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Beginning and End
Khushwant Singh
Sunday, October 27, 2002
BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THIS month we will be celebrating the 6006th anniversary of the birth of the human race. Who says that? No less than the Archbishop Ussher of Armagh. In 1654 AD, he calculated with exact precision the arrival of the first human being on earth at 9 am, Tuesday, October 23, 4004 BC.

How his holiness arrived at the conclusion he did not deign to reveal. For good reason, the church did not take him seriously and hardly anyone even remembers the archbishop. There were other men who also made wild guesses about the arrival of Adam; no one bothered about them and their names were tossed into garbage cans of oblivion.

However, many scriptures, both Hindu and Judaic, describe how life began. The Old Testament has a telling description: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of god moved upon the face of the waters.” Our Rig Veda has a similar description without bringing god into the scene. So has Guru Nanak—Arbad narbad dhundoo kaaraa. No one can object to these flights of fantasy, but when it comes to their sudden arrival of man and woman on the scene, one has to take their findings with large doses of salts of disbelief.

Charles Darwin was on much firmer ground, when he held that life on Earth began millions of years ago, we are not sure how many, and how it slowly evolved into different forms of fish, reptiles, animals and humans. He held that we humans evolved from apes and produced cogent evidence to support his thesis. Sadly, even today the majority of human beings, most of all in India, subscribe to make-believe. I recall Zail Singh's charmingly naïve comment when he was shown the original manuscript of Darwin's Origin of the Species. “You and I may be descended from bandars (monkeys) but how can Indira Gandhi be descended from a monkey?" Gianiji also believed in astrology. Despite my savaging him on the subject many times he persisted is believing in it: “Kucch na kucch zaroor hai iss vicch”—there must be something or the other in it. He even inaugurated a conference of astrologers.

One can ignore stupid people like those in the film world lending their ears to the irrational, but when people in positions of power do so, one has to take serious notice. Would you trust an army commander who waits for his Rahu kalam to take a vital decision? When the BJP's think tank changed the entrance gate of its office from one side to the other, because their vastu expert advised them to do so, I felt their brains needed examining. And now Shatrughan Sinha, who has achieved his life's ambition, wants his office floor to be changed because his numerologist has advised him it would be more auspicious. Where has his cynicism and rationality disappeared? Nostradamus's gibberish which millions read with awe and wonder has been finally proved to be false. According to him, all of us should have been dead a couple of years ago. We are still alive and continue to multiply.

It is a sad spectacle when the light of reason gives way to the darkness of superstition. The last week of this month should be an appropriate time to ponder over the subject.

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