I was about ten, in the 1950s, when I first became aware of the presence of an astrologer in the house. One who skulks, hiding away from the rest of us most of the time, but occasionally gives out coded signals on the good and bad things about to happen: the House Lizard. The only inmate of the house, other than Housewife, whose name is so closely attached to the house. (We don’t call anyone Houseboy, Housegirl, Houseman or House Husband though they all form an integral part of the household. Only the Mistress of the House, called the Housewife or the more fashionable Homemaker, and the in-house astrologer, the House Lizard, have their names embedded with the house).
The Lizard is a peculiar astrologer. As mentioned above, he hides most of the time and makes an appearance only to prey on small insects that come his way. But from behind a framed portrait on the wall or from within the base frame of a tubelight he would occasionally make a rather loud and chirpy sound. Chchchch. And those who believed in the Wisdom of the Lizard would immediately turn to the last page of the popular Panchangam of those days to know what the sound signified. That page, with the drawing of a Lizard on top left- hand corner, gave a detailed chart of the predictions according to the Lizard, giving it the rather impressive title Gouli Sasthram or the Science of the House Lizard.
According to those knowledgeable interpreters of the sounds of the Lizard, good fortune or misfortune depends on the direction from which the sound comes. It also varies in severity or significance depending on the day of the week. For instance if the Gouli gave its sound signal from the north east direction on a Monday the impact would be much different from that of the sound coming from the same direction on a Friday or Saturday. The predictions varied from dhanalabdhi (financial windfall) to kudumba kalaham (family fracas) or maranabhayam (fear of death) with a wide variety of choices thrown in between.
In spite of their astrologically accepted claim of residence in my house, I detested these creatures, notwithstanding the good service they gave in decimating the small insects that invaded the house when lights were switched on in the evenings. But this good service entry did not outweigh the harm they did. We could not leave any fruit, or even kitchen vessel, uncovered during nights. They were sure to come and lick them. They also littered the floor with their droppings. They were indeed a menace to be around the house. My attempt in my schooldays, therefore, was always to catch them alive and throw them away in a far off corner of the house compound. If they survived there, well and good, otherwise it was their misfortune, I felt.
As time passed and the society progressed, with scientific reasoning becoming the hallmark of every aspect of human endeavour, I thought people would discard their old unfounded beliefs in the Science of the Lizard, or Gouli Sasthram.
But apparently not. Nothing of the sort. Promoted by leading newspapers in the state in their online editions, there is not only a great revival of old superstitions, but a burgeoning of them on, what can be described as, a Terabyte scale. It is not a mere reproduction of the old Gouli Sasthram chart. Much more than that. Nothing is left to the imagination as these online editions wax eloquent on the impact of the sounds made by these Lizards, as also the sure impact there would be if they fell on any part of one’s body from the ceiling or wall.
What is strange, and hilarious, is that these promoters of modern Gouli Sasthram have found in the Lizards sort of a chaturvarnya system. There are, according to them, four clear categories of House Lizards: Brahmin, white coloured, Kshathriya, rose coloured, a third category with white spots and the fourth one with black spots, the latter two obviously going for the Vysias and Shudras of the old four-fold system. If the so called Brahmin Lizard fell on top of one’s head on a Tuesday, there was sure to be kudumba kalaham (family fracas), the online edition of one newspaper said. But if it fell on the top of the head of a woman the impact would be ‘prosperity in life.’ If the ‘rose coloured’ Kshathriya variety fell between the eye-brows of a man on a Sunday, there would definitely be a windfall for him. He was likely to win a lottery.
The interpretations go on like this, in a mind-boggling manner, and I felt like in a vortex much before I reached the half-way mark. Going any further, I felt, would be much more than what Coleridge had said about ‘willing suspension of disbelief.’ Going any further would not only involve willing suspension of commonsense, but could even mean willing suspension of one's sanity.
So, adieu, House Lizard. Or rather, Get Out and Get Lost. You may continue with your predictions online or offline, till I choose to revive my old schoolboy practice of catching you alive and throwing you out. Once and for all.