Baldana (Maharashtra): It always pays to know the future, especially if you are a farmer in Vidarbha, Maharashtra, infamous for its suicides.
So when Ram Das Maharaj - the unofficial local soothsayer - makes his predictions for the year ahead, people listen.
Says a resident, Samadhan Hiwake, "The predictions for rain are accurate. We consider them while farming."
The tradition, which is called Maandani, is over 300 years old, but this year the oracle has bad news. After examining the soil and making several calculations, Ram Das has issued a warning to the cotton-growers.
"The cotton yield will be good, but there will be losses. Jawar yield will be good too but the prices will fluctuate," says he.
Over 3,000 farmers have taken their lives in Vidarbha in the last five years - 300 of them this year. Those keeping an eye on the district's agricultural crisis say superstition adds to the problem.
Says agriculture expert, Kishore Tiwari, "The practice of forecasting is nothing but encashing the innocence and victimisation of the farmers. How can one predict the weather and prices?"
Ram Das's predictions have gone wrong in the past, but like before, many villagers this year won't start their farming until the Maandani ends, preferring to choose hope over bad experience.
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