In a 1998 appearance on Movers and Shakers, Shekhar Suman’s popular talk show, Bejan Daruwalla was asked if he could see the future of the country. The then 67-year-old astrologer nodded vigorously, saying, “The future of India is bright. From 2001, India will be on its path to greatness… Mera nahin, aapka nahin, par apna Bharat desh mahaan (Not mine, not yours, our India will be great).” In the light of his passing last week from pneumonia, at 89, in the midst of a national lockdown and the glaring socio-economic inequalities it has illuminated, Daruwalla’s prediction may seem trite, but not the sentiment behind them.
It’s easy to dismiss astrologers as people pleasers — nobody wants to know about the future unless it is a good one. However, Daruwalla rose to fame by apparently being the harbinger of bad news: He is said to have predicted the death of Sanjay Gandhi in 1980, Rajiv Gandhi’s death in 1991, the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, and even Sachin Tendulkar’s terrible form in the early 2000s. But all through his career, in his annual horoscope books, or weekly newspaper columns, Daruwalla championed the idea of India, and offered himself as an example: A Parsi man born in undivided India, who became a Ganesha devotee, who forged his career selling the future in the elephant god’s name; and delivered all his predictions with a caveat — there may be several faults in our stars, but when all the planets come in line, no problem is insurmountable for the individual, or the country.
In recent years, only one of his predictions conspicuously came true: The election of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government in 2014. It would also be the last of his big predictions. In the past few years, he lived in the present, writing poems about love and women. And though his verses bordered on banal, they showed that Daruwalla was not bejan (dull or lifeless), but the opposite. He was a lively man, a performer with a zest for life.