Narendra Nayak

Secretary, D. K. Rationalist Association    

 From a long time, we have been waging a battle against one of the foremost superstitions - astrology. As a fad, one can say it could be an amusing pastime. But, when taken seriously, particularly the advise of the astrologers who practice it for a consideration, it could be dangerous. The very recent ‘expose’ conducted on the 26th March, 2004 was one that proved how astrologers make fools of their prey. This came as a blessing in disguise to prove a point connected to an incident at Haveri, in November 2003.

    I had been to Haveri to lecture at a state level science congress and was lodged at the best hotel in the place! Coming down one day after lunch, I saw two women - obviously widows - standing in front of the closed door of the hotel’s resident astrologer, with anxiety on their faces. So, to satisfy my morbid curiosity, I enquired as to whom were they looking for. They said the astrologer and their tale of woe followed! A year back, death of the husband of one of the women was suspected to be the result of black magic. To confirm the same, they had visited the astrologer who immediately agreed that it was so and suggested ways of countering it. Of course, all of those involved rituals, which he himself would perform. These like all good things of life were not free. After a year of spending about Rs. 30,000 there was no relief. So, they had come for another round of consultations. When I asked them why they still wanted to spend money, the reply was that they were unable to get out of the clutches of this charlatan to whom they had confided many of their family secrets.

    I was determined that such people should be exposed and their modus operandi laid bare to the public. The visit of a team from BBC gave us that chance. The BBC was making a documentary about the top miracle man of India, Satya Narayana Raju -a.k.a. Satya Sai Baba. As a part of that they wanted to film an expose program of a local charlatan.

    To set a trap, I walked into the room of one such called Raju, who has set up shop at a hotel on KSR Road. On being told that my niece in England was having problems and asked whether he could solve them, he told me that his power could reach any where in the world! To diagnose the nature of the problem and to cast the horoscope of my mythical niece in England, he asked me to pick up some shells and drop them on his table. Based on some calculations, which he arrived at after observing them, the document was duly prepared. For this, I had to shell out a hundred-rupee note. Then, he asked me whether I wanted to know what the problem was due to. When I replied in the affirmative, another two hundred rupees was demanded. Again, I was asked to pick up and throw the shells. After this, he came to the conclusion that two people were casting spells on us. I asked him to wait for a few weeks before my niece would come down from England. But, Raju was quick to remark that the black magic was not directed against her alone. He told me that the whole family was the target and if immediate steps were not taken, we would all be harmed.

    He made me hold a coconut in my hand and pray to a “Amma” to ward off all evil. Then, I was asked to rotate it clockwise over my head nine times, each time saying “Amma, please help me to get over my troubles and I will perform a Rs 8,800 pooja for you”. Once this ritual was over, Raju asked me to pay Rs 8,800 on the spot! When I told him that I did not have much money, I was assured that he was not a heartless person, but I could pay in instalments! He took my mobile number and by the same evening I had calls from him demanding the first instalment. The same evening, I paid him Rs 500 as the advance. He asked me to pay at least Rs. 2000 more by the next day. Since, I wanted to play for time, I did not go. But, the astrologer was quite persistent in his efforts. Call after call was made to my mobile, but I did not respond.

    That was my mistake - when I tried to get him ready for the last part of the expose, a few days before the team was supposed to come from BBC, the man smelt a rat and disappeared. So, it became imperative to look for another astrologer.

    The next “astrologer” we met was the above-mentioned Pandith Hanumantha Rao Joshi, who had a room in a hotel outside DC’s office. Sitting in this dingy, 100 square feet room, he promised all sorts of solutions to an equal number of problems! His promises can be judged from the leaflets produced along with! In this sting operation the youth from DYFI too played a very active role.

    On 25th March at around 4pm I was accompanied by Yogish from Kalladka, who is an active DYFI member. I assumed the identity of Narendra Bhandary, staying at VT Road. After due consultations and after money changed hands, the great Pandith M. Hanumantha Rao Joshi fell for my line, that I was being duped by my brother for my share of ancestral property! Though this was not said in so many words, the ‘predictions’ were made by the great Pandith. He made me write down all details on a slate, not showing it to him! Then after I put it face down, all the information come out! Of course, knowing very well the modus operandi of such crooks, I had put down whatever information I wanted him to blurt out! He was cleverly watching the movements of my hand when I wrote the answers for all the questions he asked in numerals! I was also enlightened about 2 children of mine, the elder one who was ten and the younger one eight, both boys!

    After all this was over, the great Pandith informed me that he could get my share of the property by doing poojas for which he demanded a sum of Rs 5,500. The money was not for him, but only to meet the expenses of a very costly pooja to be performed on my behalf! I was also told to come back on the next day at 5 p.m.

    On the duly appointed date at 5pm, three of us including Tanya Datta of BBC, who was wired for sound, went into the den of the Pandith. When he saw me, he said, after I had gone the previous day, he had done a special pooja by which he came to know more things. He informed me confidentially that my brother along with my eldest brother’s widow had performed black magic which would be specially directed at my youngest son. If steps were not taken to counter it, I was warned that the effects could be catastrophic! He also asked me if I had brought the money! At this juncture activists of DYFI, members of the press, rationalists and the cameraman of the BBC followed by photographers rushed in!

    The Pandith was flabbergasted! He was not in a position to face the array of questions from the press! He was unable to answer why he could not read his own future and that he would be exposed like that! They asked him how he could not find out that I had been taking him for a ride and planning a sting operation! Unable to answer, he was blabbering. Finally he agreed that he was taking people for a ride in the name of astrology!

    The modus operandi of such people is very simple.

1)         They read the body language of their victims

2)         By making them write details on a slate not shown to him, reading the hand movements they “predict” all personal details!

3)         After winning the victim’s confidence they start performing rituals to get off the supposedly done black magic.

4)         Once they learn the intimate details of the victim’s family, they start blackmailing threatening to reveal sensitive information to the opposite parties.

    In this way the poor victim is milked dry and just cannot get out of the clutches.

This is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Rackets like this are being run at every level and gullible people being duped everywhere! Yes, he returned Rs 200 out of Rs 300, which had changed hands before he had made the predictions!


Prof Nayak is the Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at the Centre for Basic Sciences, Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore. He is known for his contribution in the field of rationalism. Since 1976 he has been the Secretary of the Dakshina Kannada Rationalist Association. He is also the Joint Convenor of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Organizations, which is an apex body committed to the development of scientific temper and humanism in the country.