K.B. Parsai could have told us something earthshaking was going to happen in the Northwest. It was written in the stars, the New Delhi-based astrologist says. Parsai, whose family has practiced astrology for 25 generations in India, was visiting his son D.K. Parsai of Burien when the 6.8 Nisqually Earthquake hit Feb. 28. Afterward, he made one of his complicated astrological charts to determine the position of the planets and constellations that day.
"It all depends on the movements of the stars," Parsai said, explaining this stellar tug of war. "In astrology, the stars are friends and the stars are enemies." Right now, the planets are acting like rotten children. Parsai says that both Mars and Pluto will be in direct conflict with Saturn at different times between now and this summer.
He predicts another earthquake somewhere on the West Coast of the United States, or an equally dramatic natural event before April 10, or between May 11 and July 20.
As a widely known astrologist in India, Parsai has charted the courses of the blessed and the doomed, droughts and floods, with the stars in the sky as his primary guide.
For most of his career as an employee in India's government, the now-retired Parsai advised political figures and other dignitaries for free. A civil servant with a finger on the pulse of the cosmos, he befriended the late and controversial Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi after her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, died in May 1964. Parsai says he had predicted Nehru's death earlier that month. "Because I gave her the prediction, God gave her faith in me," Parsai said.
Scientists in this country give little credence, if any, to fortune-telling methods such as Parsai's when it comes to forecasting earthquakes and other disasters. "There's not any way that has been found to determine the precise timing and location of an earthquake," said Ruth Ludwin, a research scientist at the University of Washington Seismology Lab. Most predictions, Ludwin said, are "impossibly vague" and can't be independently validated. But Parsai sees it this way: If the moon's gravity can move the tides, and a sunny day can lift a person's mood, why can't the energy of the passing stars unleash the tension between masses in the Earth's crust?
Parsai often doesn't predict the exact time events will occur. Rather he determines the narrow span when planetary movements make certain events more likely. Ultimately, though, astrology may be a matter of faith.
And in India, it's a cultural phenomenon that dates back 8,000 to 9,000 years. Many Hindus in India today look to astrology before making a major move, such as taking a long trip, building a home, planning a celebration or getting married, said Heidi Pauwels, an assistant professor of Asian languages and literature at the University of Washington. "Sometimes, weddings in India happen at funny times," even at 3 a.m. if necessary, she said. Picking the most auspicious time - the moment that will bring the most luck or future happiness - is vital even for some business decisions. Movie studios in India use astrology to plan favorable release dates and ensure box-office success, Pauwels said.
Political figures often turn to astrologists when plotting campaigns for office and making decisions once elected. Indira Gandhi was well known to have consulted astrologists among other advisers, Pauwels said. When Nehru died, Gandhi invited Parsai to be the only wise or holy man to pray by her father's body while it lay in state. He recalls praying for 20 continuous hours without stopping to so much as sip water. Fifteen days after Nehru's death, Parsai told Indira Gandhi that she would become prime minister within three years. And in 1966, she was chosen for that post and stayed there for most of the rest of her life. Near the end of 1979, Parsai's calculations indicated that Indira Gandhi's son and handpicked successor, Sanjay Gandhi, would face "a fatal end by mischief" in the coming year. In fact, he died in a plane crash the following June.
In August 1984, Parsai said he told Indira Gandhi that her life was coming to an end. Two months later, on Oct. 31, she was gunned down by two of her bodyguards in retaliation for an attack she had ordered on a Sikh holy site.
At 78, Parsai may walk in short, deliberate steps, but his mind seems to be in perpetual overdrive. He would have you believe that fate is actually a complicated mathematical equation, and the stars represent a cosmic abacus. "I never give predictions without doing a chart," he said. But Parsai isn't bothered by people who think his craft is bogus. He doesn't seem disturbed by the outside world at all. When he talks about his bold prediction that China may attack the West Coast of the United States sometime between 2008 and 2009, there is obvious concern but no dread in his eyes. As he ticked off other time spans when the Western United States could experience a major disaster, including nearly all of December, he did it without so much as a sigh of regret.
"I am not very much interested in results," Parsai said bluntly. "My duty is to go on working." He is passionate about that work. He often jabs his index finger in the air and raises his voice to emphasize points. His eyes open wide behind thick glasses. "From age 15, I have not taken a gift of money from any person" outside of paychecks and fees for astrological services, he stressed. A holder of master's degrees in English and Hindi literature, he loves it when people engage him about his craft.
Still, Parsai knows he has no control over whether they truly believe. "When I was a young man, the first thing he told me was astrology is a guiding science" to help people manage their lives, Parsai's son D.K. Parsai said. Now D.K., a 38-year-old software test engineer at RealNetworks in Seattle, is soaking up as much as he can from his father to help continue the family tradition. Many rules for practicing Indian astrology are passed down not through books and academies, but through unwritten teachings from parent to child.
The elder Parsai started learning astrology at age 11. "The more he is getting older, the more I am scared the knowledge might perish with our generation," D.K. said. "Once it's gone, it's gone, so I am trying to learn." Both men acknowledge that fate doesn't always work independently. It may need a little nudging. "To make my predictions come very true, sometimes it takes the power of prayer," the father said. He starts each day at 4 a.m. with about two hours of prayer. The Web site for the English-language Hindustan Times, the 5-million-circulation newspaper in New Delhi where Parsai wrote a weekly astrological column for nearly 20 years, features links to not one but four expert astrologers. But Pauwels said predictions can be hard to trust, if only because the forecasts are only as good as the methods and judgment of the astrologer.
Nevertheless, astrologers play an important role in Hindu society. Parsai gave up his weekly column in 1999 to care for his wife, who died last November. He agrees that wisdom and experience are crucial for an astrologer. But being a wise man can be exhausting work. "I'm getting old," he said. "It takes a lot of labor to come to these conclusions, these calculations." While Parsai does not claim to have a flawless track record, he says 90 percent of his published predictions have come true. This forecast from a column he wrote for the publication Surya India in February 1982 does seem prophetic. "In the United States unemployment will soar, creating unprecedented problems for President Reagan. The U.S. will face infiltrations from countries south of it. Drug trafficking will assume a major dimension ripping apart the socio-economic fabric of the country." Both Parsai and his son, however, say the public has good reason to be skeptical. There are a lot of fakes in the fortune-telling business who boast of perfect foresight.
"For 100 percent - only God knows," D.K. Parsai said. "Any astrologer who tells you differently is taking you for a ride."