Quite a lot of concern has been expressed over what is likely to happen this year on the fourteenth of August. In fact, at least six people have asked me if I have started to stock up on provisions — essentials like wheat flour, rice, lentils and drinking water. I have always been something of a sceptic and invariably took the position that nothing disastrous was going to happen. However, if such an alarm had been raised about thirty years ago, members of the Doomsday Club would have consulted the oracle up north whose reputation had spread far and wide.
Some of you might have heard of him. He was an astrologer in Rawalpindi in the 1980s that was consulted on a regular basis by Pakistani presidents, prime ministers, politicians, industrialists, cricketers, bankers, actors and people from all walks of life. For fifty rupees, he would tell you what you wanted to know … and also what you didn’t want to know. He was something out of the Old Testament — a cross between a retired patwari and the guy from Mount Ephraim who gave his mother eleven hundred shekels of silver. He used to hang around a bicycle-repair shop which also doubled as a tea shop where the brew which was served was five parts sugar four parts milk and one part tea. The shop was in striking distance of the Murree Brewery. I went to see him because I was writing a feature on people who claim they can predict the future through reading palms. Instead, I was treated to a new broadcasting orthodoxy and received a lesson on how numbers have played a role in determining significant political events in the past.
We sat on a charpoy under a shady peepul tree while I hoped that the chorus of pigeons holding forth in the upper branches would postpone their morning toilet. After putting down his cup the soothsayer suddenly said, “All important events can be explained through a predetermined sequence of numbers. Let’s start with 1947, the year this country came into existence. Now add four to seven and what do you get?”
“Eleven,” I replied pleased that the exercise was still at a stage where it hadn’t gotten complicated. ”Now add eleven to forty-seven and what do you get?”
“Right!” The exclamation was something in between a seven-no-trump call and the roar of a hungry lion on the Serengeti whose meal had been pinched by hyenas. .
“Wasn’t that the year when Martial Law was declared and democracy came to an end?” There was a certain hush and a liberal quantity of bird droppings anointed the soothsayer’s left shoulder. “Now take five and eight and add them. What do you get?’
“Right.” The astrologer rubbed his hands together. “Now add thirteen to fifty-eight and what do you get”.
“Seventy-one — the year Pakistan lost half her country and the end of Mr Jinnah’s Pakistan.” As soon as I had made this comment one of the feathered vertebrates in the branches above in a display of intense nationalism streaked my blazer and anointed one of my brass buttons. However, I decided to play the game through to the end. I added seven to one making eight and added the eight to seventy-one … making seventy-nine … the year ZA Bhutto was hanged. The relentless logic of numbers started to become a little alarming especially when the soothsayer was able to work out the year of Ziaul Haq’s demise. Soon after the fellow disappeared and I gave up playing the game of numbers, for one never really knows who is listening.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2014.