“Nalla Kaalam Poranthachu.. Nalla Kaalam Poranthachu…” says a soothsayer while casually walking along a street of Avaniyapuram in Madurai. If he finds some curious person peeking out, he takes rapid strides towards that house and keeps repeating that popular catch phrase till the entire family is at the door and he has their full attention. The soothsayer then mutters a few cryptic sentences that could suggest the family is facing an ill omen and briefly responds to queries. All the time, the stern looking man makes mental notes of the type of people he is interacting with and their possible problems. “Soothsayers like them don’t demand money. They are okay with whatever you offer,” according to a police officer.
Half-an-hour later, another man, this time in saffron robes, visits the same house, calls out the family and predicts that a male member would meet with an accident if preventive steps are not taken immediately. “The idea is to scare the women into agreeing for ‘preventive action’,” the police informs. What the family does not know is that the two persons who visited them within a space of half-an-hour are part of a group. The first one briefs the man in saffron about the family, which helps him make a convincing spiel.
Something similar happened in M Muthu Meena’s family in Madurai’s Avaniyapuram. Muthu was wary of an astrologer who came calling on his own and asked him to leave. He also advised his wife Meena not to ever let the astrologer enter the house. The astrologer left that day, but kept visiting that lane. By and by, he won the confidence of Meena’s neighbour Susee by employing the same techniques. He convinced her to organise a puja at her house to ward off evil spirits. He also asked her to invite women folk in the locality, including Meena, to participate. Susee’s persuasion worked, as Meena along with four others joined the puja.
The astrologer brought a skeleton along, which placed in a corner of the house. He then asked the women to fetch wheat dough. While chanted some mantras, he asked the women to take off their gold jewellery and place them on a plate next to the wheat dough. He then made two rolls of the dough, placed all the jewellery within one roll and asked the women to accompany them to the nearby graveyard for the final ritual.
After they reached the graveyard in an autorickshaw, he asked them to wait a small distance away, saying he would hand over the jewellery after puja. That was the last time they saw him because the astrologer made a quick getaway with the jewellery weighing 15 sovereigns, the police informed.
Such gangs have been operating around the southern districts for a long time now. If the police launch a crackdown in one district, the fake astrologers simply shift base to another district and operate at will.
In any case, if there are people who can be easily fooled, there will always be crooks looking to take advantage. It’s up us to raise our guard and not get swayed by cheats.