Saturday, February 10, 2001
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Sensing disasters before they strike
By Khushwant Singh

DID any astrologer forecast the earthquake which devastated large parts of Gujarat on Republic Day? No, not one. They may be forgiven because probably none of them have yet got an M.Sc. in astrology which our learned Cabinet Minister in charge of Education, Murli Manohar Joshi, has promised them in the near future. Or perhaps the configuration of planets on which they rely upon to read the future did not send the message of doom in good time.

Usman PeerzadaThe truth of the matter is that astrologers are an ignorant lot who feed on the cupidity of masses more ignorant than they. Birds and animals, including dogs, horses and donkeys, are wiser than them because they are able to sense impending disasters before they strike. They do not waste time looking at stars but have their ears close to the earth and can hear the rumbles of an approaching earthquake before it shakes the ground overhead. There are innumerable instances of birds and animals getting agitated before an earthquake strikes.

Mystery behind mystic numbers
February 3, 2001
Of time-wasting rituals
January 20, 2001
Dying flame burns bright
January 13, 2001
Honouring Gurudev
January 6, 2001
Assamese are the friendliest Indians
December 23, 2000
The Father Teresa of Punjab
December 16, 2000
Metros bursting at the seams
December 9, 2000
Going for Ganga darshan
December 2, 2000
To be among celebrities
November 25, 2000
The dawn chorus at Santiniketan
November 18, 2000
A priceless Divali gift
November 11, 2000

Making documentaries is her forte
November 4, 2000

The Indo-Malaysian connection
October 28, 2000
Lessons terrorism taught us
October 21, 2000
Blood-letting in Punjab
October 14, 2000

I give just one instance recorded by chronicles. This is about an earthquake which hit the town of Concepcion 250 miles south of Santiago, the capital of Chile in 1835. At 10.30 a.m. on that fateful day birds were seen flying out of trees screaming as they circle in the air; horses broke out of stables as did domestic cattle; donkeys ran out braying wildly, dogs fled their homes barking. An hour later, the earth shook flattening out most of Concepcion, killing thousands of people.

There is another thing I would like to take up with astrologers and those who like Murli Manohar Joshi believe it is a science. The majority of the unfortunate victims of the Gujarat earthquake must have had their horoscopes cast.

I will take a bet of Rs 1 lakh if anyone can produce one predicting their demise on January 26, 2001. If not, they should make a bonfire of all horoscopes: they are documents of falsehood on which billions of our countrymen mould their lives.

What I would love to do is to take on Murli Manohar Joshi and a panel of astrologers chosen by him at a public debate on a TV channel. Let them try to prove astrology is a science; I will do my best to demolish their arguments.

Joshiji, a former professor of Physics and chief patron of astrologers, when you appoint professors of astrology in different universities please give a serious thought to reserving some posts for sensitive animals, mostly donkeys because they have long ears.

New Pakistan

With the passage of time I have become a crusty old man, short of patience and quick to temper. I have always been a stickler for punctuality; now it has become a fetish. If anyone turns up five minutes later than the appointed time, I give him or her a tongue lashing. More than late-comers, I dislike people who turn up without an appointment. I have a notice besides my door, reading. "Please donít ring the bell unless you are expected." If someone dares to ring, I do not open the door to let him or her in. If they try to impress me by giving my servant their visiting cards, I scribble on it "Canít you read English?" And that is that.

However, one evening the bell rang and I prepared myself to be as rude as I could. The servant brought a piece of paper on which was scribbled the name Deepti Naval. I have a soft corner for Deepti. Not only is she my notion of a pretty girl living next door, she like Shabana Azmi does not overact but acts natural. I opened the door myself to welcome her. With her was a tall, well-built handsome man in his early forties. "This is Usman Peerzada, film director from Lahore. I wanted you to meet him. I am sorry I did not make an appointment as your phone was constantly engaged and he has to return to Pakistan tomorrow," said Deepti.

Deepti had spent a week in Lahore, acting in some film directed by Peerzada. And as is her habit she spent her spare time taking photographs of the city: she is a very good photographer. Talking to Peerzada removed several misconceptions from my mind. I believed that in the process of being Talibanised, Pakistan had stifled its creative arts, notably the stage and the screen. Since Naheed, it had not produced any dancers because mullahs did not approve of women dancing on the stage. That is not strictly true. Pakistan has kathak and bharatnatyam dancers. And Pakistani films have begun to gain recognition in international film festivals. Usman Peerzada is the leading figure in putting Pakistani artistes on the world map. He is a product of Lahoreís Government College and when elected Secretary of the dramatic society won the award for best actor-producer.After college, he went on to TV to become its star attraction. He acted in several films, co-produced by Sri Lankan and Indian producers. He is now a director, script-writer, producer and actor. He is president of the International Theatre and Festivals held in Pakistan every year. His crowning achievement was the production of Zargul which was shown in the London Film Festival. Usman Peerzada spotted Deepti Navalís unusual talent and looks. We may soon see Indo-Pak films on our screen. Meanwhile I succeeded in persuading Deepti to mount an exhibition of her photographs of Lahore in Delhi and Mumbai.

Ode to mosque breakers

I watched them tearing a building down,

a gang of men in a busy town.

With a ho-heave-ho and a lusty yell

they swung a beam and the side wall fell.

I asked the foreman, "Are those men skilled,

and the men youíd hire if you had to build?

He gave a laugh, said, "No, indeed;

just common labour is all I need.

I can easily wreck in a day or two

what builders have taken a year to do."

I thought to myself as I went my way,

"Which of these roles have I tried to play?

Am I a builder who works with care,

measuring life by the rule and square?

Am I shaping my deeds to a well-made plan,

patiently doing my best I can?

Or am I a wrecker, who walls the town

content with the labour of tearing down?

(Contributed by Abha Sharma, Allahabad)

Honeymoon problem

Santaís daughter Pammy was to be married. But as the wedding day got closer, she grew more nervous. The same was noticed by her mother who asked her the reason.

"Itís the thought of going away on honeymoon with him thatís worrying me," replied Pammy.

"Donít let that bother you," assured her mother, "I went on my honeymoon after I got married. So itís no big deal."

"Ah: it was all right for you. Tussi papaji naal gaye see (you went away with Papaji)."

Quotable quotes

A sticker on a Maruti Baleno in Mumbai: "Laugh at your problems ó everyone else does!"

Seen in a pub in Bangalore: "Avoid hangovers ó stay drunk!"

A traffic slogan on a hoarding in Mumbai: "If you take one for the road, your car may be lying with Ďbottoms upí on that road!"

A board of a lady doctor in Meerut city: "Specialist in women and other diseases!"

(Contributed by Shashank Shekhar, Mumbai)