At the precise moment when Sanchit Parthasarathy arrived into this world, all the planets in the sky had aligned themselves most propitiously. Not that anybody would have guessed it at that time. Neither did it become apparent at any time while he was growing up. In fact he had always displayed all the unmistakable signs of becoming a classic average middle class nobody, not unlike all the men in his family so far.
He himself would have remained blissfully unaware of this fact were it not for the fact that his mother was a firm believer of such things as fate and destiny - and never once failed to read the “What your future holds” column in the daily newspaper. So one day when Sanchit was all of twelve years old, when they had unexpectedly displayed the address of their regular astrologer, she had not been able to stop herself from paying him a visit.
She could still remember that monumental day very clearly when the Learned One had foretold solemnly – great things were to be expected from her only son. Such men, he had proclaimed, were born only once in an entire generation.
It had been eighteen years since, and the lustrous glow of the fortune-teller’s words had faded long since. Each day was just as much of a struggle for Sanchit as the next person. And many times, a whole lot more. He wasn’t exactly a brilliant student, not particularly handsome and never extraordinarily talented. Nonetheless whatever he possessed on all counts was just about enough to scrape by. Not that it was at all comforting to him, for he could never stop obsessing over his lack of noteworthiness.
Only once born in a generation indeed, he thought bitterly, as he came home from yet another frustratingly ordinary day. He lived alone nowadays since his last roommate had married and moved out a year ago. The only reason he was glad not to have his mother around (even when he was forced to cook for himself) was because she would constantly nag him to get married as well. “A wife can”, he could almost hear her say, “be the turning point of your life – she might be the one who will change your fortunes for good. These things happen like this, you know beta.” He could only wonder at his mother for still firmly believing in his auspicious future, for he himself had long back given up on his.
He glumly stood looking outside at the setting sun, contemplating rather morosely on the eve of his thirtieth birthday, that things had never really looked promising for him so far, and weren’t likely to, anytime soon.
“One of those days, huh?” a voice commented dryly from his next door balcony.
Sanchit grinned in spite of himself. “Aren’t they always?!”
Megha, his bright-eyed, pig-tailed, ten-year-old neighbor was lounging predictably with her ever-dependable walkman and headphones. The two of them had struck the most unlikely friendship when the Rao’s had moved in next door, a year ago. Sanchit had stepped out to his balcony, after work for his daily evening smoke when a stern voice had severely chastised him on the dangers of smoking. He had dismissed her initially, but before long they had started chatting regularly, and almost against his will he realized that he had started to even look forward to their evening conversations – for she was a smart, opinionated youngster with often unexpected astuteness that belied her age. He had also stopped smoking eventually – at least when she was around.
He soon discovered that the balcony and her headphones were her only solace from her own rather argumentative parents, who didn’t bother to keep their arguments to themselves. Megha, however, was seemingly nonchalant about the whole thing, and often carried on as if the shouting voices came from some other household, not her own.
She had once caught him, on a Saturday morning, reading the weekly sun-signs (a habit he had unwittingly inherited from his own mother).
“You don’t really believe in all that non-sense, do you?” she asked, scornfully, “It’s just mumbo-jumbo for weaklings who would rather believe that the Signs do all the work for them, than themselves.”
She had a point there, even though it stung more than a little. “Don’t be such a know-it-all, little girl, especially about things you don’t know.” He replied, giving a tug on her pig-tail, which he knew would succeed in distracting her. She went off on her usual rant about how her pig-tails irritated her no end, especially when people insisted on pulling them, just because they thought it was cute.
“Well don’t keep them so handy then”, he said. That set her off on another rant, this time against her mother who insisted that she wear her hair long and then sensibly tied in two plaits. This was followed by a long brooding silence and many mutinous scowls which was always ominous with Megha.
Sure enough, when he returned home the next evening from work, the shouts seemed just a little more louder than usual, especially since Megha’s shrill tones had also seemed to have joined the fray. Finally a door slammed and she appeared in the balcony, furious and seething and minus both pigtails.
“Wow!” He exclaimed, completely taken aback.
“Don’t you dare start on me too”, she threatened, eyes suspiciously brighter than usual and one cheek suspiciously redder than the other.
“Well…just…” he trailed off.
“What?” she demanded.
“Very chic, girlfriend!” he grinned at her.
He was rewarded instantly with a grateful gap-toothed grin, and he knew he had made a pal for life.
His mother called to wish him on his birthday, and his mood went on a steady decline from then onwards. He barely made it through the day without snarling at one person or another and by the evening…
“Did you know there’s a big dark storm cloud just above your head?” his pint size buddy remarked.
All the anger just drained out from him, leaving him feeling grumpier than ever.
“I just don’t want to be thirty”, he told her, not caring how childish he sounded.
“What’s so bad about it?” she asked.
“Well I’m just much older than I want to be, for one thing. And besides…this isn’t how I imagined my life would be at thirty”, he finished, thoughtfully.
“How had you imagined it then?” she asked.
He gave a humorless smile. “Ah but you don’t know about my Big Wonderful Destiny”, he told her.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
So he told her, trying to make out like it was a big joke. But by the time he was finished, he couldn’t help feeling more than a little embarrassed about the whole thing.
Megha opened her mouth to reply but before she could, all of a sudden a loud crash from her house made them both jump.
This was followed by raised voices, which in the awkward silence neither of them found it easy to ignore.
She just sighed and didn’t say anything for a long time. Then after a while she said softly, “You want to hear something funny - until I was about six years old, I used to think it was pretty normal for parents to keep on fighting all the time.”
It was the first time Megha had ever mentioned anything about her parents’ behavior to him; usually it was like a taboo topic they had tacitly agreed to ignore.
When he didn’t say anything, she continued, “Then one day my best friend invited me to her house, and I saw how her parents were. And when I asked her whether they ever shouted and yelled at each other – she just gave me a strange look and told me that something that never happened.” Her usually bright eyes had clouded over, and she had never seemed more like a little unhappy kid, than she did then.
“I sometimes think I was happier not knowing”, she finished simply.
Though his birthday had ended on a more somber note than he had hoped for, over the next few days Sanchit couldn’t help feeling lighter than he had before. He thought over their conversation quite a few times and it was like a weight had been lifted, though he couldn’t quite figure out why. He had however, decided to stop waiting for destiny to take control of his life any longer, as if he had never known.
Maybe, he thought, the old fortune-teller had simply told profound lies to his mother all those years back – or maybe he really did know his stuff and was just trying to be nice to her, thinking that he would give her something to live for and look forward to, instead of telling her the plain truth and adding to her sense of drudgery. In any case, it had certainly worked for her.
There was just no way of finding out for sure…
Almost two decades had passed since then. An interview of a renowned personality was being telecast all the way from France, the birthplace of Nostradamus, eagerly watched by people all over the world. That man needed no introduction, for some he was a fortune-teller, for others a clairvoyant. At times he was even an advisor for someone no less that the President of his country.
The interviewer began nervously, “Sir, as someone who has gone where no man has ever reached before to study the movement of the planets and occult sciences, and to be the only person to have finally understood the true meaning of the original prophecies of Nostradamus, how does it feel?”
Dr. Sanchit Parthasarathy gave a wry smile and replied, “I sometimes think I was happier not knowing.”