Dusk was beginning to slope towards night. I was looking through old books in an area of bookshops, when my old friend Kishori Sen appeared as if from nowhere and hailed me – ‘There you are! What are you doing here? Well, since you’re here, come with me. Let’s go and meet the palmist and show him our hands. You’ve heard of Taranath the astrologer, of course? He’s very well known. People say that he’s a man of knowledge.’

I have always enjoyed meeting palmists and astrologers, although, truth to tell, I’d never met one that lived up to their publicity. ‘What’s a good astrologer?’ I asked Kishori, ‘Will whatever he says come true? Can he see both my past and my current life? What about the future? Can I believe him if he talks about the future?’

My friend was amused, ‘Just come with me,’ he said, ‘you have some money, right? It’ll be two rupees to get a reading. Find out for yourself if you can trust him, or not.’

We entered a nearby narrow lane and walked up to a regular-looking one-storey house which displayed a flimsy tin signboard:

Taranath Astrology
Palms and Horoscopes read here
Amulets harnessing Planetary Strength prepared in the Tantrik way
Come and See for yourself!
Recommendations from Kings and Other Important people.
Very Affordable

‘We’re here,’ said Kishori.

I laughed aloud. ‘This person is totally bogus. Look at the house! Apparently all these kings and important people revere him, and he lives here?’

Kishori rattled the door-handle, and a child’s voice from inside called, ‘Who is it?’

‘Is the astrologer home?’

There was a short silence. Then the door opened to a small gap. The face of a child we assumed to be a boy appeared in the gap and regarded us with suspicion. After a period of silent scrutiny, the child asked, ‘Where are you from?’

We told him why we had come, and he trotted off and disappeared into the house. There was another period of silence.

‘I think your astrologer lives in fear of the debts he owes,’ I chuckled. ‘That’s why his doors are locked. He sent the child to find out if we are debtors. I’m sure he’ll call us in very soon.’ I was proved right in a minute or two. The child returned and opened the door all the way. ‘Come in,’ he said.

We sat in a small room on a basic wooden cot. Some time later, a door was pushed open and an old gentleman walked into the room. Kishori stood up and greeted him respectfully. I kept sitting, mentally assessing the man.

He was in his early sixties, and extremely fair. His skin had a kind of glow you would expect in a much younger person. The face under an almost entirely bald head was very intelligent – to be more exact, it was clever with a measure of cunning.

The prominent jaw indicated firmness and consistency. He had bright, wide-open eyes. I thought of Lord Redding, who had a degree of visual similarity with the man in front of me. But there was one significant difference. Where Lord Redding bore himself with an assured confidence, the lines around this man’s eyes betrayed a loss of faith. I thought he looked like the kind of man who had lost a large measure of the self-belief with which he had started out.

I showed my palm first.

He examined my palm closely for a minute, and then looked up at me. ‘You were born on the fifteenth of Sravan, in the year thirteen oh five. Right? You got married in thirteen twenty-seven, on the same date. Right? But people don’t usually marry in the same month they were born. How did this happen? I’m seeing the month quite clearly, but this is very unusual!’

He was right. I had several reasons to remember the day, among which were memories of loud objections from relatives about the marriage taking place in an anniversary month of my birth. Having never met me before, the astrologer could not possibly have known this. In fact even my friend Kishori Sen had had no occasion to know this because we had met only two years ago at a bridge-players group, in which there was neither any room, nor reason, to discuss such personal matters.

The old man continued, ‘You have two sons and one daughter. Your wife is currently quite ill. You fell off a high tree, or almost drowned when you were young, maybe thirteen – whatever it was, you should count yourself lucky for having survived that dangerous time basically unharmed.’ He was right on every point.

Evidently, the man did have some power. I began to feel a grudging respect for him.

He shifted gear to the present, ‘You are currently under some kind of psychological stress. You also seem to have lost money recently. You’re not going to get that money back, it’s gone. In fact, I see more loss of funds in the near future.’

I stared at him in astonishment. I had lost my wallet with some money in it just two days ago. As far as I could make out, this had happened while I was getting off the tram at Kolutola Street that day. I’d been so embarrassed by the incident that I hadn’t even mentioned it at home. Perhaps Taranath had skills in a kind of mind-reading?

But if he was reading my thoughts, how would he know that there was more loss of money coming up in the future? That part was probably made up. But even if he had made the last part up, it was evident that his purpose in inventing predictions was not to make his client happy. This, in itself, made him different from the usual line of soothsayers that I had encountered.

That evening Taranath told me several other facts about my life.

My respect for him grew. I started seeing him occasionally, and not always to have my palm read. I would drop by, and we would sit and talk.

He had a strange history. As he said it, his fascination with spirituality and practitioners of spiritual discipline had started at a young age. He had followed this interest a long time. Over his many associations with monks, priests and godmen, he had met a tantrik teacher with a measure of real power. Taranath had become a disciple, and the teacher had imparted some power to him, taught him a little about the tantrik way. Armed with this beneficence, Taranath had come to Kolkata and found ways to make money using the knowledge granted by his spiritual teacher.

Taranath Tantrik: And Other Tales from the Supernatural

Excerpted with permission from Taranath Tantrik: And Other Tales from the Supernatural, Bibhutibhushan, translated from the Bengali by Devalina Mookerjee.