The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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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 scrutinized thousands of biodatas of people born on the same day to find out whether or not they had same traits in common and whether people born under the same zodiac signs — Leo, Virgo, Scorpio and so on, had similar temperaments, as claimed by astrologers. They came to the conclusion that there was no truth whatsoever to substantiate them. 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. His forecasts were coined in a vague, round-about 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 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 his 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, there are a few earthquakes every year. His guesses will be as good as mine for neither will be based on scientific data.

Joshi has given astrology a new lease of life. It has once again become a booming industry. Several television 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 caste-marks on their foreheads, halos of aums behind their heads, pictures of gods and goddesses on the background and beatific smiles of know-alls on their smug faces. People lap up the garbage they spill out as if it was their mothers’ milk. 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, where 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 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 rhymster who rigidly followed the rules of rhyming and metre. This is a grossly unjust assessment of his calibre as a poet. 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 tarmac road; people travelled along a kucchha track from Kalka to Sabathu, Solan and Tara Devi on their destination on tongas, horse-back 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 I love you,

What pair so happy as we too'

Live a life full and free

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 could’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)

Not worth my money

Banta wondered to see what it was to stay in a five-star hotel. He paid a huge sum at the booking counter and was given the key to his room. As the lift doors opened, he withdrew and said angrily, “I am not going into this poky little pig-sty for what I have paid. You think because I am a villager, you can take me for a ride'”

“Don’t be angry sardarji. This is not your room. It is only the elevator.”

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