The tragedy was not that he did not believe in astrology. The tragedy was that, he had made it a point to announce to the entire world, and then some, of his disbelief in what the stars foretold.
Now they were all out and about, smirking, to watch him devour his words – for he was at the door of a renowned astrologer, holding a pair of birth charts, birth timings and other miscellaneous details, not admitting even to himself his hope that the interview would bring peace to his very troubled mind.
After five long years of self-imposed exile, Nath had returned to India with his tail between his legs, to nurse his wounds. Sympathetic relatives came to visit, and offered condolences for what they foresaw, clearer than the stars did, was an impending divorce. He narrated the catastrophe eagerly to the first few, before discerning that what he read as concern in their eyes was actually a gleam of ‘I-knew-it-will-happen’. Condolence was another mode of gossip.
Nevertheless, what brought him to the place he thought he would never visit was a word that one of them dropped, a word that loitered around his mind for several days. He overheard his Aunt whisper to his Ma that any marriage without the consent of an astrologer was doomed.
“What was I possibly thinking???” he muttered to himself as he left the astrologer’s house, following an hour long tête-à-tête. He had gone in search of peace; he found nothing but more trouble and a splitting headache. If anything, it reinforced his disbelief in the stars. Nonetheless, the shred of uneasiness that planted itself in his mind refused to settle down.
Either the astrologer knew nothing, or else he knew something he didn’t. He examined the copy of the birth chart that Nath had confiscated from his wife, and asked strange questions, and made impossible announcements. About Shivani’s life before she met him.
He was determined to give nothing away to the astrologer. He would speak only to the point and if the guy tried clever tricks and pretended to know more than he actually did, he would be ready to call his bluff. These phoneys were always good at reading between the lines and he would be careful not to let anything slip. As expected, he was asked a few questions about his wife and their life together. Nath managed to answer in ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and other minimal words.
The astrologer’s questions were curious and unexpected. He asked if Shivani was a widow when he met her. If she had a daughter from her first marriage. If she had stayed in a different city, like Paris. Not that he knew of, Nath replied. The astrologer pondered for long over the sheets with furrowed brows, drawing circles on them with his finger and caressing his greying beard.
She had wanted to relocate.
“Why Paris?” he had said. “Can you not pursue your career here, in London?”
“This is an offer no one would decline,” said she. “I will get to work with some of the best in the field.”
He refused to be convinced. “You cannot go hopping around the world for your career.” He regretted it the moment he uttered it.
“I could, you know,” she said quietly.
Things were about to get out of hand. He would have to do something before more damaging words were exchanged. He sat down next to her and put his arm around her.
“Ambition is a strange thing,” she said thoughtfully. “It works both ways. If it makes you to abandon your life and chase your dreams, you become great. If you sacrifice your desires for others, you’re still considered great. Either way, you can’t lose.”
She turned down the opportunity. He was pleased. He realised much later that one more seed of discord was sown that day. She retreated into a shell. He felt abandoned; and stopped contacting his friends, calling up his family or attending parties. He began to detest the very thought of socialising. That was before she realised she was pregnant. When he suggested they move to India and raise their child there, she flatly refused. After all, she was born and brought up in the U.K., and could consider only that place as home, whereas he was a mere visitor.
The astrologer raising the name of the very city that she wanted to move to, was something worth thinking about.
“I could be wrong,” said the astrologer, – a strange admission from a man in his profession! – “and most of what I am about to say is by adding two and two together, and from my vast experience in seeing similar charts. This could be difficult for you, but I would like to know if I am right. So I request you to go back to her past and look around a bit. If I am not mistaken, she had been married before, and her husband died… in some sort of an accident that shattered his brain.”
Nath dismissed the declarations with a shake of his head. She could not have hidden anything as huge from him. The astrologer would not say more till he got the answers. As he rose to leave, he thought the astrologer was looking strangely at him.
Her quiet and enigmatic eyes had enthralled all of them alike. And yet, it was Nath for whom her eyes brightened every time, or so it appeared to him. When she accepted his proposal, he considered it a conquest. He never asked anything about her past; she always hid her life behind her smile. It did not matter to him, at first. She loved him, and that was all that mattered.
“A model? Are you nuts?” his friend had exclaimed. “They are very well to ogle at and drool over, but to get married? Use your head – for once.” With that, he ceased to be a friend.
The enigma that seemed romantic and charming soon became increasingly difficult to adjust with; it was criss-crossing all over his life. It was to become the very thread that ripped their life apart. He had determined to unravel the mystery that was she, but there were areas of her life, past and present, that were always shut out from him.
When he left the astrologer, he did not go straight home. He wanted to be alone, to clear his thoughts. Not that he believed a word of what he heard; but nor could he ignore it.
His walk took him past the construction site of a fly-over. In his last visit, he had seen the work abandoned after the pillars were done. Now there was a bustle of activity, the air was noisy with shouts and the roar of machines. He stood watching the men at work. The pillars were old, the machines were rusty and the workers were tired. Yet they all trudged on, together, and in a few weeks’ time, the bridge would be ready for traffic.
The astrologer was right. He should go back to her. He should talk to her. His feelings had blinded him. He never tried to listen, his blindness drove him away from her, and she had closed herself down. Love does not end. It can only transform. She still loved him enough to message him the previous day that their baby was a girl. He had deserted her when she needed him the most. He should go back and try to bridge their life together again. And, he was relieved when he realised it, it did not even matter if she had been a widow. Perhaps she would have been more open to him if he had tried to understand.
There are times when a split-second seems longer than an hour. In the last split-second of his life, he took in more than he ever had before. He heard the workers’ scream. He saw their alarmed glances and gestures. He realised that he had strayed too close to the construction site. He looked up and observed with indifference a concrete block weighing tonnes break apart from the bridge and fall, just inches away from smashing him to the ground. He heard again the astrologer’s words. It made sense. Finally. His wife would live in Paris with his daughter. She would be a widow. Her husband would die of head concussion. It was not her past he was narrating. There never was a first husband.
It was he, all along.
Published by the Mag