Astrologers, numerologists and tarot card readers, who met clients face to face, are now offering readings on Zoom and WhatsApp calls.
Her 66-year-old husband was complaining of aches and cough and when Harsha Jain* shared the symptoms with the family physician, he said it could be coronavirus. “I panicked because my entire family would have suffered. I consulted my astrologer who helped me with a ruby--the stone is meant for good health. My husband's final report says he is not corona positive," the Mumbai resident said.
In his early 40s, Ashish Verma* lost his job in March and is still struggling. "I have given plenty of interviews but no luck. I am consulting an astrologer who has suggested a few remedies and said I should wait for July. I am hoping for the best."
With the coronavirus outbreak throwing a curveball, it is a busy time for fortune-tellers as people look for comfort, some sense of order in these uncertain times.
The lockdown has battered the economy. Businesses are suffering and layoffs are the order of the day. With the pandemic showing no signs of abating, it is the planets, cards or numbers that many Indians are turning to for answers.
“For us, it is boom time. People are worried about their businesses and their finances have gone for a toss. Hence, more and more people are consulting. Even foreign clients are consulting,” says Bhavikk Sangghvi, a Mumbai-based celebrity astrologer and numerologist.
Work From Home
Not just office or family get-togethers, even divination has gone high tech, adapting to the “new normal”.
Astrologers, numerologists, tarot card readers, who earlier met clients face-to-face, are now having Zoom readings and are also consulting on WhatsApp calls.
“It is easier than before. Everything is online--from payment to calls. Also, business is better than what it was before corona,” Ashaben Shah, a Vedic astrologer and Vastu consultant in Mumbai, tells Moneycontrol. “Due to the lockdown, people are taking out more time for consultation.”
Sangghvi hasn’t had a single day’s break ever since March 25, the first day of the lockdown. Some days are so packed that there is no time for lunch and dinner. “The word of mouth is strong,” he says.
To consult Sangghvi, all you need is date, place and time of birth but he doesn’t come cheap.
He charges Rs 4,000 for a 20-minute conversation and has at least four bookings a day, which depends on the kind of consultation a client requires.
Shah, too, gets at least three to four clients daily but her sessions tend to run for more than an hour. She refused to say how she charged for a session.
So, what are people asking? What is worrying them?
Money and jobs, says Rupal, a tarot card reader, who only uses one name. “I keep getting questions from people who have lost jobs and who want to know when will they get another,” she says.
While readings are done online, she can’t answer all the questions and prefers to meet clients in person.
Sangghvi’s clients, too, have job concerns. They fear losing them and want him to see what the stars have to say. Most of these people are in the 30-55 age bracket.
Health is the next big concern and such calls have only gone up in the last two months.
Experts say elderly, pregnant women and those with underlying conditions like hypertension, diabetes and other ailments that compromise immunity are vulnerable to the virus. Perhaps that is playing on their minds.
Cooped up for two months, youngsters call about exams and dates when universities will open, says Sangghvi.
“Also, there are a lot of women who are facing issues in their marriage are calling me,” he says. There have been several reports of a rise in domestic violence as families spend time together.
They saw it coming
For most of us, the viral outbreak is an unprecedented event but Shah and Sangghvi say they knew it was coming.
“In November 2019, I had predicted on the radio that March and April will be bad for India, especially for metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad,” says Sangghvi.
The three cities have one of the highest infections in the country.
Sangghvi says 2020, as a year, adds up to 4, which is the number of Rahu.
In astrology, which has its own sets of stars and planets, Rahu is a malefic planet.
In an year-end article that Shah wrote for a Gujarati magazine in 2019, Shah warned about a health issue in the new year.
Missing the office
The shift to the virtual world has kept the business coming but the office is still missed.
“People would come to the office with their families and instead of attending one person, I would help other members as well but on call, they say they will get back,” says Sangghvi.
He has another problem. It is the delivery of “remedial offerings” like gemstones, rudraksh, healing stones, bracelets and yantras, which are geometric drawings that are believed to bestow blessings, good fortune and also neutralise malefic influences.
Astrology is not just about predicting fortune, it also about suggesting a fix or a remedy to a problematic forecast.
“While they are in demand, I am unable to deliver to places like Kerala, Rajasthan, Delhi, Mysore and Bengaluru. So, there are pending orders,” he says.
Deliveries are down 40 percent. When people would visit him in office, he would do the reading and offer them solutions as well. “But, now after the reading, people take time to get back for product buying. Hence, on-the-spot business is a little low,” he says.
New clients are also hard to come by.
“I have got bookings for people who want to come and meet once the lockdown is over. They are insisting on meeting face to face. So, such bookings have not converted,” he says.
He is not too worried. “We are at least risk because of our knowledge. There is no revenue loss but just delays. The demand is there,” he says.
The planets seem to have lined up well for him, at least.
(*Names have been changed to protect identity)