Curiosity took the better of us the other day and unwittingly we became part of a motley crowd that had gathered around a card reader who was predicting the future of everyone through a parrot. It was like Alexander Pope’s “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”.
To our surprise, the parrot was picking up cards of destiny and fate rightly and was making exact predictions. Naturally, the gullible people were doling out small amounts to the card reader. My friend, who was accompanying me, was tempted to give a tenner to the card reader to predict her future. While we were waiting with bated breath for the parrot to pick up the slips, a raiding party accompanied by cops bundled the paraphernalia in a truck. While leaving, the cops unfolded the mystery how these tricksters mingled their conmen in the crowd who would claim that the parrot had made the right predictions. The gullible among the crowd would then bet on the predictions.
Amused and shocked at the same time, I wondered why people come to believe these soothsayers who are not sure of their own fate. Superstition has been the subject of literature and even William Shakespeare used it effectively in his plays. Julius Caesar is an apt example with a warning to Caesar to “beware the Ides of March” which refers to the day Caesar was assassinated by the Roman conspirators. Soothsayers’ warning raises an interesting question about fate. If Caesar had heeded the warning, could he have changed the course of events that day when the creepy omens in the play suggested that Caesar’s fate was already decided?
One can find gullible people the world over who believe in animal oracle. If not more than the outcome of the FIFA World Cup, the prophecies of octopus Paul drew the attention of football fans across the globe. And then during the recently concluded cricket world cup, it was the turn of Chanakya, a fish from Chennai, to pick up Paul’s trail to predict the outcome of the matches.
The fish would promptly poke at the box containing food wrapped in the winning country’s flag. The predictions were organised by the Indian Community Welfare Organisation, an NGO. After the fish rightly predicted New Zealand as the winners in their encounter with South Africa, it picked India. Nobody knows about the fate of the fish after India’s loss to Australia, but we know that Paul was found dead a few months after the football world cup at the age of two-and-a-half. Neither octopus Paul nor his caretakers had any inkling of the impending death.
Instead of learning a lesson, a memorial was announced in Paul’s memory. Back in our country, the NGO, that was left redfaced after India’s loss in the world cup, is now claiming that the idea was to create awareness about endangered fishes.