The Lines of Fate
by Eva Bell
Nalini glanced at her watch as she hurried off to school. In the nine years as teacher, she had never once been late.
“It’s that confounded palmist,” she thought. “Why did Father insist that I show him my palm? The man is nothing but a lair. I’ll not give him another thought. I know for sure that happiness awaits me. Someday I’ll be married. Perhaps even have a daughter. Phooey to the palmist!”
Nalini had just turned thirty. A little on the buxom side perhaps. But she had an attractive face with large expressive eyes. Her raven hair fell to her knees in a long loose plait. But unfortunately, a pretty face couldn’t bring her a husband. In the little village called Thirthahalli where she lived, it was the dowry that mattered.
Nalini’s father Narayan, worked as a clerk in the Collector’s office. He raised his brood of children well, and they didn’t lack for essentials. But for the dowry of his eldest daughter, there was nothing to spare.
“It’s not that I’m a poor man,” thought Narayan. “These fields belong to me, and so does this large house. But in our village, everyone owns a house and has a field or two. I hope by the time Nalini is ready for marriage, dowry won’t matter at all. I’ll see that she has a good education, and her mother will train her in household duties. What more can a husband expect?”
Nalini turned out to be very intelligent, with a remarkable aptitude for figures. She had sailed through school, and moved on to College, graduating before her eighteenth year. Narayan even permitted her to do the Teacher’s Training Course at a local college. And her mother did her bit, instructing her in the rudiments of housework.
But the eligible suitor did not come even though Narayan sang her praises whenever he found the opportunity.
“She’s good-looking, educated, trained in domestic duties, and has a lovable disposition.”
“But if there’s no dowry, how can you expect a decent suitor?” asked the elders.
Time went by, and Nalini’s parents began to despair. Relatives gossiped, and neighbours sneered. In desperation, Narayan announced, “My daughter wants to work for a few years before she settles down.”
Nalini took up a job in the same school where she studied.
“Destined to be an old maid! Poor dear!” the neighbours remarked.
“We will have her on our hands forever,” wailed her mother.
“Ah! You wicked woman. Is your only daughter a burden to you?” shouted Narayan.
Only Nalini remained unperturbed. Deep inside, she was convinced that happiness awaited her.
“Someday I’ll be married, because I feel I am destined to love and to be loved.”
But today, the palmist had almost succeeded in making her lose hope.
“The lines forebode ill luck, and there is an unlucky star between the lines,” he said gravely.
“Even if she does marry some day, her husband will not survive for more than six months. Perhaps it’s best that she doesn’t marry.”
“Lair!” Nalini thought, “If Father had given him a few hundred rupees, he would have charmed away the evil in my hand. I am not going into depression over his prediction.”
She had almost reached the school when suddenly from a by-lane, a child darted across the road, in front of a speeding vehicle.
“Stop child, stop,” Nalini yelled, and ran after her. She grabbed the girl’s hand and pushed her sideways. But not quick enough. The child escaped, but Nalini’s foot was trapped under the wheel. The pain was excruciating. Giving a loud shriek, Nalini lost consciousness.
The man was out of the car in a flash.
“Oh I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. What have I done?” he muttered, as he lifted her limp form, and drove her to the hospital.
Hours later, Nalini woke up. Her parents were beside her, their expressions anxious. Hovering behind them was an agitated stranger. He seemed so bothered, that Nalini smiled in spite of her pain.
“I’m sorry to have got you into this mess. You are a brave girl. You saved the child,” he said.
Nalini noticed that he was middle aged. The hair on his temples was greying. But his concern touched her.
“I must go now. My programme has already been upset. But I couldn’t leave until I begged your pardon.”
He turned to Narayan.
“I shall meet all the expenses. I have told the hospital authorities where the bill is to be sent.
I will return as soon as possible.”
Nalini was soon up and about. The small bones of her foot mended well within a few weeks. The stranger did not visit as promised, and the family soon forgot him.
Three months later, a white Contessa pulled up at Narayan’s gates.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t come earlier,” said the man. “You see, my job involves a lot of touring, and this does not leave me with much free time.”
He looked around, as though searching for something.
“Is she better? Your daughter? I hope her foot has healed.”
“You can see for yourself. There
Nalini walked through the gate, wondering who could have come calling in that expensive car. Then she saw him. He stood up as she entered, tall and bespectacled. He was dressed in an immaculately white shirt and pant, like a cricketer. He smiled, and Nalini lowered her eyes, suddenly shy.
“Well, I’m glad to see that your foot has healed. I was just explaining to your father why I couldn’t come earlier.”
They invited him to stay for lunch, and he accepted eagerly.
“Call me Raghu,” he said, in an attempt to put them at ease.
He regaled them with stories from his own tours. Nalini felt attracted to the man. He seemed so mature and self-confident. Could this be the person she was waiting for?
Her father’s next question made her prick up her ears.
“Where do you live, Mr. Raghuram? Do you have a family?”
“My head office is in Bombay, and I’m an old bachelor. I was very protective of my single status so far. But now…..”
He looked straight at Nalini.
“I’m not sure I want to remain single anymore.”
Then he turned to Narayan.
“This may seem rather abrupt. But once I make up my mind, I don’t waste time. If your daughter will do me the honour……..I’ll be very happy.”
“She’s a wonderful girl Mr. Raghu, but I’m afraid we have no dowry to give you.”
“If she’s wonderful, that’s all that matters. But perhaps your daughter won’t care for a middle aged suitor.”
It was Nalini who spoke now.
“I’m no spring chicken either. I’m honoured by your proposal. But you should know what the palmist said. The man, who is bold enough to marry me, will die in six months.”
“Oh bother the palmist. I’ll take the risk. If it does prove true, I’ll die content that I had a taste of happiness.”
They were married at a quiet ceremony. Raghu took his bride on a long honeymoon. For Nalini who had never travelled before, this was an exciting experience. Raghu was kind and generous, and heaped her with gifts and good things – expensive saris and jewellery, books and cassettes to keep her busy when he was at work.
The dreaded six months passed.
“I’m still living, and you wanted to frighten me away with all that palmist’s drivel,” laughed Raghu.
“Personally, I didn’t believe it. But I thought it best to warn you. I didn’t want a guilty conscience in case it happened,” said Nalini.
She was expecting a baby, and her happiness knew no bounds.
“All my dreams are coming true,” she thought.
Raghu wasn’t too happy. “Just imagine what a transition at this age! From bachelorhood to fatherhood!”
But when the daughter arrived, he was ecstatic.
It was four years before Nalini could go home to visit her parents. Her father had grown old and longed to see his grandchild.
Their first halt however, was at the house of the palmist. These were lean times, and his clients were few. The world had gone ‘high-tech’ and no one had any faith in village soothsayers. The man was sitting on a mat, in the open verandah of his house. The gleaming white car halted at his gate, and three well-dressed people approached.
“City people!” the palmist chuckled, “Good business for me.”
His obsequious attitude both irritated and amused Nalini. Obviously, he hadn’t recognized her in all her finery.
He took her palm in his gnarled hands, and with a magnifying glass, inspected each line.
“Very good,” he said sagely, “Your husband will have a long life, and you will have many happy years together.”
Nalini pulled her hand away.
“Could you read my husband’s palm?”
“He will have a long life but…….”
“Is there anything wrong?”
“The fine cross lines suggest a problem for his wife. Nothing very serious. It can be averted by a pooja and food for ten brahmacharis. In these days, it may cost a few thousand rupees. But that is nothing in exchange for the good health of his spouse.”
Nalini and Raghu burst into a fit of laughing. The man wondered why?
“You old scoundrel! Do you know who I am? The very same person you said would never marry because of those evil lines on my palm. I’m Narayan’s daughter. I’m not only married but my husband is alive and well. What’s more, I have a daughter too. God alone knows how many lives you have wrecked with your wicked predictions. You thrived on the gullibility of our village folk. You made me the butt-end of many a joke in this village.”
The palmist was dumb struck. No one had ever talked to him so irreverently. And now at the fag end of his life, he was being disgraced by a woman! He would invoke the Gods with his mantras. The woman had to be punished.
But the fruits of his dubious occupation were finally catching up. Something was clutching at his heart and squeezing his breath out. Nalini and Raghu had already driven away when he keeled over. The End