The next day, Mishra aunty, mom’s bestie and satsang buddy, the one with the broad-bordered Kanjivaram sari, rings of all sorts swallowing her fingers whole, and a large black dot warding off evil on her rolling chin, comes to tea.
She is worse than mom.
“The universe is trying to tell you something, I always say,” she says, reverentially, over a cup of Darjeeling special, which she sips noisily, sitting imperially on the three-seater sofa, leaving no room for anybody else.
Today, it is the neighborhood cat, black as a moonless sky, the devil’s pet incarnate, which has her all riled up.
“When that black cat leapt from nowhere (the hedge, if she was just to look, I want to add) and fell right in our path (or they in its, which was more likely of the two), I just did a double take and walked back. We had to do all the shopping for Bullu’s wedding, but all would have been a waste today. Cats are such harbingers of bad luck, you know. And sure enough, all shops were closed, thanks to some nationwide bandh.”
For a brief moment, I am tempted to tell her from my homework station by the window (with a great view of the rose garden and the boy next door), why not check the paper or a news channel before stepping out. But that would be just a waste of time. Mishra aunty has her “omens and signs,” just like mom.
“And yesterday we had crows cawing at our front door. And what do you know? My sister from the US of A is going to come next month with her family. And stay for the entire wedding. I haven’t seen her in a decade. Though she looks quite tip-top in her profile pic on some Facebook-Vasebook that Bullu keeps showing me from time to time.”
Mom nods knowingly. I duck my head in the chapter on trigonometry, which makes more sense than them. Wondering what’s the opposite of a cawing crow to make her go away.
“And then Mr. Mishra’s right eye started blinking on its own accord. And I told him to stop whatever he was doing. He was e-mailing-she-mailing to some big tope in New Jersey or New York. Big project he is leading, no? But he didn’t listen. And hit send. And now he has this big bawaal in his office. All because he replied on a year-old mail or marked some person who shouldn’t have been marked or something … And then my right palm started itching and ever since then we’ve been spending double on everything, not to mention unforeseen repairs. Oh, ho, Saroj, what to tell you, all in all, it has been the worst week of my life.”
Mom opens her mouth to tell her own sob story, but Mishra aunty cuts her short. “And you know what? Maharishi baba says the only way to come out on the other side of the end of the world is through this grand havan that he will hold in secret to appease the Gods. It’s all over the news.”
Yeah, right, see the news for that. And who is this Maharishi baba? The last I heard they were following the teachings of some Shri Nandini Devi, who was an alternate health practitioner slash faith healer but no Nostradamus.
“Who is this baba?” I ask, before I can stop myself, and they both gape at me.
“Maharishi baba of the TV channel, Baba Ka Darbar?” says Mishra aunty, as if of all the shocks that the week had bought her, this was the biggest and most unexpected.
“He is the voice of God himself,” she adds. “Over the last year, we have consulted him so many times and not once has he been wrong. He has such an aura and insight,” she continues closing her eyes, like she can see him with her mind’s eyes, “what to tell you. Saroj, if he says we must do absolutely nothing on the coming Saturday, and lend him all of our subconscious, unconscious energy, so that he can save the world from a sure-shot end, then we must. I am only grateful our daughter’s wedding isn’t this weekend.
“It’s only up to Maharishi baba now,” she concludes with a noisy sip. “He has saved us from such dooms before, you know.”
Yes, of course, if it weren’t for him, the world would be ending every other year. Wait a minute? Is he the reason why Mom’s not letting me go to the dance?
“You remember 2012?” she adds. “He saved us from that.”
Mom shakes her head in awe. “By the grace of God, then he will certainly save us yet again. It’s our good fortune indeed that you found him, Kavitha.”
“Yes, yes,” parrots Mishra aunty. “I told you na, he is the best. He will be organizing a week-long havan, offering all manner of appeasement to the Gods. Like rice and sweets, and silk and gold. The more you give, the more the Gods will protect you and your family from the evil eye of doom. I have already put down Mr. Mishra’s name for a thousand gold thalis. After all,” she says, drawing the last sip and scratching her right palm, “we must all do our part.”
“Yes, of course,” says Mom, not wanting to be outdone. “We’ll offer a thousand and one gold thalis. Every day. Just you see.”
And then the next-door neighbor’s main door swings open and out comes Sid, with his spiked hair, shiny bike, and uber-cool satchel, heading for “the tutes.” He waves. I smile. He mouths something, most likely, “see you in school tomorrow,” and I know right then: I’ve got to change Mom’s mind.