06 February 2010

A Little Bird Told Me

An Indian fortune teller in Bedok Central, not a pet seller. - Photo taken on 30 Mar 2008

"A little bird told me" is an idiom which refers to information which was gathered from a source not to be overtly exposed. Compare it to "I heard it through the grapevine" which refers to information which was obtained via an informal contact. Of course, my friend Andy Young will point out that it is also a title of a signature song by Marvin Gaye who released it in 1968.

Anyway, my article today is not about 1960s music. It is about a traditional occupation - a fortune teller. Mind you, not just any fortune teller. There are many kinds - some gaze into a crystal ball; some use playing cards; some look at your face or palms; some shake your fortune out from coins in tortoise shell; and so on. But there's one thing all fortune tellers share in common, and that is you don't have to spend a fortune to have your fortune told. Their prices are really quite reasonable unless they are out to fleece you. Usually, it is just a couple of dollars. However, I can't comment on how accurate their predictions are.

If their soothsaying didn't come true for you, you can always blame it on your stars their skills. For it was either their data extraction process that had gone awry or that their data interpretation skills that required polishing up. But what if a little bird told you so? Well, then you could put all your blame on the poor little bird if you want. But don't be too hard on the bird - it is only trying to make a living, just like the fortune teller.

A fortune teller could be of any race. But for some unknown reason, fortune tellers with little birds (not figuratively) in Singapore nowadays are likely to be Indians. Usually the bird is either a parrot or a canary. However, I remember that decades ago, Chinese fortune tellers also had little birds. They preferred to use Java sparrows instead.

A Java Sparrow

Another Java Sparrow. Telling its own fortune from its reflection, perhaps?

So how does a little bird tell someone's fortune? The bird has to be trained to pick out one card from a stack which is spread out on the table. So that it will not fly away, the bird probably had its wings clipped. Once it has mastered the skill of picking a card, the fortune teller can start picking a customer. When a fortune needs to be told, the bird is let out of the cage. It picks a card by pulling it out from the stack with its beak. Once it has done this seemingly simple task, it is promptly rewarded with a grain of seed or padi and its work is considered done. The bird voluntarily hops back into the cage, after which its master closes the cage gate. Now it is the fortune teller's turn to spin his tale.

Sometimes, the fortune teller may have 2 birds instead of 1. In such a case, the birds do not work so hard but then the downside is that they do not get their rewards as often.

Below is an exhibit on the Indian fortune teller which I saw at the Catholic High School on 22 Nov 2008:

An exhibit at Catholic High School - Photo taken on 22 Nov 2008

The explanatory notes at the exhibit says:
"The Indian fortune teller is now getting to be a rarity along the street in Little India. The Indian fortune teller keeps a canary or parrot in a cage as he sets up a small stall along the shophouses. When a customer pays the fortune teller to have his fortune told, the fortune teller will open up the cage and tells the canary to choose a card from a stack of cards on the table. The Indian fortune teller will then reveal the customer's upcoming misfortune or lucky streak to him."

Further Reading

Read the stories of fortune tellers here and here.


yg said...

what a coincidence! yesterday, i was at tekka market and just outside the market, near the bus-stop along serangoon road, was this indian man telling fortune using a parrot to pick a card.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Reminds me of a song, Vic:

Saw the fortune teller
Had my fortune read
She sent me to the gypsy
Who sent me straight to bed
She said I'm lonesome
And I'm lovesick
Got my mind on lipstick
Won't you tell me please
I gotta go
I gotta know, gotta know
Gotta know...

Had a bird tell my fortune once at Little India. Didn't work out. I am still walking in Little India.

Roger said...

Before venturing into the casino perhaps a visit to this fortune teller would be wise.

Jerry said...

Hi victor, do you know if the Indian fortune teller in Bedok Central is still running his store?

Victor said...

Hi Jerry, I don't know if the Indian fortune teller in Bedok Central is still operational. The photo was taken about 2 or 3 years ago and it was at the 5-foot-way of Blk 204 near the bus interchange. Any readers who pass by this place often would like to check it out for Jerry?