Delhi is said to have more than three million migrants from Bihar. Many are autorickshaw drivers, artisans or daily wage labourers. One afternoon, I met a man from Darbhanga, Bihar, who makes a living through an “electronic machine” that tells people their future. “I got it for Rs 3,000 from Lajpat Rai Market,” said Meraj, 25. Situated in the Walled City, Lajpat Rai Market is lined with electronic shops where appliances ranging from transistors to washing machines are assembled on the spot and sold.
Meraj roams around town carrying his machine packed inside a white trunk. He stops wherever business possibilities seem promising. He sets up the stall within minutes—he unfolds his steel tripod, keeps the trunk on the tripod, opens the trunk, and takes out the machine and places it on the trunk.
Meraj, 25, makes his living through an electronic machine that he says predicts the future
The machine, which looks like a giant toaster of yesteryear, is simple but has a lot of frills. It’s huge, probably to impress people. There are switches on either side with bulbs and pointers. A clock is at the centre. And a stethoscope-like appliance is coiled around each switch. A hand-painted board says in Hindi and Urdu: “Hear your future with the electronic machine: Question, Rs 5; Answer, Rs 5.”
I had bumped into Meraj in Daryaganj. Most of his clients are pedestrians—mostly traders and vendors—fascinated by the sight of this automated future teller. Popular till about a decade ago, such machines are now rarely on city streets. In India, what the future holds is usually told by learned men in saffron robes called jyotishis or by caged parrots that pick up an already-written prediction randomly from a pack of cards, or the forecasts in the weekend supplements of newspapers. At railway stations, weighing machines print out your weight and future for Rs 1.
While I was trying to understand the use of the “stethoscope”, a topi-wearing passer-by stopped and asked about his future. Meraj plugged the “stethoscope” into his ears and switched on the machine. The bulbs started blinking; the pointers oscillated wildly. The man listened intently, occasionally nodding as if in agreement with the prediction.
I too tried the machine. The cracking voice—speaking in Hindi—made a predictable prediction: “You are not very happy. You break your resolutions too easily. There are problems at work. You have to be very careful about your health. Don’t start any task if you can’t finish it. Past achievements will be appreciated. You will be meeting an interesting person today.”
Does Meraj really believe in it?
Shrugging his shoulders, Meraj smiled apologetically and said, “This is…just like this.” He makes Rs 150 on an average daily and sleeps in the park adjacent to Meena Bazaar in Old Delhi. His sleeping mates are beggars, drug addicts and the homeless.
As I was paying him, Meraj said, “Delhi is a kind of place where you manage to make money one way or the other.”
When I asked him if he had ever tried learning about his future from the electronic machine, Meraj laughed and said: “I have no future in Delhi. I might go back to Bihar.”