Recently, I lost the main disadvantage of being from the Third World when my passport was stamped with the last, and most important, visa of the Holy Trinity: a 10-year multiple entry to the United States, which now shares space with my Schengen and UK visas. As I collected my passport from the consulate, I felt I had to step on to a podium and make a speech of some kind, reminiscing about how far I had come from where I had been. As no podium was available, and the queue of anxious graduates, geriatrics and golmaal-doers waiting for their fingerprinting appointments didn’t appear to be an amenable audience, I had to make my speech in my head.
The person I am most grateful to is a distant relative I will refer to as ‘Nazar Auntie’.
Now, all of us know Nazar Auntie. Every family has one. She is the designated caster of the Evil Eye. You tell her about a prospective job, the company sends you a regret letter; you tell her about an entrance exam for which you’re preparing, you fall ill on the big day; you tell her about a scholarship you need, and you flop at the interview; you tell her about your happy relationship, and your boyfriend “needs to talk” for the first time in years.
There is a family tale about a man who waited for years to take his wife on a European holiday. Four days before they were to leave, he told Nazar Auntie, and his mother promptly died, precluding him from crossing the seas for a year.
And so, when Nazar Auntie enters the home of any relative, it appears everyone is in mourning.
“Has your grandchild started talking?” she asks eagerly.
“Not a word. Why, barely a sound. He may be mute,” the grandparent says, with a convincing sniff.
“Have you started looking for a groom for your daughter?” she asks.
“No, she doesn’t want to get married. We are, in fact, afraid she may… not like men,” the parent says, with a convincing shudder.
Every utterance to Nazar Auntie is a lament. This was how it worked in my family too.
But I recently discovered that Nazar Auntie could be put to more beneficial uses. It is true that when she is jealous of fortune, fortune is reversed. However, in her case, the converse holds true. When she is satisfied with misfortune, it too is reversed.
My Eureka moment occurred by serendipity. My new car had been at the receiving end of some urchins’ artwork. I was nearly in tears when I arrived, and Nazar Auntie was thrilled.
“What happened?” she cried, “Are you all right?”
When I told her, I sighed, “I don’t think insurance will cover it either.”
“No, no,” she trilled, beaming, “It is your responsibility. They will hold you culpable, and you won’t get a naya paisa for it.” She sighed, “That too a brand new car. You hadn’t even taken a photograph in it, no?”
I haven’t been in the habit of taking photographs in vehicles since I graduated from my tricycle, so I was able to honestly say, “No.”
A few days later, my insurance policy holder said I could make a claim under ‘third party damage’.
Since then, Nazar Auntie has become my confidante.
“I entered a play for this contest,” I told her, “I don’t have a chance. I wrote it in three days, and they get hundreds of entries, and some people work on theirs for a whole year.”
“Three days!” she gasped, “Did you even think when you were writing?”
“Worse. I don’t think I did a spell check, and I’m sure it’s full of errors,” I wailed.
A few weeks later, I discovered my play had been shortlisted.
“I don’t think I have it in me to keep a man consistently interested,” I whined to her, when I felt I wasn’t being pampered, “They’re all crazy about me when they start flirting, and then they take me for granted.”
“You can’t learn to play games,” she said, happily, “You either have it or you don’t.”
The next day, I randomly received roses accompanied by a sappy note, likely the result of a Google search, but worthy of appreciation nevertheless.
“I never get paid on time,” I whimpered to her.
That was a long shot: very occasionally, I get cheques without having to carry my begging bowl to the accounts departments of each of the papers and websites and magazines to which I contribute.
So, as I was about to leave for my visa interview, I did a quick check – certificates, appointment letter, passport, phone call to Nazar Auntie… oops.
“I don’t think there’s any point even applying for a visa to America,” I told her, “They won’t give it to me, no?”
“No spouse, no job, definitely not.”
A few hours later, I finally had the freedom to travel, without being suspected of wanting to trade my house-with-garden for a bedsit and second-class citizenship.