Part 2: Effect of Unemployment

After my second layoff, which happened within two years from the first (and a few such unwanted incidents in the family), my wife’s friends advised her to consult a reliable astrologer. “May be the planets are not aligned auspiciously,” one of them said. The friend requested that I should consider carrying some suitable gem on my body. My timid protest did not hold water. Shova, our friend from Long Beach, had good luck with her husband’s job situation with advice from Malati, her friend back in India. Malati’s parents were from Gujarat but she was born and brought up in Kolkata. Shova and Malati became friends when they were students at a well known missionary girl’s school in Kolkata. Only daughters from well-to-do families attend such schools. Malati ended up marrying a Bengali boy and got settled in Kolkata. But she was not a professional astrologer. As a hobby she would analyze the horoscopes of close friends.

After listening to Malati, Shova made her husband to wear a Burmese blue ruby. Now blue ruby is to control the fickle god Shonee, which is planet Saturn according to western astrology. And one has to be very careful with this blue ruby. Shova mentioned that she did not ask her husband to wear the ring right away. She hid the ring under his pillow for several nights starting one Friday night when her husband would stay home during the weekend.  As her husband slept on the pillow she kept cautious eyes on him. Rumor has it that if a stone does not suit someone, you may see some bad effect on that person soon, but since the person was not bearing the gem on his body yet, the effect would be minor. Once Shova was convinced that it did not have any bad effect on her husband, she made him to put on his finger. Her husband, an electrical engineer, educated at one of the IIT’s in India, got good promotion in their start up company and their stock option did very well. They finally bought and moved to a new and bigger, nearly six thousands square feet, Shapel home in Orange County, a predominately conservative white enclave in the LA area. Shova’s son, her only child, attended Carnegie Mellon and then went to Wharton for an MBA. And these were all too excellent achievements for one who follows astrology to be sneered on.

But though I did not have any negative bias towards astrology, I hesitated initially. “This is your problem,” Shoma fumed. “You could not achieve anything because you don’t listen to anyone.”

“I know.”

“Then why don’t you,” she slammed hard. “Besides, the gem does not have to be showing;” she waited a bit, “in case you feel ashamed showing your superstition”. Well, it matters – particularly in this valley of electronic nerds. But I kept quiet. “So long as the gem touches the body,” she told, “its beneficial effects would reveal.” Two carats of authentic yellow sapphire would be optimal, I was counseled. And the best such sapphires, it be known, come only from Ceylon. Now I have had a brief encounter with gemstones back in India. This was when I was coming to America. I had already gotten my passport and had the sought-after visa insignia stamped on its page. When the news was out in my family, my second aunt, my favorite one, advised me to consult an astrologer. “You will be flying so far away,” she said, “Manik, why don’t you see Mr. Chakroborty?” Mr. Chakroborty was an astrologer and he conducted his business from his home in Sealdah. I did go to see him. And they also talked about gems. And the most effective ones, Mr. Chakroborty mentioned, comes from Ceylon. A few omnipresent figures sat quietly under shawl nearby. Mr. Chakroborty asked one of them, Mr. Roy, how much a carat of Pokhraj would cost. And it was costly. “The supply has been very tight,” the man under shawl mentioned. I could not afford Pokhraj. By the way, Pokhraj is actually yellow sapphire.

Here in the Silicon Valley, to look for the elusive yellow sapphire from Ceylon, we tried Rupam Jewelers, the new and the only Indian jewelry store then on El Camino Real in Sunnyvale. It had a billboard with the picture, drawn in light pink paint, of a shy, fair looking young Indian lady showing off her gold chain with a green emerald locket, diamond ring on her finger, gold bangles on her wrist and jhumko ear ring. But the store did not carry any yellow sapphire. “We can order it for you,” the owner, Mr. Patel, mentioned. “But we cannot guarantee if the sapphire is from Ceylon”. We were  surprised at his honest acknowledgement: that even some Indian businesses in America are showing the maturity. We could not buy from here. Then, when Shoma visited Kolkata the following year, she got it made in a ring for me, one and three quarters of a carat. “It’s natural,” she explained, “you cannot get in exact weight you want.” As if inexact weight vouched for its authenticity. In my insistence she went to the best Kolkata jeweler ‘Chandra & Sons’ in BB Ganguly Street, near where I used to live in a student mess many years ago. “I am ready to pay a little more,” I told her, “but make sure that the material is real.” I did that because I heard lot of stories where fake colored glass was sold as gem stone.

When I got the ring, Shoma made me to wait for a Saturday, an auspicious day according to Hindu belief. That Saturday morning, after shower and still in my towel, I washed the ring with raw milk – as raw as you can get in a carton, from a small brass container, which my wife uses to offer water in front of a picture of Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth. Then I touched the ring on my forehead in reverence and as I stood facing east, I wore it on my right ring finger. I was told that the ring finger is best but in case the ring size is little bigger I can wear it on middle finger. That way I had the best chance of getting the most beneficial effect. I was surprised, knowing my own crustiness, how I recreated those rituals myself from only my erstwhile observations. May be the situation makes us what we are!

I still wear the ring. Jocelyn, the secretary in my last company, and a believer in astrology, crystal power and what not, asked me a lot of questions when she saw my ring. And she wanted me to buy a similar piece of gem for her from India. I promised her that I would. But then she was laid off before even the company folded. I have not got a chance to talk with her since.

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