by Raghav R
This essay talks about an activity of men who use parrots for fortune telling.
|The scenes depicted in the essay are those witnessed by me in my childhood. I have been witness to such activities on numerous occasions during my walk to the school. People using parrots, sparrows and sometimes mynahs to predict the future of gullible persons were all too common those days. Most often, rural people flocked to such men to have their future read by these birds. It still exists in rural hamlets and patronized by illiterate village folk.
“Come one, come all” shouts the man in his early fifties at the top of his voice. Just in front of him is a board proclaiming
Your future revealed in a minute
All for a paltry sum
The man is seated at the edge of the road with a drain flowing with the discharge from the houses nearby. A colourful bundle (Lord knows what it contains) sits beside its owner, kindling the curiosity of the passers-by.
A cage with a parrot in it is an attraction for the children traipsing along the road. They slowdown in their stride to watch the parrot making feeble attempts at freeing itself from the cage.
The man – the owner of the parrot – cries frequently calling upon the passers-by to have their future predicted.
A few curious people stop to see his paraphernalia spread out and walk away smiling to themselves. After a long wait, he gets a customer – one from the nearby village. Most of his customers are rural folk, illiterate, bound in blind faith and generally gullible. They believe in the future revealed to them by sparrows and parrots, the latter being the diviner, most often chosen.
The first customer of the day arrives and squats before the owner of the parrot. After a few preliminary enquiries, the customer parts with a few coins which is gleefully accepted by a metal container serving the purpose of a cash box which the children would have christened ‘piggy bank’ in their fancy. Satisfied with his day’s first collection, he opens the cage to let the parrot out. It ambles to the row of cards spread to a length of a feet and half. At the command of its master, it walks alongside the cards, hesitating after a few steps and seemingly undecided about the next course of action. Suddenly the owner raises his voice in a sharp rasp and the bird stops walking abruptly. Then in a sudden move picks up a card from the lot, walks up to its owner slowly and drops the card at his feet.
The parrot-man picks up the card with a benign smile and gives the card in his hand a studied glance, nods his head approvingly and goes in a sing-song tone reading to the anxious customer what the future holds for him. Very unfortunately the language is incomprehensible to the customer, for what is written on the cards is all Greek and Latin to the listener. The text read out is written in an ancient style that most people cannot understand unless explained in the present-day easy language. So the customer smiles gratefully when given the explanation. Satisfied with the prediction, he saunters away ruminating on the revelation about his future.
By a twist of circumstances, it so happened that this very customer happened to meet the very parrot-man of just a week ago. The parrot-man recognizes his past customer instantly and invites him to have his future updated. The customer, half-eager and half-hesitant- reluctantly squats in his customary posture. The coin from the customer finds its rightful place in the metal container just as before and the ritual begins.
The parrot-walk, its owner’s command, the parrot picking a card from the lot, all repeats in the same old fashion.
The card is read, but on this occasion, there is no smile on the face of the parrot-man. His face is grim, devoid of lively colour, and the customer finds him fighting against himself how to tell the anxious customer what is on the card in his hand. Having waited for a considerable length of time, the customer considers it necessary for the parrot-man to break the silence and reveal what the card holds for him. Left with no option, the parrot-man makes himself bold and reveals what the card contains. The customer is greatly upset at the new revelation. His jaws fall, his face turns grim, a mild shudder courses through his slim body and he looks dazed. It seems the predictions on this occasion is just the opposite of what it was a week ago.
A few minutes uneasy silence after, he asks the parrot-man in a tremulous voice how his future has changed so dramatically within a span of a week.
Now the composed parrot-man says that the predictions are not his own, the customer’s future is governed by the planetary position which often keeps changing, and their position vis-à-vis the position of stars under which he was born determine his future. The illiterate rustic is silenced by the scholarly explanation of the parrot-man. Acquiescing in the verdict, the bewildered villager walks away, muttering to himself about his lot.
How was the poor fellow to know that the parrot had no power of divining and it just picks one card at the command of its master and the text on the cards were all gobbledygook engineered by the parrot-man.
Even today this business of avian predictions can be seen, for there are rural people who still believe in this kind of prediction. This business flourishes in villages where village festivals are home for such activity.
17 Jan. 2019