Saturday, September 20, 2003
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Khushwant Singh
Astrological falsehoods
Khushwant Singh

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.

Strive to look and feel younger
August 30, 2003
Enjoying the grace of God
August 23, 2003
A tribute to the great revolutionary
August 16, 2003
The long and the short of it
August 9, 2003
Why poets and writers rise above hatred
August 2, 2003
A paradise on earth, that is Himachal
July 26, 2003
When nothing but memory remains
July 19, 2003
A strange way of healing
July 12, 2003
Codes of conduct that received a royal ignore
July 5, 2003

His forecasts were coined in a vague, roundabout lingo used by all astrologers so you cannot pin them down to anything specific. It was the same kind of language as used by their patron saint Nostradamus, according to whom life on our planet should have ended two years ago. I caught out Madan once when he slipped up by mentioning a specific date when there would be some kind of violent eruption in our Parliament. Nothing whatsoever happened on that day. I wrote about it in my column. Madan was understandably very gussa with me, used angry words to denounce me as an ignoramus and stopped sending his magazine to me. At the function in his honour, he claimed to have forecast the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. I challenged him to reproduce the text of this forecast. He also predicted earthquakes in the years to come. So can I. In Japan, there are tremors of different strengths every week and round the globe a few earthquakes every year. His guesses will be as good as mine for neither will be based on scientific data.

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?

Iranian twins

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."

(Courtesy: G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)