Surprise, surprise. The tarot card reader was a fraud.
Giving into Aliyah's guilty curiosity of astrological and occult ruses, I recently purchased a "divination for couple" session with an "expert" in Gurgaon. The "expert" -- we'll call her Bhavana -- "is a popular Tarot reader, rune consultant and also a crystal healer," according to her promotional materials.
"I promise to be on my best behavior," I told Aliyah on the car ride over, stifling a somewhat wicked giggle.
We arrived at Bhavana's apartment, where candles were lit, a pressure cooker was whistling, and a small Mona Lisa print hung framed on the wall. Bhavana was barefoot and wore jeans. Aliyah sat down on the couch, but Bhavana told her to move. The tarot card reader must always face east, she intoned.
We chatted for a few minutes before the session began, and Bhavana's casual conversation began to betray her ignorance. When I mentioned the tough job market we faced back home, she asked, "Is there a slump of some kind?" When I explained that there was, she said something to the effect of "I don't pay attention to such things. I am concerned only with the spiritual, with what the cards tell me."
We were allowed six questions, and Aliyah first inquired about our relationship. Bhavana squinched her eyes tightly and drew a balled fist to her mouth while she drew seven cards on her coffee table. I couldn't make out what they were exactly, though many looked like cartoon royals and monks with unnaturally big bottoms.
"Marriage is not in the near future, nor is it in the far future," Bhavana said importantly. She told us marriage was out of the question before June 2009 (sigh of relief), but good news! The cards said we were free to marry after that.
Bhavana squished her eyes again and hummed a bit while she drew cards for Aliyah's next question -- this one on the health and future of her family members. I took a picture (with flash) of Bhavana while she pulled cards.
"Please don't," the fake fortune teller snapped. Then, without skipping a beat, she angrily turned to Aliyah and said, "Your dad's health is not going to be very good." (That's what we get for taking the fraud's photo. Sorry, Agha.)
Bhavana quickly cooled down and tried to be a bit more passively reassuring, but in the middle of her assessment of Aliyah's mother she turned to me and demanded rudely, "How much did you pay for this experience?" (I booked it through a separate company, so I suppose it was reasonable that she didn't know.)
I told her, and Bhavana continued as if this fiscal blip had not even happened.
Aliyah asked about her job prospects upon her return to the US, and Bhavana pulled a card (with a colorfully gowned sorcerer on it?), which she didn't even look at before saying, "Things are going to be fine. You're going to get something of your choice."
"Phew," Aliyah said.
"Within a year," Bhavana said.
There was a moment of silence.
"What's 11 and 10?" Bhavana said for no reason. "Twenty-two?"
"Um," I said.
"I'm pretty sure 11 and 10 is 22," said the expert.
"It's not," I said. "It's 21."
This aside was never explained. I made a note to myself not to invite Bhavana with us to Las Vegas.
It was soon my turn to pull a card, and Bhavana instructed me to think long and seriously about my question as I selected from her fan of oversized cards. With soap operatic exaggeration, I spent at least ten seconds studying the cards, almost selecting one, pulling back, scratching my chin, hovering over another, before finally pulling one. Bhavana flipped it over. The picture was of a heart with three swords through it.
"Can he pick again?" Aliyah said.
"You've gone through a lot. My God! Disaster!"
She turned toward me tenderly.
"You've had a really hard life, haven't you?" she said softly.
"Not really," I said. "In fact, it's been relatively easy, I'd say."
"Then you obviously didn't concentrate on your question correctly when you picked a card," she scoffed meanly.
"Um," I said.
Perhaps trying to rescue herself, Bhavana turned to Aliyah.
"Do you have a sister?" Bhavana asked.
"Yes," Aliyah said. "You told me about her health and future ten minutes ago."
"Oh right," Bhavana scrambled. "She's younger than you, right?"
"No," Aliyah said.
"Oh," Bhavana backpedaled, looking at a random card in front of her. "But she is married."
"No," Aliyah said.
"Oh," Bhavana stuttered. "But she is more frank than you."
"Not necessarily," Aliyah said.
It was no surprise that Bhavana was a charlatan. But that she was so inept a huckster, well, that was a bit of a shock. I had expected her to at least be skilled in extracting from our conversation and answers nuggets of truth that she could spin into plausible fortune telling. Instead, she couldn't even add 10 and 11 or remember the "fortune" she'd told five minutes earlier.
"Can I interest you in any charm bracelets to protect against danger on your travels?" she asked as we prepared to leave. "I've charged them with protective energy myself."
No thanks, Bhavana. We'll stick with reason.