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Kya aapke mercury mein retrograde hai?

Updated on: 27 August,2023 07:08 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Paromita Vohra |

My flight was delayed. I arrived too late for the event I meant to attend. Ah well, you know, Mercury

Kya aapke mercury mein retrograde hai?

Illustration/Uday Mohite

Paromita VohraEarly on August 23, I got to the airport security gate. I unzipped my backpack to find my laptop charger and… no laptop. My first self-recriminating thought: Was I so dazed and confused just because I’d had a few stressful days?

My next thought: Wait. Is Mercury retrograde?

Indeed, friends, even as Chandrayana 3 was landing on dark side of the Moon, Mercury retrograde began (till September 14 if you need to know). Mercury retrograde is the new Rahu-Ketu is in bad mood, but needing no upaya or gemstones, for it passes in a few days.

Well then, the gadbad was inevitable I thought and resigned myself to five days of laptop-lessness. I looked at my phone, its screen recently dissected by a neon green line, electronic blood seeping through the surface. Surely I could manage. My flight was delayed. I arrived too late for the event I meant to attend. Ah well, you know, Mercury.

How did the idea that the planet Mercury—named for the Roman god of shopkeepers, merchants, travellers and transporters of goods, as also thieves and tricksters, commonly identified with Hermes, fleet-footed messenger of the Greek gods—goes retrograde, sending travel, communication and plans awry become so popular?

There is apparently one academic paper on the subject by a researcher of cultural astronomy, called Joanna Martin. Martin found that the idea comes not from ancient astrology, but is a 20th century “invented tradition”, first casually mentioned in contemporary New Age astrological spaces of the 1970s and ’80s. Mentions rose as computers took over our lives. But it is Taylor Swift who apparently mainstreamed Mercury retrograde. 

Swift can be seen in a 2014 MTV clip saying, “Everything is going to be completely wrong and messed up and miscommunicated. Your phone will break, or you’ll send a text message and it won’t get to the person it’s supposed to go to. You can’t blame yourself. It just means Mercury is hella retrograde.”

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You have to admit, “you can’t blame yourself” is pretty tempting, in a social media era where throwing blame around is an extreme sport.

The thing is, Mercury isn’t really going backwards. It just appears to be so because Earth and Mercury orbit the sun at different speeds. Yaniki it is an optical illusion. Which makes it a kind of beautifully reverse metaphor for contemporary life.

Our digital lives give us the illusion of control. Information is at our fingertips, apparently tamed, yet it overwhelms us. Calendars and reminders suggest we can be masters of our universe, so we can do more, and we do do more, but still feel we don’t do enough. Social media discourse holds the promise of political change, yet political life seems to be falling back, not moving forward, ever more polarised. 

Little surprise then that if Mercury retrograde did not exist, we needed to invent it. Mercury retrograde is a brief acceptance of chaos, a momentary acknowledgement that nothing makes sense. It’s a fake holiday in the Kingdom of Productivity Anxiety and Algorithmic Authoritarianism. Not real —just a story.

Obviously I managed fine without my computer, and even felt strangely free. I slept feeling I had dispelled the illusion of Mercury retrograde!

I awoke and turned to my phone. The neon green line was now two neon green lines down the screen.

Chalo, Mercury. Saath peeche chalte hain.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

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