Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Biography, Scripted by Astrologers

A Biography, Scripted by Astrologers
Sometimes I think our family of astrologers tricked
me into choices I have made all my life.

Astrologers said: "The nav-grah, nine planets would align
to make your tasks harder. But if you make the effort
Vrihaspati, Jupiter, the guru of gods, would delight
in imparting you knowledge. But like in the Puranic times,
the demoniac influences would attack you or try to seduce
you into failures. But if you keep meat off your plate,
drink no wine and fast at least once per fortnight,
you could lessen the severity of blow,
and become a world-famous engineer".

I was forewarned: "The fame will come late,
after a long hiatus, or wait,
that too when Surya or Sun rises
with an intent to set your world straight,
But till then it will be Mars or Mangal,
the blood-bathed planet's rule.
Mars bestows only anger, and scars
through accidents involving water or fire."

Ma said drive no motorized vehicles
till the age of twenty-three. Her argument:
The engines have to be ignited, and there is no smoke
without a fire somewhere.

I battled Mangal with a magic stone,
set in silver ring, and fasted on Mangalvar, Tuesday,
seeking Hanuman's aid to keep accidents at bay.
Hanuman's skill at battling the bad-blooded
demons is celebrated in Ramayana, in Tulsi's Chalisa.
Ask any Indian who drives or walks alone at night,
how many times does he recite,
those lines from sixteenth century?
I was told, after Mangal's reign ends,
only the page would see my rage.

"But Soma or Moon will follow and bring
moody states and hazy visions, implying
unrequited love, or spectacles".
Possibly the latter, said my mother,
from the stress on eyes from excess reading
spectacles are a Borgesian after-effect,
that shows a scholar's good-breeding.

"If the father's influence wins", astrologers noted,
"Sahib's chair would be a fitting career,
but satellite inclinations for writing and music
seem unrelenting. But as shalokas, hymns
are musical poems, maybe a spiritual journey
will unfold, as is befitting for a son of a Brahmin family.
Unconventional comparisons with other birth charts show
leadership as a celibate Guru or a great King are possible."

But my mother insisted I'll marry (a girl of her choice),
like my grandpa before me, I'll also worship the devi:
female divinity. She ignored me when I protested
that democracy has no kings.
Ma kept fasts for my sake,
made me touch clothes, lentils, rice, wheat,
sugar, iron, stale roti and stale bread, coins
before she gave away these as alms.
Though she prayed for an excess of my success,
she thought the Himalayan house would be my only address.
She somehow forgot that the counting
(they refer to the astrology as ganana or counting),
suggested a prowess in science and engineering.
The astrologers foresaw higher education
and training in foreign languages and alien countries.


As a child, I could not visualize my future
beyond a Sahib's kursi (bureaucrat's chair).
There was no writer or poet or engineer in our family,
no traveler, none who visited the distant territories,
I saw only Sahib's kursi as possibility and my youth revolted
against the Sahib-like life of hypocrisy. I set out Westward,
holding an admission card, seeking an undecided destiny.


Now I think my family's astrologers dealt lies
to trick me into a role-play, I think of as my life.

Since success was said to be scripted,
gods and numerics were working to ensure it.
Unless I botched up my lines or missed my cue,
I was to get rewards, and become world-famous too.

"You must focus on the effort, karma, necessary
to deserve the rewards your are destined to get",
is how my Ma always put it every year
when a varsh-fal (annual prediction chart) arrived
ever compiled, to keep the prophecies updated and alive.


As predicted or so it seemed, at twenty-seven, I turned
"charming" for the feminine eyes, or perhaps the prophesy
gave this lover-boy the confidence to prove the astrologers right.

Now I am marrying for love, which was not revealed early,
but I am told, no arranged marriage was prophesied for me.

At the astrologically correct time, humans, Gods,
gandharavas, ghosts, ancestors, souls, stars, planets,
will supervise my wedding. Invisible blessings,
as celestial flowers, will tumble from the skies,
and we will unite before the holy fire, Agni,
for at least seven lives.


Years back, on returning to Atlanta from a trip
to my Himalayan abode, I told Thomas Lux:
"When I asked an astrologer about my writing,
he squirmed and said: 'focus on engineering',
your chart says you'll write,  but no planetary
alignments will ever conspire to make you a Rushdie."

Gurudev Lux smiled, and said, "That dimwit!
That’s great! Why would you be a Rushdie?
The guy is a fiction-writer, and you're a poet.
A poet you will forever be, with or without prophecy.
Trust me, if we publish a chapbook of your poems,
you will mint more money than me."

One prophesy is always necessary to kill another.


It seems many grand schemes are in place
so my undercover motivation stays.
For example, when I was born Ma's uncle prophesized:
"Trains are destined to bear his name".

But after brooding over polymers, beetles,
breath figures, drops, gels and nanoparticles,
after writing verses in Hindi and English,
my doctoral thesis and research articles, I fear
errors in the calculations of the astrologers,
or unexpected, uncharted celestial events,
like demotion of Pluto as a planet, 
or improbabilities embedded in the string theory,
have tempered with my biography,

I falling short of the life as it was ever expected
or predicted or prophesized for me.
When I seek engineering or physics problems,
I find myself wallowing in precincts
of the known, echoing established findings.
When I try to translate Hindi poems,
or describe my childhood in my writings,
I see how the words in English are trapped
in their own cultural labyrinths,
and editors fail to see puns in my half-rhymes.


Old, young, fat, thin, bald, bespectacled men
who know nothing about GPAs, test-scores,
academic politics or scientific publications,
pore over my janam-patri, birth-chart,
to provide self-similar prophesies.

I know that these calculations by different priests
are based on the initial values or positions
of constellations at the moment of my birth.
I know using the same differential or algebraic equations,
gives consistent results and since even the Hindu planets
follow a near-eternal rhythm, there is no reason to expect
different answers from astrologers of different sects.

But the astrologers themselves insist that interpretation
is the litmus test to distinguish a master from a dilettante
Any computer, monkey, politician, or even an MBA
can compute the odds, any experimentalist or journalist
can collect the data, but seeing what lies beyond the literal
or lateral or within or beyond the miasma or the mist,
requires a mystic, psychic, scientific vision.
Only the spiritually advanced, chosen selves possess it.


I think our destiny is shaped by the limits
we set aside. Our destinations,
aspirations tug us, we drift towards
what is described as the grandest acts.
Not destined to have a simple life of hyacinths,
I grit my teeth and then I wait for the galaxies
to complete their motions. I know Gita says,
I control only my actions, "karmaneva adhikaraste,
mahafaleshu kadachana," not the ultimate fruit. I strive
to reconcile with whatever the life brings, and I hum:
To savor the madhu (nectar / honey) as earthlings,
develop a palate for the rich flavors of bee-stings.


Many say that Rama, Krishna, Moses and Jesus
turned divine through their words and actions,
a 'divine will' was through them realized,
but maybe they too acted heroically
to fulfill their destinies . . .  prophesied?

Published here in a new, revised version.


Sandgroper said...

Simply fabulous.. Wish I could write like you..

Anonymous said...

Very expressive post.

And yes Indeed these Gods like us humans have been serving their role professed on to them by the Brahman.

We, Our Gods, our daemons and everyone else have been obeying the desire expressed by author.