I always loved to go on village visits when I lived in Garhwal. We had good friends who founded an NGO called SIDH, whose primary focus was village education. I had a keen interest in the work of the traditional birth attendant (or dai as she is called in that part of the world). Meera, one of the SIDH field workers, offered to introduce me to Gooni Devi, a well-known dai of that area who lived in a village a few kilometres away. We set out that morning along a path descending into the valley below, skirting between farmers' fields filled with ripe corn. Meera described her work as a field coordinator with SIDH, her passion for women's literacy clearly apparent.
We reached the village in just over an hour, and a little boy directed us to Gooni Devi’s house, a traditional Garhwali home built of stone, with a slate roof. Gooni Devi, the dai of that village, was an elderly woman who had been practicing her craft for more than 15 years. She welcomed us into her home in the typical hospitable way of people in that area. We’d just begun to talk about women's health in Garhwal when Gooni Devi's daughter-in-law stepped quietly into the room and whispered something to her mother-in-law. Gooni Devi said - "Yes, of course, please show him in!"
An elderly man entered the room with a roll of paper under one arm. Gooni Devi explained to us that he was a well-known astrologer who lived in a neighboring village. It was October, a popular season for marriage, and Gooni Devi said that plans were being made for the marriage of her grandson. This astrologer had recently visited to draw up the astrological charts of her grandson and his intended bride, to see if it would be a suitable match. The elderly man sat down beside us and unwrapped a long yellow scroll of paper containing closely written script and symbols. He launched into a complicated explanation of how he could read the stars from his charts.
Finally, he nodded his head and said, "It's a good match." Gooni Devi nodded with satisfaction.
On our homeward journey later that day, an amusing memory suddenly popped into my mind. About a year before our marriage, I had made a visit to India to spend some time with Pradeep and to meet his parents. By this time Papaji and Mummyji knew that we were intending to marry, and Mummyji had called an astrologer to check the compatibility between my astrological chart and Pradeep's. I was rather alarmed by this and I asked Pradeep what would happen if we were found to be incompatible.
"Oh, don't worry," replied Pradeep airily. "I've already slipped him some money, just to make sure he gives us a good report!"
Pradeep's optimistic outlook on life can be buttressed by surprisingly pragmatic strategies, I thought, smiling at the memory.