In 1978, a younger engineer and an aspiring English trainer wed in Chennai, in southern India. They’d met solely as soon as earlier than, for an hour, however everybody was satisfied this was it—this was the match. Jōtiṭars—household astrologers—on either side confirmed: The homes of their births have been aligned; subsequently, the union was extraordinarily auspicious.
Twenty-six years, a transfer to Canada, and two kids later, they’d divorce—as bitter a separation as any you may think about, replete with hidden financial institution accounts and withholding alimony. When the not-so-young-anymore English trainer broke the information to her household in India, the cellphone stuffed with silence that was greater than shocked: It was additionally offended. Even within the early 2000s, divorce remained comparatively unusual in India. And, extra importantly, “the jōtiṭars had assured it,” because the English trainer’s father mentioned. Sadly, he mentioned nothing extra. The English trainer—my mom—hung up. After that, she wouldn’t return to India. “Why ought to I’m going again simply to be shamed for not dwelling as much as the jōtiṭars’ predictions?” she requested. I did not blame her; I understood.
I used to be in highschool when all of this unfolded, affording my first glimpse into the facility these astrologers had wielded over my household, each then and now. I directly hated and was fascinated by these mysterious fortune-tellers. Day-after-day after college, I began spending hours on-line, attempting to decipher why so many Indians trusted them for choices on one thing as essential as marriage.
Shortly, I realized their energy was even higher than I would imagined: Astrologers in India usually are not solely consulted on marriage, but in addition on enterprise and monetary choices—every thing from when to purchase and promote shares to branding and advertising campaigns. They’re additionally recurrently requested to advise on dwelling constructing and medical points. Astrology is a multi-million greenback trade in India, with predictions even driving catastrophe preparations: In 2000, for instance, Indian astrologers predicted catastrophic tidal waves, inflicting a whole sea-side village to desert their homes. (No disaster occurred, besides the homes have been looted whereas empty.)
The place did this unquestioning loyalty come from? “From some Hindu God or one other,” my mom shrugged. After the divorce, she’d taken down the small idols of Vishnu and Ganesha from the altar within the kitchen the place she used to hope.
Practiced by 80 p.c of India’s inhabitants, Hinduism, I realized, confers a sacred standing to Jyotisha, also called Vedic astrology. It differs from the Western system not solely in its charts, the planetary placements, and the calculations, but in addition within the credentials its college students can earn: In India, you may get a graduate diploma in Vedic astrology. And regardless of persevering with complaints by Indian scientists that this undermines India’s scientific credibility, it is not unusual to seek out former army, accountants, engineers and the like getting into these applications.
All of this shed some gentle on my grandfather’s response, even when neither my mom nor I may forgive it. I would all the time considered my thatha, the dean of an engineering school, as a person of science. I hadn’t realized how necessary Jyotisha and the temple additionally have been to him: websites of each refuge and revelation. And neither had I understood that the turns of my mom’s life—together with, most not too long ago, her sharp veering away from Hinduism—challenged the muse of his.
Quickly, my fixation on Vedic astrology pale. As I grew older, I developed the identical obscure curiosity in Western astrology widespread to millennials—the stressed-out, continually on-line technology determined for a spirituality that did not ascribe to any conventional faith. Like most ladies I knew in my twenties, I began following astrologers on social media as a lot for the memes and Mercury retrograde alerts as for the horoscopes hinting that subsequent week may very well be higher, fuller, holding much less of that sinking feeling that nothing issues. Or possibly I used to be in search of indicators that I may very well be(come) higher. I can let you know this: In an age of endemic loneliness, the reassurance of my thought patterns and neuroses as a “typical Virgo” eased each my aloneness and my anxiousness.
In direction of the top of my twenties, I returned to India for the primary time in practically a decade. By then, my thatha had handed away; earlier than that, he and my mom had reconciled—considerably. They’d spoken on the cellphone sometimes, normally nothing greater than pleasantries, however it was one thing. As he neared his finish, she started telling me tales of her youth with him: him educating her Sanskrit, the 2 of them debating themes in The Depend of Monte Cristo—her favourite ebook, and his. After which there have been the tales of him “screening” dozens of potential suitors with the jōtiṭar, decided to find the perfect match for her, his beloved youngest daughter.
The arc of this tough love replayed in my thoughts as I sipped chai in my aunt’s lounge. Outdoors, the sinking Chennai solar was burnishing the sky gold.
“It is all precisely how he predicted,” my aunt sighed.
“The jōtiṭar—I keep in mind precisely—mentioned your mom would ultimately reside distant, and solely her daughter would return right here. He mentioned all that once we have been nonetheless kids.”
“Was this the identical jōtiṭar who predicted the proper match between my dad and mom?”
“The exact same,” she nodded miserably.
Shocked, I mentioned nothing. We sat there for some time, the room silent aside from the whirring of the ceiling fan. My mom had by no means talked about this different prediction. Did she find out about it? And the way would she really feel about it coming true, particularly when the opposite one—the happier one—had collapsed ?
Regardless of the jet lag, I could not sleep that night time, my thoughts tracing time and again the constellation of things that had introduced me right here, and saved my mom away. Actually, I used to be there largely as a vacationer: Like another customer, I wished to expertise the temples and seashores and meals. Ideally, I might’ve skilled them with my mom, however we each knew she may by no means be solely a vacationer right here, regardless of how lengthy she’d been away. How had the jōtiṭar recognized that issues would unfold this fashion? And if he’d been proper about this, why had he been so flawed about my dad and mom’ compatibility?
Or had he? In so some ways, my dad and mom had been a superb match: They’d held the identical political beliefs, got here from the identical caste and socioeconomic class, parented and disciplined with the identical strictness. They each loved journey, traditional Carnatic music, the identical Bollywood films and Indian comedians. They even appeared good collectively, her heart-shaped face coming just under his sq. jaw. No relationship service may have configured a extra excellent pair. Ultimately, compatibility hadn’t translated into love and even like, and this, over time, soured into resentment: Each yearned for one thing extra, even when imperfect.
Maybe, I assumed, the jōtiṭar’s unique prediction wasn’t as flawed as I would believed it to be in spite of everything. The considered assembly him whereas I used to be right here flickered briefly, earlier than sleep put it out.
Two weeks and lots of temples and seashores and beautiful meals later, I used to be on a aircraft again to North America. I hadn’t met the jōtiṭar, regardless of my aunt’s repeated provides to take me.
“There’s many quack jōtiṭars,” my aunt mentioned. “Many, many, many! However not him. The enterprise together with your dad and mom’ marriage is the one time I’ve recognized him to be flawed, and that is simply, nicely…” she trailed off, shaking her head.
I imagined my mom having the identical dialog right here, a thousand instances over with 100 relations. I understood once more why she hadn’t come again. To my aunt, I mentioned thanks, however no. Possibly I did not need to know precisely what lay forward, or possibly I feared the jōtiṭar’s predictions could be overlaid with a level of interpretation that I could not decode.
I did, nonetheless, test my weekly horoscope on my cellphone earlier than the aircraft took off. Subsequent to me, an older Indian man, in his sixties or seventies, was doing the identical, however on a Vedic astrology web site. When he observed me trying, he smiled and defined, “It calms my nerves earlier than flying.”
“Me too,” I mentioned.
And possibly this was on the core of why so many us, all over the world, flip to astrology: for one thing to hold onto within the midst of turbulence. As we fly into the unknown—as we’re all doing at each prompt—the sense of our lives being stewarded by one thing divine is probably not obligatory, however it is enormously calming. And as with faith and different issues of the divine, I’ve realized it is okay to take what serves you—a weekly horoscope, or a studying of your charts in Vedic or Western traditions or each—and go away behind what does not.
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