By Sunil Kataria
NEW DELHI, Aug 28 (Reuters) - In his golden-hued office, decked out with peacock feathers and crystal balls, Indian mystic healer and astrologer Sanjay Sharma is busy offering his clients a peek into their future as the COVID-19 pandemic has muddied their present.
"Right now people are really frightened about their future," said Sharma, with flowing hair and a big vermilion dot on his forehead, as smouldering incense sticks spread their fragrance over an Apple laptop on his desk.
"How will they survive? Will they have their jobs or not? Will their business survive or not," he added.
Indians are flocking to astrologers, tarot card readers and faith healers as they seek to know what lies ahead and find solutions to current health, financial and mental problems in a country where coronavirus cases have rocketed to 3.3 million - the third-highest in the world - with more than 60,000 deaths.
"Whenever our mind is really disturbed and we feel anxious, we come here," said Anju Devi, 52, who asked Sharma about her son's dwindling business and the prospects of her daughter's marriage. "Those who are in depression and taking medicines, they feel uplifted after coming here and it helps them come out of those situations."
Indian astrologers, palm readers, numerologists and tarot card readers are estimated to generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue. Charges vary from 100 rupees ($1.50) for a quick session with a palmist to several thousand rupees for a long session with a popular spiritual guide.
Ajay Bhambi, a well-known astrologer and spiritual consultant to politicians, Bollywood stars and professional cricketers, said his business had risen 40% since the COVID-19 outbreak.
"You keep the hopes alive and see what is exactly stored for them in future," said Bhambi, a regular on Indian TV networks. "If I see a little ray, then I can create a better picture for them."
He predicted India's COVID-19 crisis would significantly improve from March onward.
To be sure, not every mystic is flooded with customers. For example, Kripajyoti Nisha Singla, a cosmic healer who also practices hypnotherapy, said she has cancelled sessions because of a lack of demand.
"The energies which I got was that people were saving money," Singla said. "Everyone's very concerned about their finances, very uncertain about how they are going to survive" if the coronavirus crisis extends. (Additional reporting by Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow; Writing by Krishna N. Das)
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