“I will give you a funny prediction that, from this June until next June, you may gain 20 pounds.” 

This was not what I expected to hear at the palm reader’s office. Krishna Chawla, an astrologer in Toronto, kept on speaking while scribbling notes on his yellow legal pad. “Your palm shows that you are spiritual, not materialistic,” he said. “You are more love-oriented rather than money-oriented.” 

In a way, this was true. I didn’t spend a penny to have my future read off my outstretched hand. 

That morning, I had struck a deal with Chawla over the phone when we agreed to a neat exchange of services. No money changed palms! The bartering economy is reemerging in practices like house sitting, community-supported agriculture, and in online sharing groups. Strategies like these keep us conscious of our consumption while helping build connections throughout a community. Chawla and I were participants in an alternative economy, one that runs on creativity and trust.  

But trading a mystical session in exchange for me cleaning a few carpets. Who knew such a thing was possible?

Magic carpets

Last summer, I moved out of my apartment and let a friend sublet the place. While doing a final sweep of my room, I decided to clean the dingy floral carpet I’d bought second-hand years earlier. A neighbour had been selling it for $20 on Kijiji, an online hub for used goods, and I’d carried it home on my shoulder. 

I found a capable carpet cleaning tool on Facebook Marketplace that could be rented for just $15 a day. Better yet, the owner lived nearby. 

Then I thought to myself, while I had the tool rented, why not start a mini carpet cleaning business and offer to clean the carpets of others? Who knows what kinds of carpets I’d clean — Author Margret Atwood lives nearby in the Annex, and there are many well-to-do carpet owners living in Yorkville!

So the next day, I posted my carpet cleaning ad to some community Facebook groups and waited. Before long I had a dozen offers, but one stood out in particular. 

From professor to palm reader

Krishna Chawla grew up in Mumbai, India, where he studied economics. All was well for a long time, but then a slipped disk injury to his back threatened everything. “Doctors were telling me that I’d walk on crutches forever,” he said. “But my mother went to a psychic to make my horoscope.” 

As Chawla recalls, the psychic contradicted all of the doctors, telling his mother that her son would become “fully ‘perfect’ after January 1.” Miraculously, Chawla woke in the new year and rose from bed with his spine injury healed. The psychic had been right, and the mystical power of astrology made a strong impact on Chawla. 

“It started as my hobby, and while living in India, I studied the art of astrology from 1966–1970,” he said. Today, Chawla estimates that he’s read the palms of 40,000 people over 40 years. Agreeing to trade his wisdom for my carpet cleaning service had made me customer number 40,001.

Lending Chawla a hand

When our palm reading session began, Chawla told me right off the bat that my lucky colour was orange. “If you have a job interview, dress in an orange tie. And maybe get yourself a new orange checkbook,” he recommended. I have to admit — ever since I can remember, orange has been my favourite color. 

Chawla traced a line from my ring finger to my pinky, then studied the shape of my thumb. He confidently explained to me that its shape indicated I had a “gentle” nature and was not fit to be a salesman. 

He offered up his own thumb for comparison. “Have you ever been a salesman?” I asked. “Look at me,” he said. “Bullshitter is my job!” I could tell that the magic meeting was going quite well. 

After nearly an hour during which Chawla predicted everything up to the back problems I’d have in my 60s, he finally stood up and gave me a tour of the carpets around his house. 

They were thick, dark red carpets that showed their age. There were shoe marks everywhere by the front door from years of hurrying tenants who had rented Chawla’s upstairs rooms. It was a tough job, but after everything I’d learned from the psychic, I knew I had to do it well. 

Trading items from your past to discover your future

This wasn’t the first time I’d bartered and traded around Toronto to ‘buy’ without opening my wallet. I offered up an old pair of soccer cleats in exchange for two used ultimate frisbees using an app called Bunz. By trading a tube of sunscreen, I found myself two metal mixing bowls to make a batch of cookies. Later, I gave up an old Pentax camera for a hammock stand, which I still use to this day. 

Still, it was Chawla who had reminded me of the value in trading. The morning after he read my ad, he proposed we trade palm reading in exchange for carpet cleaning. I had made a new friend in the process. 

While I didn’t believe his curious predictions through and through, they did give me food for thought. Maybe I should sign up for a running race if I wanted to ward off that excess weight. And why not find myself an orange tie to boost my luck this year? 

Best of all, Chawla gave me a new experience and a great story. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.