The Paharganj Fortune Teller

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The Fortune Walla

We first encountered the fortune teller at the Grand Sindhi, on the same night we had our first dinner with Amar. It was toward the end of our time together. Amar had been gazing off into space for several moments, when suddenly something caught his eye behind us. A smile burst onto his face, and he was obviously suppressing a laugh.

“What happened?” I asked him.

“Fortune teller,” Amar said, nodding toward the table behind us.

Sarah and I stole glances at the scene in question. Two young tourists sat at a table with an Indian gentleman who wore a blue turban and a bushy white beard. He spoke to them sagaciously in a low voice.

Amar was still grinning broadly. “A fake,” he whispered to us, leaning forward. “Don’t listen to him. I don’t know why people listen to him.”

In the following days, Sarah and I saw the fortune teller several more times in the Grand Sindhi. Main Bazaar is his prowling ground, and Grand Sindhi his favorite place to bring clients (all tourists, so far as we can tell.) Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before he started working on us as well, inviting us to have aura read or fortune told or some such mystical services performed.

People hawk all sorts of things to tourists along Main Bazaar: it’s not surprising that second rate spiritual wisdom is among them. I am fascinated by India’s spiritual landscape, but I believe it is best seen through Christ in the hearts of her people, rather than in the crystal balls of her spiritual entrepreneurs.

Can I Tell your Fortune?

The other evening, the fortune teller managed to corner me at a moment I didn’t have an easy excuse to politely but quickly write him off.

“My friend,” he said, in a deep, gravely voice, “You have a good soul. But your mind, sometimes it wanders from place to place. Why don’t you come sit with me. Let me tell you some things.”

I’m not sure why I volunteered my hand for a handshake: once he got a hold of it, he didn’t give it back. His eyes were deeply set and shadowed by thick, bushy eyebrows. He stared at me firmly, conveying compassion, mystery, and self-assured inner knowledge with his gaze. Not bad for a supposed roving mystic. He certainly knew his part and played it well.

“Thanks,” I said, “But I would rather not.”

“Why not.” he persisted.

“Well, for starters,” I replied, “I don’t have any money.” It was true. I had no more than four rupees in my pocket.

“You can get money, if you want it,” he said. “Come, you need the insight of other people to see yourself clearly.”

“That’s very true,” I said, “But I would still rather not.”

“Why not.” He squinted at me, as though trying to read my thoughts. “You are still thinking about the money. Life is about more than money.”

“Certainly,” I said. “But it’s not about the money. I’m just not interested.”

“Why not.” he persisted. “Many things I can tell you.”

It was clear he was not going to let me go this time without a good reason. I took a deep breath, and gave it my best shot.

“True spiritual gifts are not things you can buy. They are given to us freely by God. They are shared freely amongst friends, as we give ourselves to one another. In this respect, I consider myself already to be fabulously wealthy, and know of nothing you can sell me that would add to this inner treasure.”

It probably didn’t come out quite so eloquently, but whatever I did manage to say to this effect satisfied the fortune teller. He let go of my hand, and allowed me continue on my journey.

The Blessings of Fortunes Untold

I have half a mind to find that fortune teller and give him a couple hundred rupees. Not talking to him was far more of a blessing to me than any vague advice he could have offered. It was wonderful to be forced to explain why I didn’t need or want a fortune teller.

I spent a good portion of the rest of the evening basking in the glow of the treasury of good gifts that God has given me. My every creaturely need is provided for by my heavenly Father, and the grace working in my life through Jesus Christ is truly more than I could ask or imagine. My family is full of beautiful and big hearted people; my friends are persons of depth, substance, and integrity. I have been given beautiful examples of love of God and neighbor to emulate in my life, and I have a deep inventory of wonderful, Godly experiences that grows larger by the day. And above all, I know myself to be a child of God, a participant in the grand drama at the heart of the universe through Jesus Christ.

I do not always live a life that is worthy of this calling, but even in my failings I feel the Holy Spirit working in my heart, working to form me and conform me to the image of Jesus Christ. And so I am renewed by the Sacraments. Some of these happen through the formal distribution of the Church, others through the community with other believers. Still others come through the work of Christ veiled in everyday people and experiences—like rejecting a fortune teller.

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