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Unforeseeable future

If astrologers can’t foresee their own tomorrows, they must concede they cannot forecast what the future holds for others, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: May 02, 2008, 23:20 IST
Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh

It can be scientifically established that all methods of forecasting future events are false and baseless. Those made by the most eminent of astrologers have proved wrong. It is the same with palmistry: lines on the palms of hands do not reveal either longevity, brains, wealth or the number of children a person will have. In short, they indicate nothing. The same applies to numerology, crystal gazing, tarot cards and readings from ancient manuscripts like Bhrigu Samhitas or Sau Sakhis. They are totally fake. I am compelled to think that people who believe in such things or take columns in papers and magazines based on signs of the Zodiac seriously are mentally retarded except for the fact that so many of them have much higher IQs than mine and have got much further in life than I: for example, Murli Manohar Joshi, Jayalalithaa and TN Seshan. The most intelligent of Indians, including Marxists, are known to consult soothsayers to find out ‘auspicious’ times before taking important decisions. It would not be wrong to state that over 90 per cent of Indians believe in some form of futurology or the other. That is one reason why I was happy to read that our former president APJ Abdul Kalam refused to indicate an ‘auspicious’ time for taking oath of office. And I was disappointed to hear that our lady rashtrapati was congratulated by an astrological society of Jaipur because she was one of its patrons.

I would like to take a bet of any sum of money with believers in astrology: if they can as much as tell me what will happen to them and me the day following our wager and get it right, I will concede defeat and promise to keep my mouth shut ever after. However, if they can’t foresee their own tomorrows, they must concede they cannot forecast what the future holds for others.

What it means to be Indian

If you were asked to name one person in the history of India who represents the nation’s hopes, aspirations, frustrations, failures and who the people of today regard as an icon, who would you choose?

It is a difficult question to answer as many names come to mind. However, Salman Khurshid has no doubts about his choice. His opinion deserves attention because he happens to be one of our netas: a product of St Stephen’s College, Oxford University, an ex-minister of the central Cabinet, twice president of the Uttar Pradesh Congress party, advocate of the Supreme Court, president of the Delhi Public Schools’ Society and a man of letters. His choice is Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor and one of the country’s leading poets. So he has written a play to prove his point, Sons of Babur: A Play in Search of India (Rupa).

The play starts at the present time in the campus of Delhi University during elections of the students union. It is a fight to the finish between the Communists and Hindu fascists shouting “Jai Shri Ram! Hindu Rashtra Ki Jai!” They are separated before they come to blows. There is also a small band of students of history: Hindus, Muslims and an Anglo-Indian girl who seriously discuss what Indians have in common which still makes them feel like one people. Among them is the ‘hero’ of the drama. He fantasises or dreams of long sessions with Bahadur Shah Zafar in Rangoon during the last years of his life. And through Bahadur Shah, his predecessors from Babur to Aurangzeb. Each in turn tells him what they did and why: including murdering their brothers, rebelling against their fathers, and even imprisoning them. What their victims felt about it is not spelt out. Through his main character, Khurshid explains his choice of Zafar, “I find the idea of India and Indian-ness vastly interesting. Of course, many historical personalities and events can provide cues, but Zafar has a special meaning… much of our nationhood seems encapsulated in 1857 and Bahadur Shah’s life.” At his last meeting with Zafar, our history scholar takes the Anglo-Indian girl along with him. She recites one of his well-known couplets to him. There is not a hint of even a budding romance. Certain!

I am not sure if Khurshid’s script can be turned into a play for the stage. There are long speeches including Bahadur Shah reading charges against him, his response to them and the judge’s verdict. It would take the genius of someone like Ebrahim Alkazi to make it stageable. It could possibly make a good film if someone like Mahesh Bhatt put his mind to making it. However, it does make good, fervently patriotic reading.

Nanavati’s counter

In the late sixties, when there was shortage of powder milk for children I had gone to Kohinoor Chemists in Allahabad to do forward stocking for our first child. As usual, the counter was manned by Mr Nanavati, a man full of wit and humour, fair in dealing, fair in complexion and with a fairly long nose, traits common to most Parsis. Nana was a very respectful and popular figure in the Civil Lines. Opposite the counter was standing a very stately, shapely and elegantly dressed Anglo-Indian lady, enquiring about the availability of powder milk. I overheard the following conversation between Nanavati and the lady.

Lady: Mr Nanavati, do you have Glaxo milk powder?

Nanavati: No, Madam, it is in short supply.

Lady: Do you have Oster milk powder?

Nanavati: No, Madam, that too is out of stock.

Lady: Do you have any other (pronounced as udder) brand?

Nanavati: No, Memsahib, even the udders have disappeared (feigning innocent speech).

(Contributed by Colonel Trilok Mehrotra, Noida)

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