Astrologers are under attack. They have been asked to prove themselves or be taken to court. The British government has passed a new consumer protection law, according to which any fortuneteller in the Queen's land whose prediction fails to materialise can be taken to court.
And they have to put up a disclaimer saying that their services are "for entertainment only" and not "experimentally proven".
According to a lot of predictions (in cluding Nostradamus) World War 3 was scheduled to begin around 2003.
It is now slated to begin around 2012? Astrologers all over India predicted the doom of the Bachchan household post Abhishek's marriage to Aishwarya.
Needless to say, they were wrong.
In India too the Science and Rationalist Association of India, has challenged the soothsayers. It has put forth a challenge for anyone to prove the ir practice as a science.
"Anyone who can do so with even a 60 per cent success rate," says Prabir Ghosh, general secretary, "shall qualify for the prize Rs 25 lakh." Nobody has been able to claim the prize money to date - the challenge was set more than 22 years ago.
In a country where even the smallest village has some kind of a fortune-teller or occultist, official figures are hard to come by.
According to Abha Bansal, director, Future Point Pvt Ltd and chief treasurer, All India Federa tion of Astrologers' Societies (www.aifas.com), there are around 10,000 astrologers in Delhi and 50,000 nationwide - and these are conservative estimates. Delhi currently has six AIFAS chapters with a total of about 4,000 listed members.
The numbers also mean big bucks. According to Bansal, fees for astrologers can range from Rs 500 a session to Rs 51,000 (for well-known experts).
Numerologist and graphologist Niraj Mancchanda, who counts director Rakesh Roshan and producer Sajid Nadiadwala among his clients, charges anywhere from Rs 3,300 to Rs 25,00,000 per consultation.
Then there is a site called Astrological Society of India - no contact details other than an email id, but you can consult them online - by giving a "processing fee" of $5 per consultation.
So can astrologers really predict the future? "Astrology as a science is 100% accurate...it's a science of intuition and movement of planets combined," says Namita Vadehra, who practices prashan lagan. She says that 70% of her predictions hit the nail on the head; the lack is because of the change in lifestyles since Vedic times, when the ‘science' was developed.
"Just like a doctor or lawyer, a prediction depends on personal experience," says numerologist and graphologist Niraj Mancchanda. "I predict only if I'm 100% sure about a thing."
In order to illustrate his point, Mancchanda tells how he recently advised Bollywood actress Eesha Koppikhar to add an ‘h' to her surname. According to numerology, the name now adds up to the number 55 - a lucky number. "She has signed two big films since then," he says.
Should this ‘science' be taken at entertainmentvalue? Indian astrologers are voluble in its defence. "We're not here for fun," says Mancchanda. "One alphabet can have an effect on your life." According to Vadehra, "We deal with a lot of sensitive situations - life, career, money, health issues... people's lives depend on this. This is not a show you can laugh about."
So here's the question we really want to ask - if ever such a law were passed in India, what would they do? "I'd rather put a disclaimer saying non-believers should come to me. I'd love to disprove them," says Vadehra. "I'd never put such a sign. If I'd to do something like that, I'd not predict," says Mancchanda.
Mancchanda points out how deeply engrained fortune-telling is in the Indian psyche - it is even mentioned in our mythology "So even if a [similar] . law comes to India, do you think people will stop going to astrologers? Who cares about what happens in Britain? They don't know what numerology and astrology are all about. It's like an idiot saying ‘all are fools'."
Bansal gives a more measured response. "There is a lot more tantra in the UK than astrology," she says, "and they charge hefty amounts like £2000 a visit." Astrology, she says, cannot change your fate; it can only give remedial measures. At the end of the day, says Bansal, We should not claim that the remedies for problems are 100 per cent."