September 20, 2003
SOME weeks ago one of our leading national dailies carried the findings of a group of scientists who examined the claims made by astrologers about their ability to forecast future events. They scrutinised thousands of biodatas of people born on the same day to find out whether or not they shared same traits in common and whether people born under the same zodiacal signs — Leo, Virgo, Scorpio, etc. had similar temperaments as claimed by astrologers. They came to the conclusion that there was no truth whatever to substantiate that. In short, astrology was total humbug. The same applies to palmistry Vaastu, Feng Shui, numerology, Bhrigu, tarot cards — whatever.
However, this did not
deter Murli Manohar Joshi, once professor of physics and today a
Minister of the Central Cabinet, to preside over a function to honour
B.K. Madan, editor of Babaji, a magazine devoted to astrology.
Joshi believes that vedic jyotish, whatever that means, is a
science. Madan fully endorses his views as do millions of our
countrymen. I have crossed swords with Madan before he used to send me Babaji.
Murli Manohar Joshi has given astrology a new lease of life. It has once again become a booming industry. Several TV channels are let out to astrologers at high prices to advertise their claims to forecasting the future. Without exception, they exploit religious sentiment to back their spurious knowledge: saffron clothes, elaborate marks on their foreheads, halos of Aums behind their heads, pictures of gods and goddesses on the background and beatific know-all smiles on their smug faces. People lap up the garbage they spill out. It is a free country, so I have no right to say "ban all this hocus-pocus and let people plan out their own futures." But I can suggest that as in the case of advertisements for cigarettes, the government requires printing a warning:"Cigarette smoking is injurious to health." So in the case of programmes devoted to astrology, there should be a warning: "Belief in astrology is injurious to mental health."
I do not know whether our Prime Minister or his Deputy believe in astrology but they should be aware that its unchecked propaganda is unfair in a country largely illiterate and prone to superstition. It also makes India a laughing stock in the eyes of the modern world.
Songs of the hills
If you happen to be in the Simla (sorry Shimla) hills and love reading poetry, you can’t do better than read Rudyard Kipling, who spent a few summers there. Kipling is a much maligned and under-rated poet. Maligned because of his outspoken praise of his countrymen as the paradigm of colonialism. The British brag that they never boast; so Kipling did the boasting for them and they were ever grateful to him for doing so on their behalf. He was under-rated as a mere rhymester who rigidly followed the rules of rhyming and metre. This is a grossly unjust assessment of his calibre as a poet. In addition, long before any Indian writing in English had started using Hindustani words, Kipling was doing so without restraint. In his poem The Heathen (he spelt it like the cockney eathen), he wrote:
All along o’dirtiness, all along O’mess
All along O’doin things rather more-or-less
All along of abhy naheen, kal, hazar ho
Mind you keep your rifle an yourself Jus so.
At the time Kipling went to Shimla there was no railway nor pukka road; people travelled along a kutcha track from Kalka to Sabathu, Solan and Tara Devi on tongas, horseback or palanquins. Kipling captured the scene beautifully:
So long as neath the Kalka hills
The tonga-horn shall ring,
So long as down to Solan dip
The hard-held ponies swing,
So long as Tara Devi sees
The lights of Simla town
So long as pleasure calls us up,
or duty drives us down,
If you love me as Ilove you,
What pair so happy as we too?
Their heads were conjoined
But each had a separate heart
They walked, played and slept together
With thoughts, feelings and dreams apart.
As Ladan and Laleh grew young
Youth and glamour enhanced their grace
For years and years they walked abreast
With fused heads, they couldn’t win the race.
Fed up with nature’s terrible curse
They yearned and longed for unbounded glee.
"We would gladly face death", they said
"To live a life full and free".
They died but left a message behind
"Despair and dejection are signs of death.
It is action that activates life
One must struggle till the last breath."