Mahadeo Jerrybandhan: Power Lines

Mark Meredith meets Mahadeo Jerrybandhan, peerless palmist of Trinidad


There are palmists and there are palmists, and Mahadeo Jerrybandhan’s pedigree in palmistry is as impeccable as it’s possible to get. If he tells you something, you really do owe it to yourself to listen. You will listen; you will be riveted, but will you actually act on his advice? Will your rational mind allow you the luxury of belief? Of risking ridicule? Once you’ve had a reading from Mahadeo Jerrybandhan, you probably won’t care what anyone else thinks, anyway. I certainly don’t. In fact, I feel ahead of the game.

In the interest of scientific research, and because my editor told me to, I visited Mahadeo Jerrybandhan’s home in Trinidad’s second city, San Fernando, to find out whether my lifeline really was as good as it looked. The answer is that it is, and it isn’t. Do I feel different about life? Yep. Am I going to take his advice? You bet.

Mahadeo Jerrybandhan is Trinidad’s foremost palm reader, a practitioner for over 40 years. Importantly, he is a Hindu palmist, and that is quite different from a Western palmist, especially the kind you might meet in a fairground tent or in a booth at a circus. Mahadeo has inherited the ancient traditions of Eastern palmistry, but borrows freely from certain aspects of Western palmistry. He blends the two, very successfully, very accurately. Palmistry began in India over 5,000 years ago, from where it spread to Tibet and China, Persia and the Middle East, and eventually to the West. In India the hands were just one part of the body that would be read: the chest, stomach, forehead and feet were others.

According to Hindu legend, reading the body was a gift from the sea god, a form of diagnosis called Samudrika Shastra, and reading the hands, Hasta Samudrika Shastra.

In Trinidad, among the early indentured Indian labourers, there were many Hindu palmists, healers and astrologers who would wander the countryside, just as they still do in India today, reading hands and telling fortunes for a few cents or a hot meal. But the tradition of wandering palmists in Trinidad has disappeared, according to Mahadeo, because of the dedication required.

“I think palmistry died out because it is such a demanding science. For astrology you have books that can be read; you have a chart and a system in place and you just interpret what’s there. You don’t have that in palmistry. It was an oral tradition, teaching how to interpret signs in the hand. Something you have to remember. It is very, very demanding. Now I find myself being in the position of being practically the only palmist left in Trinidad.”

And there is quite a demand for his services. People come to him from all over Trinidad and Tobago: young, old, priests, politicians. He also reads the hands of people from all over the world: the cruise ship passengers passing through Port of Spain’s Cruise Ship Complex. You’ll find him there whenever the ships are in.

Many people come out of curiosity, but most because of some specific problem. The reading is discussed afterwards, and sometimes Mahadeo is asked what he can do about it. He said: “I can’t tell people what they would do. It depends on the person. I may be able to advise. My job as a palmist is merely to explain what I see, and indicate what they might be able to do . . . as a palmist, you can’t be judgmental. You have to be very understanding. You see the real person: there are many fears inside of us we don’t share with others, not even our wives or husbands. To know that somebody understands, knows about it without being uncomfortable about it, is a great feeling. A humbling experience when I am able to help someone like that.”

One of the fallacies about palmistry is that it’s all about reading lines in your palms. In Western palmistry that is the emphasis. Eastern palmistry is something else completely. Every inch of my hands was examined in detail: the flexibility and length of my fingers, the spaces between them, the knuckles and nails, the back of the hand, the texture, the hair, the joints, and the palms.

“The hands tell you everything about a person. Every thing,” said Mahadeo. “Some person may have a philosophical hand, or a useful hand, or a spatulate hand (a chemist’s hand), a psychic hand, or a mixed hand. And, according to the type of hand, you expect a certain type of finger, with particular nails to go with it; whether the knuckles are jointed, whether the fingers are smooth; the mounds in the palms, the little raised portions, which have names of certain astrological signs, like Apollo, Mars, and Jupiter.”

To be a successful palmist, to be really accurate, Mahadeo will tell you that a certain degree of psychic ability is required. And, apart from his years of research and practice, it is his psychic pedigree that is so impressive. His grandfather, who arrived in Trinidad as an indentured labourer from India, had the power. One day, he sent for the priests in the district and all his friends and family, to gather in celebration of his life; to attend a wake — his wake. Because, he told them, he was going to die at 10 a.m. the next day. The wake went on into the evening; there was feasting and prayer, and tears. Eventually, after saying goodbye, the old man retired to a small decorated room at the back of the house with his wife. Shortly after 10 a.m. the next morning Mahadeo’s grandmother emerged to tell the large and expectant gathering that, yes, he had died a few minutes before. It seems that knowing the hour of his death held no fear for grandfather Jerrybandhan.

Two of Mahadeo’s brothers also have the gift. One brother is able to look through a person’s clothes, and count and place the number of moles beneath the shirt. Another, said Mahadeo, is able to just look at people and tell their health: “It really is amazing. He can detect an aura about a person and interpret it. I have seen him do it. Seen it too many times to doubt it. People he has never seen before. He has told them amazing things that left them dumbfounded.”

Mahadeo’s psychic sense and his skill in interpreting the hand has given him the odd surprise, too. “I’ve done murderers,” he chuckled. “I’ve had the privilege” — he is genuinely thankful for the power of his gifts — “of reading the hands of murderers . . . before they were caught. I’ve read the hands of many people who have been to jail. Once, in Venezuela, a couple came to see me. They had been sent to me by mistake; there was a herbalist nearby who looked like me, and who they had sought about a health problem. I told them about the man’s health. Most interestingly, I was able to tell them about a period of confinement — incarceration shows in the hand, but not those who are in and out of jail constantly. Sometime later I was called to visit this man. He was in a prison, for embezzlement.”

If you accept palmistry, you could say you accept that your entire life is written in your hands. You also accept that your future is in your hands. But, you cry, how can this be so?

Mahadeo put it this way: “Are you aware that when a foetus is just 12 weeks old, there are lines being formed in the palms of that foetus? And, for some reason, there seems to be an abnormally large number of nerves in the palms compared to the rest of the body. The nerves are really closely packed in there. Whatever happens in your brain is recorded in your hands: certain incidents in your life are recorded there. It’s like a map. It just has to be read.

“Now, the future is not set in stone; it is just a probability. A series of possibilities. The future is a product of the past and the present. What you do now is affecting your future. You make your own future. Your future is dependent on what you’re doing now. Life is not a straight line: it is like a fan. The decisions you make now determine which rib of the fan you go down. You go along that line until you meet another fan, and so on. An endless series of probabilities.

“And, from time to time, you are in charge of your own destiny. You can change your life. But people, being creatures of habit, generally do not change. They are lazy. However, I have met people who have heeded advice about their health, the way they think, the way they act, and they have affected the lines in their hands. When they have come back to me, I have seen the changes. Indications of the illness have disappeared.

“Your hand is really an indication of what is happening inside you. Like a symptom. A headache is not something that’s wrong, per se, it’s an indication of something wrong. Taking a pill just gets rid of the symptom, not the problem. If you change your present way of thinking and eating and feeling, you will change your health and your future. Get rid of the real thing inside of you and the hands will change. They do change.”

Of course, the only way to find out if palmistry is plausible is to place your hands in his. As Mahadeo told me: “If I’ve been totally wrong about everything, you can just dismiss me as a charlatan and walk away. You can’t lie to people or try to impress them. You have to be honest, or you will be found out.”

I came to Mahadeo with no pre-conceived notions about palmistry. I have never had any desire to have my fortune told, nor my cards or tea leaves read. Like many people, I didn’t want to know what the future held in case it was bad. Which just goes to show how dangerous a little knowledge can be.

Mahadeo Jerrybandhan was spot on. He told me things about my character and temperament that only I, my family, or friends would know. He told me the exact age I met my wife; of insecurities of the past and explanations for present circumstances and how they might be changed. He saw more fame, or recognition, than money in later life — no surprise there, then — but suggested ways of changing this, all of which made perfect sense. He also told me something he said I might not like. But that’s between me and him.

By this stage, any lingering scepticism had been blown away. I was hanging on his every word: “As far as your health is concerned . . .” This was it. I prepared myself for the blow. Well, there were several blows, chief of which was my high cholesterol level, something I had long suspected but ignored. The way he told me to “watch my cholesterol, please!” left me in no doubt that action on my part was required: “I see a thickening of the blood.” Other potential pitfalls included too much blood sugar, a propensity for a clogged liver, too much salt, and an imbalance of potassium which can lead to muddied thinking and depression. He also told me to watch my eyes — and I had developed a problem in the left eye — and to look after my prostate, especially in my late 50’s and early 60‘s.

The good news was that he saw no accidents, I won’t have a kidney problem, I won’t get cancer, and if I take the advice he gave me about diet, none of the aforementioned dangers need arise. I might suffer an illness at 57, but I should get over that one without a problem, and I have to watch it when I’m 64. After passing those two dates, and if I take steps to correct my diet, then, he says, there’s no reason I won’t reach the grand old age of ninety-something. “Basically, you’re a very healthy man.” To help me reverse my hitherto unbeknown conditions he suggested milk thistle for my liver, yogurt or grape juice for bad cholesterol, and yoga for the high blood sugar.

So, although my lifeline is long right now, it could get shorter if I carry on the way I’m going, or remain long but with my quality of life reduced drastically: my cholesterol could lead to a stroke and I could end up living 40 years or more in a semi-paralysed state. But I have it in my power to change my future. It’s a good lifeline . . . and it’s a bad lifeline. Which lifeline, though, depends on me.

Mahadeo Jerrybandhan, I reasoned, is talking sense. I can’t deny the truths he’s told, and the way he said them to me; my written words cannot illustrate the way he communicated these truths, the nuances and urgency in his tone, how his psychic self seem to draw something out of me as he held onto my hands. He read me like a book.

But, remembering I was a journalist, and holding myself back from a visit to a herbal shop and buying a book on yoga, I decided I must regain some objectivity, just to make sure. I invited him back to my home the next week to talk some more, and to spring a surprise. Two friends turned up, unannounced, and went outside separately to have their readings. The first returned, whispering loudly: “He’s good. Reeeeeally good.” The second came back sobbing with emotion, not because of bad news — far from it — but because he had taken her back to her childhood. And he had diagnosed her insecurities and shown her a way out. And, he had told her something only three other people knew. And how, in just over a year, she would meet someone . . . special.

Well, that did it. I’m munching muesli, I’ve banned butter and I’m trying like crazy to cut out cheese. I hate grape juice marginally less than yogurt so I’m holding my nose and swallowing that. If people think I’m potty, then fine. I do feel ahead of the game. Fate provided me with a wake-up call and his voice is still ringing in my ears: “You are responsible. It is in your hands. Life is literally in your hands.”