By VIKAS BAJAJ
Published in The New York Times: December 4, 2009
MUMBAI, India — Sanjay B. Jumaani has your number — and for a fee he can offer you an upgrade.
Mr. Jumaani is one of this bustling city’s most famous numerologists. He studies dates of birth and other numbers associated with his clients — who include Bollywood stars, famed cricket players and corporations — and then suggests changes to names, wardrobe or jewelry that can improve their fortunes. After seeking help from him and other numerologists, actors have added or dropped letters from their names — the actor Ajay Devgan recently became Ajay Devgn. Filmmakers have deliberately misspelled the titles of their movies — “Singh is Kinng” was a recent hit. And companies have redesigned brands and logos. Recently, a travel company started a luxury train service, The Indian Maharaja - Deccan Odyssey. Mr. Jumaani had recommended adding the word “The” and hyphenating the name. Sajivv Trehaan, who heads the tour company the Travel Corporation (India), said the maiden trip was sold out and he believes Mr. Jumaani’s wordsmithing helped. He says Mr. Jumaani’s counsel has been a key to many of his business successes. “The world has changed for me since then,” Mr. Trehaan said about the time seven years ago when Mr. Jumaani suggested he change his name from Sajiv Trehan. “We were a small company at the time. Now we have seven offices overseas. And I live in Switzerland.” In addition to the rich and famous, many average Indians also consult Mr. Jumaani and his competitors — of which there are many. The advice these new-age counselors offer is not cheap. Mr. Jumaani charges individual clients 4,200 rupees, which is about $90 or roughly one month’s pay for household servants. Businesses pay a lot more. Mr. Jumaani won’t say how much. In a country where privation is prevalent, people have long sought comfort and hope from astrologers and gurus of varying stripes. Now, modern Indians who want a bigger slice of a growing economy are turning to a new breed of soothsayers who are different from the gurus of their parents’ generation. Changing names or ordering license plates with certain auspicious numbers has become accepted practices in recent years. Gone are the complicated astrological charts consulted by the older generation of counselors. The new soothsayers offer advice that uses mathematical formulas, market themselves through infomercials, write newspaper columns and put up spiffy Web sites. Some of the advice is reminiscent of the “positive thinking” movement in the United States. For instance, Niraj Mancchanda, another famous Mumbai-based numerologist, offers handwriting analysis and promises that “if we change our handwriting, our thinking changes.” Critics say that numerology and its offshoots are expensive distractions that lure people in with promises of a brighter future.
“This practice caters to people’s craving to know, modify or improve their future,” said Prabir Ghosh, an author who has debated astrologers and numerologists on Indian television. “In this era of cutthroat competition intensified by the global recession people will do anything before going into a new venture.” Mr. Ghosh, who is the general secretary of the Science and Rationalists’ Association of India, has said his group will pay numerologists, astrologers and other spiritual guides two million rupee ($43,000) if they prove that their practices work as advertised. He has made no payments so far.
Proponents of numerology counter that it, like religion, should require no proof because it’s based on faith. “If you have the faith, you believe in it,” said Vipul Amrutlal Shah, the producer of “Singh is Kinng.” “We in the cinema are gamblers. We don’t know whether our gambles will pay off. It makes us a little superstitious.” According to Mr. Jumaani, people’s personalities and destinies are shaped by the interplay of various numbers. Among the most important are numbers derived from birth dates, like the sum of the digits that make up the day of birth. Babies born on the 28th day of a month, for example, are said to have a good life ahead of them because 2 and 8 add up to 10, and 1 plus 0 equals 1. One, three, five and six are considered auspicious numbers: Mr. Jumaani points out that Bill Gates was born on Oct. 28, 1955. Numbers correspond to the sun, the moon or a planet; one is the sun, two is the moon, three is Jupiter and so on. But people who are not born on a fortunate date need not despair. While he cannot change their birth dates, Mr. Jumaani said clients can benefit by changing their names. (He would not disclose how numbers are assigned to letters.) Wearing appropriate gems and colors can also change fortunes. “We cannot give you Mr. Ambani’s date of birth,” he said referring to the Indian industrialist Mukesh Ambani, whose birthday adds up to one. “But we can help you with your name.” He was to be on board The Indian Maharaja - Deccan Odyssey, the sold-out train, and offered consultations to passengers who paid $525 to $1,120 a night for the seven-day trip from Mumbai to Delhi, with stopped at the Taj Mahal and other sites along the way. Mr. Jumaani, 41, learned numerology from his father, Bansilal M. Jumaani, and says it helped him escape a dead-end 17-year career as a liquor distributor. He credits his success to his father’s suggestion that he start using his middle initial. The elder Mr. Jumaani died in 2006. Mr. Jumaani works with his sister, Swetta Jumaani. His wife, Jhernna S. Jumaani, sells gems and jewelry to his clients. Her brand is named Gemz Bonnd Jewelz. Some who have changed their names said that their lives remain, well, unchanged. Shobhaa Dé, an author and columnist, added an extra “a” to her first name after the elder Mr. Jumaani asked her to in a letter, sent to her after she had mocked an actor who had changed his name. “I took it as a challenge, and added the ‘a,’ ” she said in an e-mail message. “My signature looked a whole lot better. I stuck to it. But I have still to crack the Forbes list of billionaires.” Related post: Numerology And Other Rubbish by Prabir Ghosh