The Soothsayer

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Bejan Daruwalla
Bejan Daruwalla
Age: 78
Profession: Astrologer. Well-known for his popular column ‘Ganesha Speaks’
Not-so-secret weakness: Likes watching cartoons, particularly Tom and Jerry and The Flintstones
Photo: Himmat Singh Shekhawat

CARS, GOLD rings, science, sex, Usain Bolt, Hindustani classical music, Tom and Jerry.” Bejan Daruwalla’s words are shrill, loud, and rapidfire as he lists his “secrets of success” – a variety of interests that keep him engaged with life. Talk about age and he interrupts: “I am 78 and my favourite word is exciting!” before leaping onto a train full of stories.

It’s like riding with a child discovering things about his own world. You can’t tell where he’ll leap out next – to his favourite professor SR Bhatt, who wore one red shoe and one black and taught him that goodness is more important than God. Or to his “love affair with astrology and women”, which began when, as a young boy in Baruch, Gujarat, pretty girls asked him if they’d pass their exams. Or to his father, a textile baron with seven mills in Ahmedabad, who was shocked when he learnt his only son wouldn’t continue the weaving tradition.

“My parents were big giants; they had no time for family,” he says. “I went to college in a car, had private tutors. I got security from my parents and love from my friends.” He “cried and cried” when his five best friends died. “Their death is the only thing which hurts me,” he says. “There is a vaccum which cannot be filled. I can fight the world but I cannot forget their love. Even if my father drove me out, they’d be there for me.”

Daruwalla believes in “complete freedom, bandhan mukti”. His family – two sons, a daughter and his wife Goolie – continues to live in Gujarat, while he shuttles between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. His day begins with a “Hello, hello, hello” to all the 100 Ganesh idols in his room. “It’s like firing a machine gun,” he says. Books and Ganeshas are the only things that adorn the four walls. His breakfast consists of green tea, eggs and roti. “I’m becoming too fat and with my big ears I’ll soon look like a junior Ganesh.”

Lunch (strictly vegetarian on Tuesdays) is usually followed by an afternoon siesta accompanied by music – Pandit Jasraj, Bhimsen Joshi, Bade Ghulam Ali. His voice is shrill again when he recalls how Pandit Jasraj “took my hands and put it on his head. He will not even bend before God. What a big honour that was!” The evening brings visitors, devotees, clients and sponsorship offers (recently he was HSBC’s role model). He ends the day with TV from 9 to 11:30 pm, watching HBO, STAR Movies, Hungama and cartoons.

Daruwalla particularly delights in the knowledge that despite being a Zoroastrian he’s been honoured by the Siddhivinayak Temple, by the Sikhs “who don’t believe in astrology”, by his neighbours who are the direct descendants of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti and by the Russian astrologers of St Petersburg. It reaffirms his faith in tolerance. He won’t predict his own future, but “Boss Ganesha says,” his time is up in two years.

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Tusha Mittal has been with Tehelka since March 2008. She was educated at La Martiniere, Kolkata, and has a bachelor’s degree from Depauw University in Indiana. While in the US, she worked as a reporter and a special sections editor for a local newspaper in Boston. She also interned with CNN Internationalin Atlanta and NBC Universal in London. In her final year in college, she studied the idea of peace journalism and the role of the media in covering conflict.

She travelled to Kashmir for her graduation thesis, which dissected the role of the Indian and Pakistani media in shaping public perception of the Kashmir conflict. Her journalism interests include reporting on environment, human rights, and conflict. She has recently won The Press Institute of India award for best articles on humanitarian issues published in the Indian media. AtTehelka, she has written extensively on land rights and displacement struggles. She is based in New Delhi.