Stanford, California. 2009
The secret to Hindu astrology lies not in the sky, but in the heart
In modern-day Burbank, California, an Indian American woman who doesn’t want me to use her name in this piece because she talks about “personal matters” is a very different sort of customer. Unmarried, childless and middle-aged, she is not at all a traditional Indian immigrant. She has been living alone in the United States for four decades, and is an engineer with the Department of Transportation. She still has a thick accent that makes it difficult for me to decipher her speech. Her astrologer is Dr. Sunit Gupta—a pale, mustachioed man who peers penetratingly out of a banner on the Website for “Sunit Gupta Enterprises.” She talks to him on the phone once a week, and has been going to him for consultations for the past 20 years.
I ask her why she keeps going back—what questions does she ask? She doesn’t answer right away, and when she does, she has a question.
“So, you don’t believe in astrology?” she asks sharply, and I wonder what it is I’ve said that makes it so obvious. I explain that I have no strong position on astrology; I’m trying simply to learn more about it in order to write a balanced article.
This seems to satisfy her, and she then explains why she keeps going back to Gupta, but as one would explain it to a slightly stupid person. “I don’t have a lot of problems in my life, you see, so I don’t ask him many questions,” she says. “If there’s a problem with my health, I ask him about that, or if there’s something going on in my life. Most of the time, we just chat.”
I ask her if she pays for the conversations, and she tells me that she doesn’t, for the most part, but does when he makes a prediction. “He’s become like my friend, you understand?”
When the engineer first met Gupta in 1990, it wasn’t under such happy circumstances. Her mother was suffering from diabetes and the prognosis wasn’t good. A cousin of hers recommended the spiritual guidance of Gupta, who had recently helped locate and return the cousin’s runaway daughter with his psychic abilities. She went to Gupta for help with no initial reservations—she’s always been a believer, she says. “He could tell how my mother was doing, and could predict what periods were going to be tough,” she tells me. “During these periods, he told me to watch her carefully. Everything he read was accurate.” Her mother died after a long struggle, and even that, Dr. Gupta predicted correctly, she says. “It was the right time.”
Many Indian Americans turn to Vedic astrology in trying times—their parents are dying, their children are struggling, their marriages are failing and their health is flagging. A common refrain: they’ve tried everything, and nothing’s worked. They’re helpless.
Six years ago, a 41-year-old veterinarian from Dublin, California, found himself in an unhappy predicament: he had developed a severe allergy to cats, and nothing his allergist was suggesting worked. “For three years, I was going to the allergist, and he had given up,” he recalls. “He said ‘you need to change your profession’.”
One day, he saw Gupta’s ad in the local Indian community newspaper and decided to call him. “I was a skeptic myself—I really didn’t believe in that stuff,” he explains. “But I had tried everything and I knew this wouldn’t hurt.” Incidentally, the man asked for anonymity in this piece because he said the fact that he has regularly seen an astrologer for a health problem could negatively affect his reputation as a medical professional.
Gupta put the veterinarian on a stringent new regimen—he could no longer eat beef or pork, and had to regularly recite a special prayer and wear a charm around his neck at all times. Today, his allergies are nearly gone, and he credits Gupta’s powers of spiritual healing. “It was a dramatic change,” he says.
I ask him what his allergist thinks of his astrologer.
“Oh, my allergist is Indian,” he says. “He believes in this stuff too.”
Astrologer Sunit Gupta’s name was in the local news leading up to the November 4 election because he had been predicting a sweeping victory for Senator Barack Obama, mainly because his astrological chart is stronger than John McCain’s. “His chart has lots of similarities with the birth chart of Lord Krishna, the Hindu God and incarnation of Lord Vishnu,” a press release on Gupta’s Website says. “Lord Krishna came on this planet to save us from the treacherous demonic king ‘Kansa’. Maybe we will see resolution of terrorist problems, when it becomes ‘Obama v. Osama’.” The press release also mentions that Obama’s chart bears a lot of similarities to Gupta’s own.
When I finally get hold of Gupta, he tells me he’s been traveling around the country on business. My message is among 22 left on his answering machine during the week he was gone. It’s a few days before the election, and Gupta is feeling brazenly confident. “My predictions are carved in stone,” he says. “It’s the fifth election I’ve been right on the dot. Newspapers take it seriously, too.”
Gupta became interested in astrology at the age of 11, he says. He started “getting a lot of messages” and left behind an idyllic boyhood spent reading Hardy Boys novels for an intense study of the science of astrology. His father’s friends would indulge his hobby, asking him to predict their futures. They were surprised, he says, when his predictions turned out to be accurate.
Gupta has since branched out from Vedic astrology to “everything under the psychic realm,” including crystal gazing, tarot cards, numerology and vastu, the Hindu version of feng shui. He’s been practicing astrology in the United States for 26 years, and has offices in Pomona and Diamond Bar. He says he has 900 clients.
Just to prove it’s not all parlor tricks, Gupta, who is talking to me on the phone, tells me to please uncross my feet (they are indeed crossed) and correctly guesses the color of my clothes (blue and black). His voice has become deep and rumbling, as if possessed by the spirit of a Bollywood villain. “Sometimes, I’m clairvoyant,” he explains. “I can just see you.”
I give him my place and date of birth and he launches into a description of my nature—marvelous for both its boldness and its attention to detail. “Your teeth are not straight, but you are very sweet-looking… Journalism was not your major—you shifted into it… Besides journalism, you are a storyteller… You are an artist—you sing and you paint… No? Okay, just paint… ”
He’s using his intuition (as well as the stars, of course) to paint an impressionistic portrait of me that is probably based on my voice, mannerisms, attitude, and the few facts he knows about me. I feel that his reading is mostly right, but I wonder if it’s really me, or the person he senses I strive to be.