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Horoscopes in the time of Corona

In these trying times of much death and many obituaries, one such last month of the non-Corona category caught my eye. Astrologer Bejan Daruwalla of the weekly astrology column ‘Ganesha Speaks’ fame passed away of pneumonia and lung infection, but not before predicting that the current epidemic would fade away by the end of May. Alas.

My memory of Bejan Daruwalla goes back many years, when the reading of a newspaper on Sundays was a cherished family ritual. In the 80s, coming to modernity necessarily meant being a good, newspaper-reading citizen. As historian and political scientist Benedict Anderson informed us, the modern nation is an imagined community made possible because we imagine ourselves as part of the same nation, through acts such as reading the newspaper. Except that my act of imagination included not just my nation, but the imagined nation of those that shared my Sun Sign.

Along with development and debt, violence and sport, the Olympics, floods and drought, I read my horoscope as predicted by this man with that delicious name destined in other worlds perhaps to launch a thousand speakeasies. In those Sundays of always sepia sunshine, my future shone bright and the world seemed achievable.

Fear & frenzy

In the midst of frenzied, daily discussions on masks, vaccines, ventilators and medicines, when I heard of Daruwalla’s passing, it seemed to be another sign that the world as we know it is truly coming to an end. I mourned, just a wee bit.

The act of mourning, as most of us well know by now is never about anybody but ourselves and our vanishing sense of memory and temporality. We rely on friends, family, and celebrities, to preserve for us our childhood, our youth, our tremulous possibilities, and the many other lives we could have and have led. Every now and then we turn to them to recover the joie de vivre of an assumed immortality and vigour. And mine seemed connected to this childhood act of reading horoscopes in the newspaper. No more Sun Sign mumbo-jumbo for me, I thought.

The world, however, doesn’t seem to agree. Even as a New York Times headline asks if the coronavirus will kill astrology, other reports of robust optimism are noting the increasing rise in those consulting astrologers, tarot readers, numerologists and the like. The business of quelling uncertainty, is apparently not just the domain of epidemiologists and virologists. And why ever not? The promises of modernity, globalisation and ‘progress’ have produced radical disenchantment, misery and increasing violence travelling through the bodies of the world’s most marginalised citizens. The world erupts in protests as I write, and there is no end in sight. So why not astrology for whatever it can offer as respite and repose?

Lest you think that I’m moving eggplant-like from one end of the reason/ unreason binary to another, let me try something else here.

Anthropology, when studying cultural change, ferment, and radical breakdown, occupies itself with understanding cosmologies. Unlike the theoretical physicists, anthropologists understand cosmology as a set of understandings, beliefs, and practices of a culture vis-à-vis the origin of the universe, and the role that humans are seen to play in the furthering of such a plot. In other words, cosmology refers to the study of a whole and complete structure of meaning, a world.

Lies put to test

At a time like this, when the modern and the non-modern worlds (if there be any benefit at all in thinking in this bifurcated fashion) seem to be struggling, and all the lies of the universe are being put to the test, we need new cosmologies.

And I, for one, can see the possibilities of a common minimum programme as it were, between all cosmologies alike. For they all agree that the myths we have functioned by will not hold us in good stead.

We cannot prosper forever at the cost of the lives of others. The health of all is needed for the health of one. And there will be no future without the insistence and imagination of a future for all.

So now when I read my horoscope, in honour of a future yet to come, I will expand my imagination to include everyone born under the same sign as me, deserving therefore of the same promise of life as mine, and the same hopes, possibilities, futures and lives. In this meeting of cosmologies, the sun and the stars rise for all, and the bell tolls for thee.

Mathangi Krishnamurthy teaches anthropology for a living, and is otherwise invested in names, places, animals, and things.

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Printable version | Aug 8, 2020 6:10:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/horoscopes-in-the-time-of-corona/article31812040.ece

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