Friday, February 18, 2011

I Understand My Hand?

I looked at my hand. Then I looked on both sides of both hands. I somehow knew that I would not find anything new, since I had seen my hands in the past enough times to by now know them well. Yet, the thought did cross my mind, that when they say, ‘I know something so well, like the back of my hand’, then I am not sure if I can say the same thing. I mean, if someone were to show me a set of pictures of the backs of hands of several people, I do not think that I would instantly identify my hand, without using the physical hand as a cheat-sheet. After all, unless there is a distinct mark, deformity or some such outstanding characteristic, what would make the combination of five digits attached to a broad palm anything unique? Take the palms of a few lighter skinned Indian females, and my hand will undoubtedly be indistinguishable from the others.

Hands are not like faces---as my then five year old niece, while sitting in a restaurant and observing the sea of people all around, had innocently asked my mother, “Nani, how come every face has two eyes, a nose, and a mouth, and yet, each face is so different from the others?”. The sixty-seven year old Nani could not find anything in her sixty-seven years of living on this earth shared so closely with thousands and thousands of human beings, to give an answer that could satisfy her own self. She did somehow quell the curiosity of the kid for that moment, perhaps with some reasoning about how the features are placed, the skin and eye color, and so on. She came home impressed with the child and indeed moved by the question enough to write it down in a journal, she infrequently kept. I came across that journal entry, while browsing through mom’s things after her death last year.

Thinking about the relative sameness of the hands attached to all human beings (for instance, mine are so much comparable with Jhumpa Lahiri’s or Aishwarya Rai’s---both women of Indian descent--one a writer, the other an actress), I realise that indeed the essence of the hands is in what they do. The hands distinguish themselves by the distinct creations they enable bringing to fruition.

Of course, completely discounting the uniqueness of the fingers, will void the entire concept of finger-printing. As an ‘alien’ in the country, I know very well that a big part of my official identity here is the finger-print that I obediently give each time I enter the country. God forbid a time when the finger-print on a particular day not match the one on record. I shudder to think of the range of dismal outcomes, from hiring a fleet of fleecing lawyers to outright deportation and separation from my bona fide American citizen toddler.

And then again, even in the culture of India that I grew up in, palmistry is a common topic. Roadside palm readers with no paraphernalia and just a somber fa├žade and a magnifying glass run fairly decent businesses, making sufficient incomes to sometimes even support the family. There is amongst the lost, the despaired or the adventurous enough appetite for deciphering the code to the future, supposedly criss-crossed in their palms. I myself have had a close brush with a soothsayer, whose not so profound prophecy did come true in a very cute way, and indeed out of the blue. This girl who said she could oftentimes see something about the person’s future when looking at that person’s forehead, declared to me when I was just nineteen that I would be going to Japan. I knew no one in Japan, and had no plans to go there, or to any foreign country then. I was studying to eventually write one of the civil services exams, and become a government official or a journalist in India. Yet, approximately four years from the day of that foresight I was boarding a plane to come to the U.S. to study. The plane I took? Air-Nippon----with an only stop-over at Tokyo Narita Airport-- my first ever international landing!

I cannot say that I am a convert ever since—and that I fanatically seek the decoding of my horoscopes and palms. Yet, every now and then, for a brief moment, I am surely captured by the enigma of the unseen, the unknown and the infinite. For now though, I am so happy typing away with my own two hands and my ten fingers, this piece----my writing—my ‘footprint’ on the sands of time.

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