My grandfather has always been my sounding board; he teaches me simple truths about myself that I can never seem to figure out on my own. My dose of therapy entails an endless supply of home-cooked food and conversations over chai with my grandfather as he inevitably launches into his captivating past.
My story is about my grandfather — Dada, as I refer to him — and his magic. Not the kind of magic that I believed in as a kid — when I looked anxiously for a coin under my pillow in the morning — but the kind that I now try to apply within my own life. Maybe magic is too exciting of a word since life is not always smooth sailing like a child’s fantasy. Growing up, I was always fascinated by Dada and his understanding of the art of palmistry. At age 11, I remember a family friend going to him to have her palm read. I felt excited, but overall, very puzzled. Surely magic like that does not exist. Surely you cannot look at someone’s hand and be able to determine the trajectory of their next how-ever many years? Regardless, I just went on with my little life and realized much later how this piece of magic worked on even the most incredulous of people.
“I once read the palm of this beautiful Lebanese woman,” my grandfather said. I giggled and cheekily eyed my grandmother, who shook her head, grinning. “I told her she will become extremely wealthy and privileged, and she went on to marry Sheikh Yamani — the minister of oil for Saudi Arabia and one of the most influential figures globally during the 1980s.” My eyes widened and eyebrows rose at the thought of Dada’s words playing such a monumental role in the life of such a powerful woman.
Dada was 16 years old at the time of the 1947 Partition, which led to the creation of two independent nations: India and Pakistan. What is described in history books as the fall of British colonialism, was also a calamity of human migration that separated Muslims from Hindus, taking thousands of innocent lives and displacing millions of families. My great-grandfather was an educator turned politician in pre-Partition Kashmir, and one of many men caught in a religious crossfire when attempting to cross the border into newly formed Pakistan.
These stories would command family breakfasts and spill into the evening discussions over chai and biscuits.
As Dada recalled his early teenage years, I would listen bewildered at the thought of having to carry the weight of my family’s burdens at the mere age of 16.
He would describe the dilapidated horse and carriage he would use to go to school every day, remembered the responsibilities he held as the man of the family and recalled the sadness he carried from the death of his father. This feeling of hopelessness drove him to find a measure of control. Many books and hours of research later, he began to place meaning within the inner workings of palmistry. After he married my grandmother, they moved to Lebanon and had two sons and a daughter. As more people began to hear about his ability to read palms, he would be asked to set up stalls and work at charity fundraisers — one reading in exchange for 1,000 liras. Many decades and multiple grandchildren later, he would look back on all the fascinating narratives he unraveled by simply looking into the hands of a stranger.
I should preface this by mentioning that I have never taken much notice of fortune cookies, star signs or how I’m acting when mercury is in retrograde. If any of their predictions come true, I label it a lucky coincidence, which life is full of after all. Also, I knew Dada never read the palms of his immediate family — he felt what he said would come true and didn’t want his family to be too influenced by his words. Hence, this magic remained a distant fascination and I always watched from afar with the secret anticipation that one day he would pass it down to me.
The summer before I started as a sophomore at the University of Michigan, my family members were hit with the sudden reality that London to Ann Arbor was not a short flight away. In their own wonderful ways, everyone began showing me how much they would miss me. For my little sisters, that meant a three-way peace offering in the form of a clothing exchange. My mother decided to ignore my many unpacked bags and resorted to sending me sad memes via Whatsapp. The list goes on.
Having lived two streets down from each other my entire life, Dada and I also realized that we wouldn’t be able to meet for weekly breakfasts or go for day trips to Ikea as often. So, his proposal was as follows: I get to ask one question and he answers. My inner 11-year-old self was jumping with joy.
I sat opposite him with apprehension. Eyebrows raised and eyes squinting, he was carefully fixated on my left hand. I have never felt the urge to know how my life will play out — I still don’t. I also believe that one’s fate is already written. I was feeling doubtful but strangely assured.
“You base your decisions on emotions. But, in many ways you are balanced,” Dada said to me, deciphering my traits. Depending on who you talk to, this is true. How he knew this, I simply do not know.
“You’re an emotional person when it comes to love. Hold back before you jump in.” I laughed nervously at the idea of my white-haired, elderly grandfather giving me relationship advice. Maybe this was the best I’d get.
Then, he began unraveling my next few years. “The initial part of your twenties will be confusing; you won’t know which direction to follow.” I took a deep breath and registered how much sense that comment made. It scared me that this could be the prelude to my adult life.
He got carried away, as they all do, but it was the perfect parting gift.
Fast forward to the present day, I remember this moment with complete clarity. It was the most one-on-one time we spent together in the last ten months before he passed away. For the many years that I had relied on his snippets of wisdom, I now have a lifetime to put them to practice.
Last year, I made sure to record his palm reading as a voice memo, in case I needed to refer to these snippets of wisdom. I feel grounded hearing the sound of Dada’s voice. Sometimes, when I am sitting in Ann Arbor thousands of miles away, I switch on my phone and listen to him. I cannot speak for every college-goer, but my life feels particularly transitional. It is an intrusive feeling that rocks my sense of self from time to time. I often find my mind wandering to where I will live in four years, or who I will consider my closest confidants. According to Dada, I will get married in that time parameter, but I am sure he slipped that in as a subtle hint from a concerned third party. It’s funny to think that he is still whispering in my ear when he knows I need it the most. I am still coming to terms with the waves of changes that hit me every so often. I think back to Dada’s life as a sixteen-year-old and how he must have navigated a new and daunting way of life. His solace was immersing himself in palm reading, and it’s his words that provide me that same comfort today. I won’t ever know how he did it, nor am I sure I fully believe him, but his magical stories will always remain my blanket of comfort.
MiC Columnist Nuraiya Malik can be reached at email@example.com.