My father was a multi-faceted persona. Amongst his varied interests, Astrology figured prominently. I still remember many aggrieved persons visiting our house to get their Horoscopes read by him. Though he never took it up as a profession, Babu did enjoy certain amount of proficiency in prophesying and read widely on the subject. His jovial one-liner on Horoscope was “Only Horror No Scope”. Strangely, he was very reticent when it came to reading the future of his two daughters. (Perhaps, he didn’t find much there worth mentioning!!) It’s our common belief that Babuji did know the exact time of his final departure from this mortal world. Always people-centric, he chose to spend the last few years of his life in quiet reclusion, often lying down and looking at his palm in a resigned manner.
Decades later these memories came to haunt me afresh as I watched “Ankahee” on You Tube. Well, most may have never heard of this movie which centers round the urge to understand the phenomenon of life through discordant ways.
Jyotirbhaskar Pandit Satyanarayanan Chaturbedi, a gifted Astrologer, is consumed with guilt every time his prophecies of imminent death come to pass, more so, when it involves his near and dear ones. Utterly dejected he wishes to take a hasty retirement from his profession.
However, before doing so, he is compelled to pass one last verdict when his son, Devakinandan or Nandu proposes marriage to his long-time sweetheart Sushma. Jyotirbhaskar having read Nandu’s horoscope is sanguine that his first wife will die in labour eleven months after marriage whereupon there is a second marriage written on the cards for him. It is not so much the two marriages than the question of knowingly pushing Sushma towards a cursed end that provokes Jyotirbhaskar to resist the alliance. Of course, Nandu and Sushma, the inarguable progenies of Science Age, refuse to cower down to Jyotirbhaskar’s opposition. Yet at the same time, knowing his clairvoyant father well, Nandu teeters on doubt and indecision.
To further complicate matters, Bapu, Jyotirbhaskar’s bosom friend, arrives with his daughter Indumati, a psychotic child-woman, in urgent need of medical attention. Having accompanied the father-daughter duo for treatment, Nandu is privy to the Psychiatrist’s suggestion that marriage resulting in physical proximity with a man, may cure a hysterical Indumati, whose chaotic mind is precariously perched on the brink of unblemished adolescence steadily giving way to the growing bodily needs of an adult woman.
The Satan in Nandu rises to the bait, seducing Indumati to believe that she is his sublime love on one hand and playing the philanthropist, on the other, convincing Bapu that he is martyred to the sole cause of emancipating Indumati from the quagmire of a meaningless existence into glorious womanhood, seeks her hand in marriage. It is a clever ploy to turn the table on his father’s prediction and replace Sushma with Indu for the doomed fate that his first marriage entails. Once Indu dies he can remarry Sushma and live happily ever after.
A guilt ridden Jyotirbhaskar does not have the heart to disclose the conspiracy to an overwhelmed Bapu. An aghast Sushma cries fowl and walks out on Nandu. But it’s too late as the marriage has already been consummated and a radiant Indu eagerly awaits the birth of her love-child. Does Indu survive the prophesy in the end? She does and that’s no spoiler as it is more interesting to figure out why, how and what propel the reversal of fate. Is it her Karma? Is it her indomitable will to live which crushes the cruel hands of death? Or probably it’s the purity of her soul which beseeches the Divine to revoke His presaged plan? Or is it Sushma’s sacrifice? No, probably it is Nandu’s penitence in the long run? Perhaps it is after all a faulty reading by the Jyotirbhaskar which renders the prophecy wrong? Or is it something way beyond all of these assumptions and other relentless human pursuits and preparations to grasp a literally ‘unpredictable’ future?
Once an understandably staunch believer in Astrology, (given the inherited interest), I did try to fathom the mystique embedded in those fine lines drawn on the yellowing parchment scrolls. At the same time, a phobia for anything arithmetic dissuaded me to delve deeper in those lengthy algorithm charts. Notwithstanding my inability to dabble in the discipline, my belief persisted till it became a long-standing family joke that even in order to sneeze I needed to allude to my Zodiac Chart. However, various incidents and experiences gradually exonerated me of this over-dependence. Today I’d say I live life by each day as it comes.
There are interesting debates pivoting around the exactness, ethics and moral responsibility of Astrological prophesies strewn throughout the movie. My father called Astrology an inexact Science. My distant cousin, who was into it professionally, once thumped hard on his writing table and challenged me to disprove his seemingly fantastic predictions, promising that he would down the shutters permanently if any one of them failed to fructify. While two of his prophesies did come true, the third one did not. And it is the latter which did not that intrigues me the most. I am totally out of touch with him otherwise I would have surely seen to it that he kept his words :).
To Nandu’s query how the planets distanced by millions of miles from the Earth can affect human life so, Jyotirbhaskar’s reference to the electrifying presence of the premeditated in our midst, is hard to shrug off as mere hogwash considering the various elusive as well as evident ways our lives are engineered, at times even beyond our comprehension and imagination. When after eight years of living away from my family I did get a transfer back home, our Astrologer friend whom we consulted quite often, exclaimed incredulously,” Yeh kaise ho gaya?” which confirms that there is more to life than just a Pundit’s prerogatives.
With the mushrooming of Fortune-tellers, Crystal Gazers, Tarrot Card Readers, Numerologists, Palmists and not to forget the various sites on the net, which with a few clues, can flash a horoscope on-screen in a jiffy, a big question mark descends on the credibility of the profession which was earlier considered a Power in possession of a few. Our block boasts of a high-profile pundit who sports personal guards. The traffic fronting his ‘fortified flats’ and the number of properties that he has come to own in the recent past tell a different story altogether.
A more pertinent issue is the inextricable element of subjectivity maligning the forecasts. I remember how an otherwise poised lady whose husband had left her, after eighteen long years of marriage, for another woman, had broken down before my father. She desperately sought a conjugal reunion. My father gave her a date by which to expect a certain change in her life. However, poked by my mother he later confessed that he could not bring himself up to tell the lady that she was actually heading for a divorce.
In contrast, my aunt’s family astrologer, an anathema, fancied his boastful self to be divinely ordained to pass judgment on other people’s lives. He was extra-sweet and presented exaggeratedly rosy pictures to those he sucked up to and insulted and frightened others with dreadful prophesies of impending doom and disaster who he could not see eye to eye with.
There are neat moments in the movie when Devaki (Nandu’s mother) advises the child-like Indumati not to share the bed with her son lest she gets impregnated. Or when the Jyotirbhaskar admits to his wife that he is exhausted shouldering the burden of foreseeing the future, quite naturally a predicament of those who choose to over-step into forbidden territory. I wonder whether my father also felt the same at some point of his life!
“Ankahee”, a deceptively simple story belying undertones of perplexing intricacies, closes on an inconclusive note with the receding silhouette of the Jyotirbhaskar striding towards a restless sea – the countless waves in shades of black and gold, crashing on the shores while a jaded sun looks on against a suffused spreadsheet of dying embers. A twilight moment whereunto merge all misapprehensions and misgivings along with our pride of acquired knowledge and consequent convictions, perpetuating the mystique enmeshed into the very fabric of human existence – a cryptic code which we all would like to decipher once in our lifetime!