reprints of articles published in magazines

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

As Fate would have it

There was this conference that I attended in Budapest. After all the long winded scientific sessions, the organizers decided to give us the much desired break; they organized a city tour to see all the major landmarks.

We were taken around the popular Baths, soaking in the salty waters of Budapestian Baths is supposed to be healing we were told. We were taken to the historical City Square, where the history of Hungary is depicted as moments frozen into statues: the coming of the fierce half- mongoloid Magyars who conquered the country and laid the foundations of civilization there. We were taken to a rare monumental fort, rare because each part of the fort had been built in a distinct architectural style, some parts Gothic, some parts Baroque, some parts Moorish….it was there that we met Mr Fate.

Mr Fate was a large granite statue, with a hood, cloak and sinister look, depicted as sitting on a huge block of stone. He had a Golden Pen in his right hand and The Big Book of Deeds in his left. We were told touching the pen would give one oodles of good luck, but touching the Book, god forbid would lead to a lot of bad luck.

This spiced up all our imagination; we thought Mr Fate would make a good subject for our group photo. All of us climbed onto Mr Fate, the superstitious of the lot all clinging to the Golden Pen and the indifferent among us just arranging ourselves wherever there was space. The photos were taken and the most superstitious among us, ‘touched and kissed’ the Golden Pen one last time and hopped off the statue, only to turn to look at me and say, “My God, Shalini, what have you done, look at you, sitting right on the bad Book…..god save you now!”

Only then I realized where I was seated…..on the left shoulder of Mr Fate, with my right hand carelessly dangling onto the Big Book of Deeds. I laughed and hopped out of my perch, but my companions would not let the matter rest, “Just be careful, will you….now that you have incurred Bad Luck” they chorused half jokingly and half fearfully.

I was determined not to let that daunt me….in this age of science and logic, the sentiment seemed quite silly. And so I put away the incident and went around the rest of Budapest, enjoying myself at the local fair, where Romanian girls sold exquisitely carved wooden curios and embroidered peasant tops. By the time I finished seeing the fair, I had actually forgotten the Fate incident.

The conference got over, we checked out of our hotel, boarded the bus to the airport, embarked the plane, changed flights at Frankfurt, watched an engrossing movie onflight, reached Mumbai, crossed over to the domestic terminal, boarded the flight to Chennai and finally landed in the long Immigration Queue. It took another hour for us to claim our baggage, and travel-weary I trudged to the Prepaid Taxi Counter with my luggage in tow. As I told the counter-walla my destination I pulled out my wallet from my back pocket…..only there was no wallet in my jeans.

I was taken aback, I fumbled some more….but no, there was no wallet there. I pulled out some money from another of my bags and with a worried wrinkle on my forehead, clambered on to the waiting taxi…..where did the wallet go? I had several thousands worth of Indian and foreign currency in it!

Once inside the taxi, I opened my entire luggage and searched for the wallet….no, it was not there! Obviously I had lost it, but where? I tried to recall all the places that I had been to in the last twenty four hours, and mentally tried to rewind every scene of my movement…trying to identify if the wallet had been with me at that moment or not.

I seemed to remember a sleepily eaten breakfast at Mumbai that morning, which meant I would have paid for it, out of the wallet of course… probably somewhere between Mumbai and Chennai I had lost the wallet, only then did the image of Mr Fate’s Big Book of Deeds suddenly flash into my mind! Was it true after all, the sentiment of the Bad Luck?

I could not decide…my mind seemed divided just then, one half was too busy worrying about the lost money, all the ways that I could have spent it usefully, all the things that I could have bought with it…and just feeling unhappy at having lost so much money….while the other half was analyzing the whole incident typical shrink-style: Mr Fate was only a statue. Good Luck and Bad Luck are mere beliefs. The Big Book of Deeds was not inherently evil; it was made of the same stone as the rest of the statue. Touching something cannot lead to something else that was not even remotely related to it…the cause and effect did not match at all. On a spiritual level, may be it was destined that the wallet be lost for some mystical reason….

Thus split in my thoughts I reached home. The therapist inside me decided the conflict was leading nowhere and asserted itself…. “No more pondering or worrying”, I told myself. Can’t let worry spoil my precious little brains! What’s the big deal, I lost some money, ok, let me face that and move ahead. It was after all only money, I could always make more to replace the lost notes. Thus self-therapized I went about my work as usual.

The nicest thing about Psychiatry is that we are so engrossed in solving much bigger and graver problems for others that personal problems just get automatically deleted in the process. Two days later, I had completely forgotten about the lost wallet and Mr Fate’s alleged conspiracy against me, when I received a call at work.

Absent mindedly I picked up the phone, some sweet-voiced girl from some Airlines was on the other line, asking my contact address. Some one wanting to fix an appointment I thought, preoccupied with the work at hand. She was saying, “We found your business card in a wallet….”

With the word wallet, my mind flew back to her in full attention, “Oh, yes, I’d lost a wallet, you found that?” I could not believe it.

“Yes, we found it on your flight seat….could you please make arrangements to collect it from me..” She proceeded to give me her contact details.

The next day, the wallet was back in my hands, complete with all the currency, credit cards, business cards and scratch pad notes that I had scribbled on….

My thoughts automatically went back to Budapest, Mr Fate and the book on his left hand….with the wallet safe in my hands, my mind was suddenly clear ….Bad luck? bah, all sentimental crap!