Bird's Eye View of Future Fortune
CHENNAI: Ganesan, Thangam, Raja and Rani can foretell what the stars have in store for you. No, they’re not your average fortune tellers. They are parrots who pick out cards that tell your future! In a fast-paced modern city, a group of people earn their bread and butter with the help of these parrots. Hailing from the Malai Veduvar tribe, these men are practitioners of kili josiyam.
Carrying a caged parrot, Saravana Kumar, a 38-year-old fortune teller waits near the Gandhi statue at Marina Beach and eyes beach-goers who may be interested in how their tomorrows shape up. As we approach him, with a bleak smile he says, ‘vaange kili josiyam paakalaam!’ We agree to his offer and wait for him to set up his workspace. Spreading a plastic mat on the sand, he places the cage and takes out a faded stack of cards and places it on the mat. He asks us our name and age, calls out to the restless parrot, ‘vaa da Ganesa’ (come out, Ganesa).
Peeking out of the cage, Ganesan, who has been with Saravana Kumar for four years now, diligently follows his master’s commands and picks a card. While we were lucky enough to get a good omen card, bad omen cards or dhosham cards in their words are found amid the stack. “If a bad omen card is picked by Ganesan, I won’t tell you the meaning in detail. It’s just a warning to be careful in the future,” he explains.
Travelling 12 km each day, Saravana says astrology and fortune telling is the only work he knows. “This is our profession and we cannot do anything else. I have taken an oath to be a fortune teller for life and this is what our family has been doing for ages,” shares the fortune teller from Sankarankovil, Tirunelveli. Sending Ganesan back into the cage he says, “A lot of people don’t believe in the predictions we make. But, when it turns out to be right they come and give us money.” Charging `50 for a session, he says there are clients who pay him up to `500. “Some people come in groups and foreigners are curious to know about the art. We consider those days lucky. But there are days when we don’t get a single customer,” he rues. So, can anyone learn this art? ‘No!’ he exclaims. “Only people who take the oath can be in the trade of kili josiyam.”
Contradicting his statement, Selvaraj, a 58-year-old fortune teller who sits on Murugan Temple Road, Vadapalani says, “Anyone can learn kili josiyam, even a child!” He continues, “When the parrot picks a card, we see the number marked against it. We have a book that has the content for what a specific card or sign means and we read that out. Even you can do it.” He hands the book to us. “Here…read number two,” he says and yes, we did read from the Tamil handbook on kili josiyam. “I have been practising for over 40 years. It is very simple, but if you want someone to check your horoscope then you need us. We are the best!” beams the fortune teller from Ettayapuram.
The parrots are brought from temples and trained. The fortune tellers are spread across the city and come from Tambaram, MGR Nagar and Red Hills. “There are over 3,000 fortune tellers in the city. It is sad our children don’t want to take forward this legacy. They have changed vocation and our generation might be the last,” laments Selvaraj.
Willing to Teach the ART
Initially this type of josiyam was practised with the bird thookanam kuruvi. Later, parrots were trained. The parrots are fed bananas, grains and cooked rice
Guhan, a kili josiyam fortune teller who sits in Egmore, is one of the most experienced men in the trade. “I have been practising for 45 years now and have given accurate predictions to all my clients,” he says. He owns two parrots, Raja and Rani, and also wants to take this art to youth. “I am willing to be part of college fests and take this art there if people are interested to learn,” he says