Saturday, December 20, 2008

The power of stars
Khushwant SinghKhushwant Singh

I don’t mean the silly asses of Bollywood who are hired at fancy prices by political parties to draw crowds during elections. They do draw crowds but not votes. What I am talking about are stars in their galaxies, millions of miles away from us, which, most Indians believe, have mysterious powers over our destinies. No sane person could possibly think it can be so but we Indians stick to our faith in the irrational. I often gnash my teeth and say to myself: "We are a nation of donkeys. I, too, am an ass but I bray out of tune".

After denouncing everyone, I turn to see what psephologists, learned analysers of voting patterns, opinion polls, exit polls, etc say. They contradict each other and leave me no wiser than before.

I also turn to astrological forecasts: Venus, Mercury, Rahu, Ketu, Saturn, Uranus, Saggitarius, sun and moon. I don’t know anything about their movements but our learned jyotishis keep a vigilant eye on them and get messages from them. They have different interpretations of these astral sparklers. They are masters of double-speak and couch their forecasts in a language which can be read in different ways.

Our newspapers used to give them wide coverage. Now most of them have stopped making guesses about election results because they have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to know what is in the minds of electors when they go to polling booths. The recent elections in six of our states were good examples of how hazardous it is to make electoral forecasts.

Astrologers have different interpretations of the stars and planets
Astrologers have different interpretations of the stars and planets

However, a newly launched magazine, The Sunday Indian, which claims to be "the only magazine on earth in 14 languages," in its issue of November 24, had four renowned astrologers make guesses about the elections to be held in six states. (I don’t know why it left out that podgy Parsi Bejan Daruwala, who begins his prognostications with Sri Ganeshaye Namah and gets everything delightfully wrong, but, nevertheless, continues unabashedly.)

Lets start with Laxmandas Madan, Editor of Babaji. We crossed swords before. He is angry with me. He got the ouster of Vasundhara Raje as Chief Minister of Rajasthan right, but his forecast about Ashok Gehlot not becoming the next Rajasthan CM was wrong. Now Gehlot is the Congress Chief Minister of Rajasthan. He got the Congress victory in Delhi right, but side by side his forecast that if the Congress lost, Sheila Dikshit will be made governor of a state was wrong. Sheila won and is Chief Minister for the third time.

His prediction of Uma Bharati becoming the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh was woefully wrong. Poor Uma even lost her own seat.

Yogesh Aillawadi got every forecast wrong, including Sheila Dikshit’s. Ajai Bhambhi and Sunita Chabra were marginally closer to the ultimate outcome.

Reading these forecasts after the results had been announced was great fun. I came to the conclusion that most forecasts are wishful fantasies of forecasters. I had to keep my fingers crossed till the morning the results started coming in. I relaxed when I heard of the Congress victories in Delhi and Rajasthan. Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh are long way away and Kashmir a case apart. I had an extra celebratory drink in the evening. And slept soundly.

Who is sacrificed?

A few days before Bakr-Id, my long-time lady friend and prot`E9g`E9 Sadia Dehlavi breezed in and announced triumphantly: "I paid Rs 15,000 for a bakra (he goat). It is for qurbani (sacrifice) in Eid-ul-zuha". She was obviously very pleased with her act of piety. I felt uneasy. What actually happens on such occasions is that you slit the throat of a goat or some other animal, pretend to yourself that you are doing it a great honour and then feast on its flesh.

You are also sure that the divine reward for doing so will come to you. This is not only true of Muslims at Bakr-Id but also of Hindus and Sikhs round the year. They decapitate their victims in the vicinity of a place of worship. Nepalese Gorkhas show off their manliness by hacking off heads of buffaloes with one stroke of their khukris during Dussehra. At the Kali temple at Kolkata and Kamakshi Devi’s temple in Guwahati, the massacre of goats goes on day after day.

At Kamakshi Devi’s temple, besides goats, chicken, ducks and pigeons are on sale round the year. I can understand people relishing meat but I fail to comprehend making meat-eating into a religious ritual, and calling it maha-prasad, the great offering. The English have evolved a vocabulary to camouflage their love for animal flesh. They slaughter cows, but when it comes to eating them they call it beef or veal or Yorkshire pudding. They spike pigs to death but when it comes to eating them, they call it ham, bacon, pork or salami sausages.

Goodbye Bush

One sunny day an old man approached the White House from across Pennsylvania Avenue where he had been sitting on a park bench. He spoke to the US marine standing guard, and said: "I would like to go in and meet President Bush. "Sir, Mr Bush is no longer President and no longer resides here’’, was the reply.

The following day the same man approached the White House and said to the same marine: "I would like to go in and meet President Bush’’. The marine again told the man: " Sir, as I said yesterday, Mr Bush is no longer President and no longer resides here.’’

Again, the third day the same man approached the White House and spoke to the very same US marine, saying: " I would like to go in and meet President Bush." The marine was very much agitated and said: "Sir, this is the third day in a row you have been asking to speak to Mr Bush. I have already told you that Mr Bush is no longer the President and no longer resides here".

At this the old man looked at the marine and said: " Oh, I understand. I just love hearing it."

(Courtesy, Vipin Buckshey, Delhi)

Note: There will be no column of Khushwant Singh next week