Astrologer Vinod Shastri practices next to the ancient observatory here, where the astronomers of the maharaja once monitored the heavens.
Normally, customers coming to Shastri’s tiny office — a fading sign over the door reads “Astrological Council & Research Institute” — give a handful of rupees in exchange for his help predicting auspicious times for marriage, charting a career path or healing a broken heart.
But in the past six months, a rhetorically pugilistic, orange-haired politician from another continent has loomed large in their catalogue of worries.
It began with a dark-suited hotelier from Mumbai who jetted in for a day with one question: Would Donald Trump win the presidency?
Shastri now fields up to five calls a day from clients wanting to know what the stars and planets have to say about the world’s uncertain, post-fact future. Many are scared, he said.
“When I told them that he will win, their response was that America will be destroyed and that he can do anything,” Shastri said. Now, clients are wondering “how his relationships will affect Indian leaders, how he will do for India, his relationship with UK [and] the effect he will have on Indian-US business relations.”
Indians have long embraced astrology, the practice — or, as many would say, pseudo-science — of divining the future by the movement of the celestial bodies. Vaibhav Magon, 25, the founder of Askmonk, an astrology application for mobile phones, says they have seen a “huge spike” in Trump-related queries to their in-house astrologers in recent weeks — mostly from investors and would-be immigrants worried about visas.
“People are uncertain about the future, and they’re looking for astrologers to guide them or come up with a solution,” he said. It is not surprising that his Indian clientele would turn to astrology during tumultuous times, he said. “Astrology is inherent within us, whether it’s taking a decision to get married or starting up a business.”
An Askmonk reading of Trump’s horoscope using his birth date of June 14, 1946, has gone viral, with readers flipping through its pages over a million times, Magon said.
In it, a soothsayer reveals that Trump — determined, elusive, with “a deep obsession for power” — will withdraw from war zones and drop in popularity after 2019, with the presidency eventually taking a toll on his health. To achieve his best, the astrologer recommends the new president wear a 6.25-carat ruby ring and keep a self-portrait in a wooden frame facing south in the Oval Office.
On a winter trip back to India, Raj Agarwal, 25, a construction project engineer in Chicago, posed questions about Trump to Askmonk and his three family astrologers, including the wizened guru in a temple in the hill village where he was born.
Agarwal has been working in the US on a temporary H-1B visa, a programme for highly skilled foreign workers that the White House has targeted for reform, and was worried the programme may be modified or changed. The astrologers all agreed that prospects for the international community in the United States do not look good and warned him to watch Trump’s new policies carefully. Nevertheless, Agarwal says, he decided to go back to Chicago — for now.
In Jaipur, Shastri works in the shadow of the palace complex built by a ruler named Maharaja Jai Singh II, a warrior statesman who also had a keen interest in architecture, astronomy and the arts. In summers, Shastri and about 30 other pandits, or priests, still gather at sunset around the huge sundial at the Jaipur observatory, known as Jantar Mantar. They are there to measure air currents with flags and smoke to predict the strength of the upcoming monsoon.
Now Shastri, a vice chancellor at Rajasthan Sanskrit University, predicts there is more than monsoon turbulence coming in the Trump era. He sees a shake-up of the existing world order. “Many countries, their styles of business, style of work, all will be different. The idea of international relations will be changed,” he said. “Business will grow, but intellectuals will not be happy.”