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Nepal’s ‘laptop astrologer’ takes to the airwaves


Kathmandu — Nepalese housewife Deepashree Joshi says she used to queue for hours to have her fortune told. Now, she only has to call her favourite television astrologer to discover what the future has in store.

Since Basudev Krishna Shastri, known as the "laptop astrologer," launched his live television phone-in show in January 2008 he has become a national celebrity, winning an army of loyal fans and spawning several imitators.

"It’s so convenient and comforting to be able to find out what the future holds for you with just one phone call to a television show," says Joshi, 39.

"I believe in them because they are almost always right. And it helps me decide what my priorities should be."

Shastri, 34, uses specially-designed software to read callers’ stars, tapping the date, place and time of their birth into a computer with the aid of his female co-host.

His show started out as a weekly broadcast, but quickly became so popular that Nepalese TV channel Kantipur Television decided to air it every day, and he now receives around 500 calls a week.

"Changes in the position of the planets affect every one of us in this world, just as the sea becomes violent on the night of a full moon," he said in an interview with AFP.

"In this day and age, you have to use the technology available to you. The knowledge is old, but you can incorporate newer ideas. It’s a fusion," added Shastri, who is now working on a website to provide his service online.

Shastri says callers vary from schoolchildren asking about their examinations to elderly men wanting to know who their grandchildren will marry.

But as with fortune telling the world over, he says the top three things people ask is who they will marry, how much they will earn, and whether foreign travel features in their future.

"Young people especially want to know what are the best choices to make. They want someone to tell them," he adds. "And many ask whether they will succeed in love."

Sociologist Suraj Kafle believes the popularity of Shastri’s show and others like it can be partly attributed to people’s disillusionment with the political situation in Nepal, which has witnessed massive upheaval in recent years.

A bloody 10-year civil conflict between the state and Maoist rebels ended in 2006, and the country’s unpopular monarchy was abolished two years later.

But political instability persists, and experts say many ordinary people in the desperately poor country have yet to experience the benefits of peace.

"People want inspiration. They want hope. Nothing has changed and it’s very frustrating for them," said Kafle, a lecturer in sociology at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan University.

"It’s about solace, it provides hope for a better future."

Astrology has deep roots in majority-Hindu Nepal, where marriage and even election dates are decided according to the auspicious positioning of the stars, and Shastri says the reasons for the show’s popularity are simple.

"People are by nature very inquisitive. They want to know about themselves and their future," said Shastri, who claims to count some of Nepal’s political leaders among his clients.

"They want to know whether they are going to be in power, whether they will be in government in future."

"I have many communist leaders coming to ask about their future, including senior Maoist leaders. I think they are the most confused of all."

When it comes to the political situation in Nepal, Shastri does not provide much hope — the future, he says, holds "grave danger" for the country.

But he also believes that the future can be changed — a message, perhaps, for Nepal’s warring political leaders.

"If you do good, it will affect your future," Shastri says. "You can change your kismet."