A waft of incense greets visitors to the chamber of astrologer Bharati Bharadwaj (“Mataji”). Inside on offer are the integrated services of spiritualism. On a marble-topped table sit several idols of Ganesha and three Laughing Buddhas. Wind-chimes sway gently. Part of the chamber is done up like a shrine, where a large idol of a Dasha Mahavidya Shakti Roop is installed. Crystals, bells and Feng Shui accessories are displayed on a table.
Since many worlds have opened up via the media and the Net, the conjunction of planets has ruled that the home-grown astrologer take on other dimensions. New-age astrology in the city harmoniously combines traditional Indian belief, numerology, tarot card reading, Feng Shui and the western influence.
“The western way of predicting the future through birthdays is a little different from us, but a similarity runs through various disciplines,” says Bharadwaj, who has travelled to London, France and US cities for work. “I have tried analysing the future through jyotish, numerology, tarot and Feng Shui, and have got more or less the same results,” she says.
Bharadwaj is in a long yellow robe and just a hint of saffron tika on her forehead, a far cry from the stereotype of the dhoti-clad astrologer. She is fluent in English, patient and welcoming. “Recently I attended a conference on Indian spiritualism and its global reach. Religion or philosophy has two divisions, black magic and higher spiritualism. I have also made a documentary on tantra,” says Bharadwaj, who appears on several TV channels.
Other astrologers may not be so intent on fusion, but offer smart, tech-savvy services. The office of Amritlal, a renowned astrologer, is an antithesis of Bharadwaj’s. The reception, with an aquarium and two women at the desk, may be that of a travel agent’s or a tax lawyer’s, except for a poster of planets and a rate chart announcing “Palm reading Rs 300, horoscope Rs 500”.
Amritlal might be mistaken for an ordinary office employee or a stock-broker, in his checked shirt and trousers. But he has his own channel called Fortune Channel that combines astrology, news bulletins, entertainment and politics.
The mobile plays a crucial role. With a worldwide clientele — “I often get calls till one in the morning from overseas,” says Bharadwaj — some have direct reach. But others have to grapple with a network of underlings and mobile phones.
A minimum of two mobile phones are de rigeur. Subhash Shastri has two, manned by different managers. Jyotish Maharaj, or Sri Bhrighu (Anadi), has several. One number leads to another. Sanjay Kapoor, who appears on Sristi TV, has several mobile numbers operated by several men who keep asking the caller to call back. Kapoor has little time to spare.
In Shree Bhairabananda’s green-and-white cramped chambers done up with pictures of gods and goddesses, four mobiles and a big magnifying glass rest on a table. Clad in a red robe with a tika on his forehead and sporting a full beard, he looks every bit the tantric and astrologer he claims to be. He has a programme on Sristi TV that is aired three times a week. He combines face reading, numerology, horoscope and tantra.
Talking the talk
The star-gazers speak a new language, with little jargon. “About 70 per cent of my clients are students. Questions vary from whether they should take up science or arts, to choice of profession. If one forgets for a while that I am using astrology, my chamber would look like a career counsellor’s,” says Jyotish Maharaj. Parents don’t always accompany the students. “I have to use their words,” says Bharadwaj.
Another common query is related to relationships. “Parents wanting to know when the girl will get married is not so common any more. But a young unmarried couple often approaches me to calculate whether the relationship will end up as a friendship, or culminate in marriage. Boys are a little more emotional. They prefer not to know because they want to hold on to a relationship, but the girls are very practical,” laughs Amritlal. Clients are from various strata, some even checking with the astrologer before raising a point in Parliament.
Amanath Mukherjee, a grandfatherly figure who taught geology at Ashutosh College, looks an unlikely candidate for the profession. “Earlier most came for matchmaking. Now people are more worried about their married or romantic life, careers and businesses,” says Mukherjee. He claims to have “shishyas” all over India and often flies to many cities.
Remedies, too, are new. While gemstones are common antidotes, Lal has special metal tablets and Bharadwaj suggests spiritualism, special pujas and yagnas. “How many people can afford to buy so many gems'” asks Amritlal. “So I give them metal tablets, made of different metals in desired proportions,” he adds.
“I prescribe tantra, mantra and yantra as solutions,” says Amanath Mukherjee, drawing charts in his writing pad. But tech-enabled yagnas are high on his agenda. He combines his advocacy of yagnas and his faith in Ma Bagalamukhi with CDs. “I have two cameramen who record my yagnas, pujas and teachings.” A series from the recordings called ‘Camera ekhane okhane’ has been aired on various channels. He says astrology is witnessing a boom these days, because people are more insecure and are looking for any solution. “That is what we make our living from,” says Mukherjee.
Prabir Ghosh of the Science and Rationalists’ Association of India says that the craze for astrology has gone down: “It only survives in Calcutta because astrology enjoys the support of politicians.” But the astrologers say their profession is thriving. Amritlal puts it down to the more hectic rat race and the need to prove oneself always.
So despite reason, the city is flocking to astrologers. “I have been to many astrologers for career decisions,” says Shuddhashil Mullick, who is doing his masters in economics. Says Nivedita Mitra, who works in a media organisation: “An astrologer claimed that I would not do well in my Maths pass exams. He turned out to be right.” A wannabe rock band guitarist sports three gems on his fingers — emerald for a cool head, ruby because he is a musician and a third gem he couldn’t identify, but which takes care of his “Brihaspati”. And have you counted the rings on Abhishek Bachchan’s fingers'