The entrance to the Mariam Aftab Healing Center is fairly nondescript, nestled as it is amidst many townhouses hidden behind a mobile telephone office next to the Sherpao Bridge. There is a sign on the road and another at the end of the lane, listing the several services you can expect once inside. These include, but are not limited to, tarot reading, aura collection, removal of evil eye (a big seller), reiki healing, hypnosis and telepathy.
For those who don't know her already: Mariam Aftab is a tarot reader based in Lahore. You may have seen her horoscopes or "tarot spreads" in various magazines and bookstores or heard a blonded begum wax lyrical about her accuracy. Others may actually have seen her kohl-lined eyes widen above her high cheekbones as she speaks about the mysteries of the occult, usually in an octave lower than you would expect, which works wonders. I first heard of her in the mid 90s, when Lahore was going through her Powerhouse Women Oracle phase. Aunties and daughters and businessmen and students had all at once discovered the latest accessory: the spiritual advisor. Komal Tariq was the only other oracle who had good PR, though she didn't use tarots and usually bore into your mind to find answers. It helps to think that if Komal Tariq was the Lata Mangeshkar of clairvoyance, all homely and sweet and domestic, then Mariam Aftab was its Asha Bhosle, singing 'Piya Tu' for a vampish Helen.
Aftab stood out because she invented her own tarot deck. Full disclosure: I was raised in a house where dinner plans were often made on the mutable whims of the Rider Tarot deck, so I know my way around a three of pentacles. Her deck is quite different. It is called the Eastern Tarot, and has cards like Kismet (fate) and Ashiq (lover).
If Komal Tariq was the Lata Mangeshkar of clairvoyance, all homely and sweet and domestic, then Mariam Aftab was its Asha Bhosle, singing 'Piya tu' for a vampish Helen
I'm always up for some divination; it's the funnest thing after baked goods. I'd seen a flier from the Gymkhana Club (rumour has it they fired all their bootlegger caddies. Just FYI) advertising a talk with Mariam Aftab, and her name stuck around my head. Why not, I thought? Which brings me back to that scary street of townhouses. You walk a flight up into a dark room that has fake vines on the walls, not a little disturbing. All other spaces either have posters of Aftab looking All Powerful (dark eyes, intense stare, mystical magical hands holding crystal) or press clippings of articles about her. The bulbs, I was horrified to see, glowed blue. I had a 3 pm appointment and by 3:15 I was shown into one of the rooms that was thankfully different, walls of deep purple with some kind of bamboo design going on and the smell of incense. She remained seated behind her desk as I took my place opposite her. She does look the part. Though diminutive, she has miles of dark hair that fall down artfully around two piercing eyes; she doesn't smile immediately. After a cursory greeting, she handed me a thick deck of cards and asked me to pick any four cards, which I did.
She told me what she saw and began asking me a series of questions. In truth, the whole session was a bit question-heavy. I'm always suspicious of a seer who asks too many questions, for obvious reasons. She said I was depressed, but anyone who reads these columns knows that, so it's sort of an open secret. Now and then she made some specific observations, said certain things she couldn't have known. The reading was shorter than I expected, though she answered most of my existential questions, and I felt upon leaving that I'd divulged more that I'd learnt. The two main things she told me were: a) that I need to be less depressed; and b) I need some, umm, copmpany. Well, duh, I thought. Don't we all. But at the risk of sounding completely delusional (I am aware we are past that), Mariam Aftab did project a strange but very discernible sort of power. She walked me to the door and that was that.
There's more. My next appointment was across the hall to see Dr. Aliya Aftab, Sister of the Power and a clinical psychologist in her own right. Her specialty is The Aura and her room is in cool lavender shades. After an exhaustive lecture on how one activates, cleanses, focuses and expands one's aura, a lecture during which she was engaging and accommodating, she began to "scan" my aura. In essence, you sit there quietly with no limbs crossed and she raises her hands voodoo-style to sense your chakras (I know you're saying "you crazy") and then tells you which of them is blocked. It's really quite a lot of fun. My aura wasn't just blocked, apparently. It was full-on "depleted". She said I didn't really give off that much energy, which made me feel acutely inadequate. She next asked me to get up and stand against a white wall, after which she turned the lights off to "see" my aura. I kept staring down at my body, hoping to see some sort of blue light or a ripple of X-Men-like energy. But there was nothing to be seen. By me, that is: Dr. Aliya told me I had a strong aura, that it was mostly black and blue (which I totally believe) and that it was seriously depleted. I felt really bad for my aura, like I had given it chlamydia but hadn't called to say so. Sweetly, she gave me printouts of exercises that would increase the robustness of my thus-far floundering aura.
I've been to tarot card readers, palmists, psychics, numerologists, astrologers, gemologists, clairvoyants, gypsies, monks, priests, old men under older trees, shrines, new age seminars, witchcraft retreats, and more Wiccan parties than I can legally tell you about. During all of those readings and sessions, a small part of me was always waiting to be reassured. I think that's why most people do (and don't) go to psychics: to receive confirmation and reaffirmation. But of what? Of what?
The truth is that I don't really want to know the answer. Because it'll probably be something banal and utterly predictable, like when the supercomputer from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy reveals that the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe and Everything is, incredibly, 42.
So I'd rather pay a witch to describe my aura and tell me that I need to get laid.
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