Getting married to Madhubala was something I’d never dreamed of. I preferred Vaijanti Mala’s magical moves and Sadhana’s chic haircut. But my marriage to Madhubala was arranged by one of the most affluent Pandits of Mathura, Dhirendra Shastri. Mathuravaasi, or the people of Mathura, used to respectfully (to be read as fearfully) refer to him as Shastri ji. He was always dressed in a crisp dhoti, in varying shades of the pious white; his balding forehead sported a crimson tilak, and his janeyu proudly embraced his chest. Shastri Ji was a staunch devotee of Lord Krishna. Every morning he visited the Banke Bihari temple with the freshest set of jasmine flowers and returned home around 9. a.m. after offering his prayers. His return was marked by the fragrance of chandan and kesar, and I knew, always, that it was time to set up our astrology and palmistry shop.
Yes, Shastri Ji is my father, but we never called him pita-ji or papa. Shastri Ji was Shastri Ji for everyone. He had three children — two daughters and a son. Lalita and Maalti were already married when I was born. The story of my birth is quite interesting. When my parents got to know that they were expecting twins, they were ecstatic. Balram and Krishna. The names were already decided. But much to my parents’ disappointment, the pregnancy resulted in Seeta and Geeta. I mean Lalita and Maalti. This is what started the everyday visits to the merciful Banke Bihari Ji — the fervent desire to be blessed with a son.
After a penance of 16 years, I was born. Obviously, it was because of Lord Krishna’s blessings and not the painstaking efforts taken by my parents that I got to see the light of day. I was born with a relatively dark complexion, just like Lord Krishna’s, so I was named Shyamsundar. As beautiful and dark as Lord Shyam. Surprisingly enough, I turned out to be the black sheep of the family. Lalita and Maalti were the family prodigies. Well-versed in the shlokas, accurate in calculating planetary positions, and of course, beautiful – their beauty as serene as the river Yamuna. It didn’t take long for my parents to find suitable matches for them. Lalita got married to a rich landlord in Vrindavan, and Maalti into a family of pandits who were in charge of the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Banaras. Their weddings were said to be the grandest events in the history of Brij, and now it was my turn to create history. I had to be an even greater astrologer than my father and gather ten times the amount of fortune he had earned, but my right palm never twitched. Who said that the twitching of the right palm would bring you money?
There were several obstacles to reaching my great potential. I wasn’t as bright as Lalita and Maalti. My sisters could calculate planetary positions precisely, and were quick to draw up natal charts and give their keen insights and predictions. As for me, I couldn’t even remember the correct order of the planets, let alone do all the complicated calculations. A day hasn’t gone by where I haven’t mistaken the planet Rahu for the fish Rohu. God forbid, if Shastri Ji came to know about my non-vegetarian eating habits…
No matter how many times I offered milk to a snake or let a crow shit on me, good luck just wouldn’t come my way. My days were as bad as stepping on a nimbu-mirchi or having a black cat cross my path.
I was 26, but I had neither a concrete education or a job, nor was I blessed with the astrological talent that my father or siblings possessed to take over the family business. Shastri Ji was beyond frustrated and decided that it was time to intervene and rectify the situation – rectify my life, in fact. But Shastri Ji, being the astrologer he is, never had the courage to study the kundli of his children. He didn’t want to know the potential shortcomings in our natal charts and was blissful in ignorance. But push had come to shove. He quickly drew up my horoscope. His suspicions were confirmed. Not only was I maanglik but I also had Shani dosha with problems in the 1st, 4th, and 7th houses of my kundli.
Shastri Ji contacted several of his Pandit friends. All of them suggested remedies to fix the existing and future problems in my life. I was to pray to Lord Hanuman, chant the ‘Hanuman Chalisa’ as frequently as I could, and adorn a ‘moonga’ or a red coral ring. Unfortunately, my life problems continued to maintain their status-quo. Shastri Ji became increasingly worried about my future, and the occasional chilam that he enjoyed graduated to a daily routine of sorts.
One night, as I was snoring away to glory, Shastri Ji barged into my room screaming with such elation that it would wake up the dead.
Shastri Ji, ghana andhera hai bahar, yeh kis baat ka shor hai? I asked sleepily.
Re bavre! he lovingly replied, teri samasya ka hal mil gaya hai mujhko. Banke Bihari Ji svayam mere sapne mein aaye the hal batane!
My curiosity piqued, I asked him the solution as offered by Lord Krishna himself.
Byaah! Shastri Ji very casually replied.
Marriage! I was pretty sure that this conversation was a result of the chilam he had just smoked. I tried to shrug it off but couldn’t. Though I did not want to admit it, the very thought of marriage excited me. What about my daily prayers to the greatest celibate god, Hanuman? I hoped he would be okay with this betrayal from my side. I was 26! It was high time that lady luck worked its charm on me. I wondered what my future bride would be like. Would she be as sweet as my favorite peda, or would she be as zingy as my beloved kachori?
In the next few days, Shastri Ji did all the arrangements for my wedding ceremony. The invitations were sent out, our house looked as pretty as a newlywed bride with freshly painted walls, intricate flower arrangements and lights that reminded me of Bachchan’s spectacular costume in Yarana. There was music and dance everywhere. Just the festive atmosphere needed for a grand wedding. I was supposed to get married in the next five days and was quite surprised by the fact that Shastri Ji was able to find a bride for me in such a short period of time. The stars were finally in alignment. It was a custom in Brij that the groom could only meet the bride on the day of the wedding. I was comfortable enough with this tradition as my parents and siblings had done the same.
All I got to know was that the bride’s name was Madhubala, even though I preferred Vaijanti Mala’s magical moves and Sadhana’s chic haircut.
Finally, it was the day of my wedding. My red sherwani with golden embroidery was the talk of the town. I was never fond of red, but I hoped that Madhubala would like this color. I was feeling jittery. I put on my sehra and entered the mandap. I looked at the holy fire in front of me where I would be taking the saat-pheras. I was more than ready to start this new chapter in my life along with my soon-to-be wife. But she was getting late.
I heard Shastri Ji scream from a distance, muhurat nikalta jaa raha hai, kahan hai Madhubala?
That is when she arrived, decked up in bright pink. The jingling of her payal announced her arrival. She stopped and looked around; her big brown eyes lit up in stark contrast to her fair white skin.
And then she mooed. What Shastri Ji had failed to tell me the other night was that the solution to my Mangal and Shani dosha was getting married to a cow. Little did I know that I would be spending my honeymoon in the stables.
Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash