but my mind is disturbed.
I never have to worry about my “husband”, he will never betray me.
I do not have a good relationship with my family, but I have very good friends.
Pichaya will help us, but will do so because of friendship and not money.
I am not happy where I am currently living, but will be happy in India.

By now, Khartik has lost interest in translating and is planning the menu for that evening’s program at L’E-space. And I’m dying for a post-lunch siesta.

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