Dawn News

A poor nation’s Nostradamuses

-Illustration by Eefa Khalid / Dawn.com

I have been in the television industry for the past seven years now – 14 if you count the way they do in jails. An important part of this job is to spend hours thinking of concepts, program topics and scripts, especially when we are working with a new host whom the viewers haven’t yet accepted as their savior, or somebody who for some reason has lost the ratings he or she used to enjoy.

The procedure goes something like this: We first try to come up with something new, which we hardly, if ever, achieve – there’s nothing new left, what with so much of programming and so many hosts continuously doing five-days-a-week shows. So the next best thing to finding something new is finding something that will make people cry! Yes, this is the ‘new’ thing. One would imagine that the frustrated audience would like shows like Hasbe Haal and Khabarnaak – they do, as is evident from their consistent ratings – but what absolutely blows the roof are shows that make people cry.

There’s no shortage of stories that make people cry, but there are times when for some reason (like time constraint) we are unable to find one, and we know that the Saith is not going to tolerate one more show with low ratings. As a result, even while biting a few fingernails, we have the consolation of knowing that we still have one trick up our sleeves, and which does the job more often than not. This tried and tested formula amounts to inviting an astrologist, palmist, numerologist and such, with two distinct advantages. One, no executive committee or any other board worth its salt would even think of rejecting the idea. Two, these people give you a lot of flexibility:

You can ask these experts about future political occurrences, ups and downs in the lives of celebrities, and conjugal fortunes of even the ordinary Jamil and Jamila. TV hosts make them comment on the downfalls of politicians they (the hosts) don’t like, and celebrities that don’t turn up on their shows. Housewives and girls who can’t wait to become brides love calling them up on live shows to hear good things about themselves, and for their five minutes of fame. Young men want to know whether they can somehow get their degree, survive the competitive atmosphere and get the wife right out of their dreams. In short, the solution makes everybody happy.

I am not complaining, but a few things about this state of affairs are mystifying, to say the least. For example, people enthusiastically seeking marriage consultation with an expert (who will remain anonymous as far as this piece is concerned) and who, as is well-known, herself is a divorcee is beyond me. Not that I have anything against people who opt for divorce; only in this case if the lady’s astrological knowledge couldn’t help her own marriage, what are the odds for others? You would recall the funny incident where Mamus wife (no less) lost the election for neighborhood councilor. One would have expected Mamu, with all his foresight, to have told her not to compete in the first place, unless he wanted her to lose (something that can’t entirely be ruled out).

A few years ago I had invited Sheikh Rasheed along with two other politicians on a program we did those days. For the “lighter” part, we had lined up a few astronomers. (The “lighter” part is what we call the part after the last break, usually reserved for singers, palmists, naat khwaans or inspirational stories, etc.). The other two panelists (politicians) couldn’t make it, and we at the last hour had to make a decision to either drop the program or to keep on going with Sheikh Rasheed alone. (In the interest of airing differing viewpoints, having one politician for the duration of the show is usually avoided.) It was ultimately decided to strike a balance by devoting the first half to the Sheikh saab alone and in the second half bringing in the “experts” on set with him. It was 2009 (if I am not mistaken), and all the prophets on the show were convinced that the Zardari government won’t last another three months. Sheikh Rasheed too concurred with the prediction. What happened right after that show aired was a huge surprise: all the channels started calling Rasheed to their shows mainly for predictions and prophesies; which initially he loved. However, later, when on board a flight the passenger on his right asked him, ‘Jee aage kya hone ja raha hai?’ he realised what had happened. He told me later, ‘Marwa diya yaar tumne, logon nein mujhe najoomi samajhna shuru kar diya hai!’ These days, however, he again doesn’t mind attention (of any sort), and he has a number of program hosting offers too, which I believe he should accept since it is highly unlikely he will win another election even if it is held inside Lal Haveli. The fact that he has recently endorsed a cough syrup might be an indication that we will soon see him as a TV host. And why not! He is through and through a media person, and knows the art of prophesy, that is, saying what everybody wants to hear, e.g., ‘Hakoomat ja rahi hai’.

There was a time when we used to have astrologers, palmists and numerologists ruling our media industry. Then, like a breath of fresh air, came experts who told us which stones to wear for what desired end. Now the wazeefa industry is also not doing too shabbily. I recently lost a friend when I was unable to make Bilal Kutb talk to his wife. (What use is a friend working for media, if he can’t even arrange a telephonic conversation with Kutb!)

A sub-inspector in Lahore, a very dear friend, told me that the toughest assignment he was ever given was the crackdown on pirs, the Aamil Nadir Kaliyas of Lahore. The instructions from Shahbaz Sharif to the police were simple: Put every ‘practitioner’ behind bars without exception. Shahbaz even gave all the SHOs his personal number in case influential people pressurised them. All hoardings were removed and arrests took place where there was resistance. Although finally they got rid of everybody publicly doing it (it must be going on underground), the amazing aspect was IGs and DSPs calling my friend up for the release of certain practitioners!

I know of multimillionaire industrialists who have these fortune tellers offer their priceless opinions, which are not only considered seriously by the owner; but employees, such as retailing heads (even if they are Oxford graduates, with experience of working for Harrods), are made to have meetings with them for the organisation’s good.

Hasan Nisar summed it up very well. We were having a chat on the subject and he said something like, ‘This is a nation in which a successful man is one who owns a blackberry, an iPad and has an EVO device in his Mercedes; while he makes it a point to have regular consultations with his aamil  on how he should go about his life.’


The author is a journalist, director/producer, actor, documentary maker, blogger/columnist, managing director of a theatre company called Mishermayl and a struggling musician.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Email feedback and queries to Dawn.com's editorial team, or visit our contact page

The writer is a member of the band Beygairat Brigade.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Comments (56) Closed

Jul 26, 2012 12:36pm
Then there is the case of astrologer Evangeline Adams, arrested in NY for fortune telling, but the judge acquitted her after she described his sons' characters based on their astrology chars. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangeline_Adams
Jul 25, 2012 02:36pm
Truth is that astrological predictions are no better or worse than economic predictions by our renowned economists. Yet economics claims to be a science.
Jul 26, 2012 05:24pm
Wonderful comment
Gauhar Vatsyayan
Jul 26, 2012 09:18am
NIce reply Viiiiiiiij............
Jul 25, 2012 03:01pm
Haha. Well said. Yes come on BNN ppl, use your real names.
Jul 25, 2012 03:17pm
this is just as ridiculous if some one saying our muslim neighbours just go around and place bombs to kill infidels to 'save' his religion and to make god happier...dont generalize things which even most of hindus only read in newspapers with surprise..like marrying donkeys, trees etc
Jul 25, 2012 10:10am
welcome to Dawn. The way you have started is great, starting with a cutting edge topic and a kind of critique that is rare in the print, social media and around 50 TV channels. No wonder its rating and "saith" factor that has taken control over almost each and every thing aired (and these 30 days of Ramazan we can see horrible cocktail of Religious/political programs).
Jul 25, 2012 09:30am
Dear Mr. Saeed. Islamic Astrology is more of Mysticism than Science. We in India take Astrology Seriously and We have university courses for that. Vedic Astrology is Pure Maths with Cause & Effect philosophy as per different permutations and combinations. We have Google now. I have experienced myself where past & future has been said & predicted with exact date. However you have been conditioned in a different society & lived in a different culture and its reflected in your article. Visit India and I will change your perception, opinion and viewpoint altogether. With Love - From India
Concerned Netizen
Jul 25, 2012 01:35pm
I am sorry to hear that you are generalizing the so-called practice of a "shubh" marriage. Sad as well because you said you are "liberal". I am also a liberal guy, but I won't go around generalizing that every Muslim man beats his wife if she puts nail polish or slight make up just because Taliban do that. I hope you understand that such marriages like "marrying to a donkey", if at all happens, is obviously NOT practiced by the educated section of the society and must be confined to only a very few who think they are still living in stone-age. Please do not generalize such things. It shows that there is some amount of hatred left in you. Peace
Sikandar Ali
Jul 26, 2012 11:54am
Excellent comment
Aftab Saeed
Jul 26, 2012 11:39am
There is more to divorce than just saying Talaq three times. But u will get bored by it. Just c how many divorces take place in the Muslim community. Now compare it to the number of divorces that occur in the so-called most civilized world that even takes the roof off the head of the poor husband. As for penguins, u must have seen a nun. C the pictures of the western women of the Victorian period and u shall find no difference in how they dress and between non fashionable women of today. Your Hindus used to dress very modestly till Bollywood decided to compete with the Joneses. Another news for u...the Hindus r the most married of men in the world(in case u next take up poligyny).
Jul 27, 2012 03:34am
The correct equationis F= G*M1*M2/(R^2) For a PhD froma leading university in USA, you cant even get a basic high school formula correct.
Jul 26, 2012 03:36pm
Agreed - Urdu is the lingua-franca of Pakistan after all
Jul 25, 2012 04:06pm
???????? ????????? ??? ?????? ??? ?? ??? ?? ??? ????? ??? ?? ??? ?? ?????? ???? ?? ????? ??????? ???? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ???? ?? ???? ??? ? ?????? ? ???? ??? ????????? ?? ??? ???? ??? ??? ???????? ???? ?? ????? ??????? ?? ???? ? ?????? ?? ???? ??? ??????? ?? ???? ?? ????? ?????? ???? ??? ?? ???? ????? ?? ???? ??? ?? ???? ????? ? ??? ????????? ?? ??? ??? ??? ?? ??? ?????? ????? ??? ???? ????? ???? ??? ?? ??? ?? ???? ? ???? ???? ???? ?? ????? ???? ?? ?? ?????? ???? ???? ???? ??? ?? ???? ?? ????? ?? ?? ?? ???? ?? ? ??? ??? ?? ???? ??? ??? ?????? ?? ?????? ?? ? ?????? ???? ?? ? ??????? ?? ??? ??? ??? ?? ??? ????????? ?? ???? ???? ???? ??????? ??? ?? ???? ?? ???? ???? ???????? ???? ??? ?? ???? ????? ????? ??? ?? ???? ???? ???? ??? ??? ??? !!!! ?? ????? ?? ??? ???? ??????? ???? ?? ?????? ?? ??? ??? ?? ?? ??? ?? (??????: ???? ???? ??? ?? ???? "??? ?? ????? ??? ????" ??)
Jul 25, 2012 03:50pm
Sadqay Ja'van, Struggling musician? That was the best song of the years. As far as the article is concerned. It is pretty witty
Jul 25, 2012 09:56am
Dear Aftab Bhai, Astrology & Astrolgers has been mocked at , looked down upon for ages , yet those who mocked at them , entered through the " back door" to consult these same astrologers.The question arises is " Astrology " a bluff ? Astrology was practised 5000 yrs ago in Indian subcontinent to forecast weather ,drought , famine etc. It was done through a calculation of complicated matematical equation.A good Astrolger if they have studied the subject properly can INDEED FORECAST THE FUTURE.CAN PREDICT EXACTLY WHEN THE INCIDENT CAN HAPPEN.In India an astrlogy stream called " KP Astrology " can indeed do it.
Jul 25, 2012 12:17pm
you have completely missed the point of the article... besides astrology is complete hokum and nonsense am ashamed that india offers university courses for such nonsense no wonder our education sucks
Qasim Ali
Jul 25, 2012 11:49am
@Ali S you can write with your own name. People will love to read comments of BNN guys
Jul 25, 2012 06:39am
Interestingly we are all overwhelmed with the concept of astrology, palmist etc. You have summed it up all in very fine words. Keep up these good words!
Jul 25, 2012 06:57am
Very simple reason for having these amil type baba on media..both media and baba ji did not eat "Allu anday" so far.
Jul 25, 2012 07:20am
Good to finally see a somewhat mild but much needed criticism of astrology and the mythical arts of fortune telling that have absolutely no grounding in reality and have misguided our people since ages. The author, however, makes a serious mistake( I hope it was a typo) of mixing up astronomers with astrologers, at the beginning of paragraph 6 where he is talking about the Sheikh Rasheed show. "For the “lighter” part, we had lined up a few astronomers" Please note that the two are remarkable different. Astronomers are scientists studying the outer space to enhance our understanding of stars, galaxies and other extra-terrestrial bodies. Their work is well-grounded in science, relying on evidence and rigorous experiments. On the other hand, astrologers are pseudo-scientists that make predictions that are often not falsifiable, vague and not based on a scientific understanding of the world. Kindly, keep in mind this distinction and make the correction for the benefit of the readers.
Jul 25, 2012 07:23am
Good to finally see a somewhat mild but much needed criticism of astrology and the mythical arts of fortune telling that have absolutely no grounding in reality and have misguided our people since ages. The author, however, makes a serious mistake( I hope it was a typo) of mixing up astronomers with astrologers, at the beginning of paragraph 6 where he is talking about the Sheikh Rasheed show. "For the “lighter” part, we had lined up a few astronomers"
Jul 25, 2012 08:24am
A good read.
Ali S
Jul 25, 2012 09:33am
Complete rehash of NFP's article this week. Seems like Beyghairat Brigade got their lessons in history from NFP articles as well. These guys are completely derivative and masquerading as some kind of revolutionaries. And Aaloo Anday was musically atrocious
Jul 25, 2012 09:41am
People, he's not making fun of astrology. He's satirizing media and society!
Jul 25, 2012 09:42am
So what? There are a number of writers who are inspired by NFP. He's a fantastic influence and example to follow. And btw, Alu Andey was one of the most unique songs to come out in Pakistan.
Aftab Saeed
Jul 25, 2012 09:52am
As a liberable Muslim, I can't still overlook the fact that resorting to predictions thru any means, whether astrology or hand and footprints is tantamount to knowledge of the unforseen that is the sole domain of the Creator. Hence, any such indulgence is akin to shirk...take it or leave it. I am, however, amused but don't like to ridicule the strange practices of our Hindu neighbours in marrying their daughters first to a donkey, then a tree before the seven circumambulations with a man around the fire to cater for the atrologer's opinion that the third marriage is going to b a 'shubh' one.
Jul 25, 2012 04:45pm
exactly, aalu andey was an awesome song...and Mr Ali.S, NFP and Ali Aftab are much better revolutionaries than Jamat-e-Islami
Jul 25, 2012 05:13pm
Yaar ye sab khabron mein hota hai. Maine aaj tak kabhi kisi ko aise dekha suna nahin. India is a country of 1200 millions people. Majority religion Hinduism has various kind of practices, thats looks no standardized law for religion practices among different states / regions / castes but that gives flexibility too. Believe me what you said is very uncommon practice among poor / illeterate people only. More like chat-pati khabar for media.
Jul 25, 2012 05:46pm
Really interesting except that you have mentioned that donkey ( Hassan Nisar ) in the end.
Jul 25, 2012 05:52pm
no urdu please. you can go to jang or other media. Leave Dawn alone.
Jul 25, 2012 06:56pm
It is no denying that hindus and sikhs are far more liberal than their muslim counterparts. In the west it is the muslims who create all trouble for others,as well as for himself. I am sure there are fanatic hindus and sikhs, but they never come on the streets of London denouncing everything which people in the west had fought for centuries.
Jul 25, 2012 07:04pm
What an article, simply the best.
Jul 25, 2012 07:10pm
Well, well, well. Paranoia, no? Not sure if anyone from the BNN Team actually did comment but as their fan, nice to see them get under your skins like this. Just as you think NFP is an inspiration and ALu ANdey was unique song, similarly people can choose to think the opposite too. And are entitled to their opinions as well.
Aftab Saeed
Jul 25, 2012 08:11pm
Sorry to all my Hindu friends who have not liked my comment. U will pardon me and give me some margin because I did not invent it. In fact it was in the newspaper about a pair of very popular Indian celebrities tying the knot. Anyways I beg your paedon if it exists among the ignoramuses only. God knows v have plenty of our own.
Jul 25, 2012 09:19pm
What to study or not study depends on ones interest. Why should you feel she for it! I am an Indian, working a leading university in USA. I have a PhD in Chemistry. I am required to write this, as you shouldnt consider my comments as a another wall writing. Google "how Indian astrology works", you will find that its complicated math's involving the latitude and longitude of your birthplace, date and time of your birth, and the position of several planets, sun and the moon at the time of your birth According to modern science ....F=M1M2/r2 ie, force between two bodies (or planets) is inversely proportional to distance. This is what astrology is all about. The force (positive or negative) exerted by planets on you, which depends on location (birthplace), date and time of your birth, and the position of several planets, sun and the moon at the time of your birth. According to me, whether to believe in astrology or not is secondary. What is important is to appreciate the astonishing astrology calculation especially because it was developed during ancient times (vedic period). I wonder if those people had more advanced scientific knowledge than us. When you can wonder pyramids, why not astrology.
Jul 26, 2012 10:53am
Astrology may not be a science, but it works like psychology. By making people believe in something, it can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Let's not underestimate the power of belief.
Jul 25, 2012 10:47pm
Let's not underestimate the power of belief in making reality happen. Astrologers can make people believe in a positive outcome resulting in a self- fulfilling prophecy.
Suresh K.
Jul 26, 2012 12:10am
@Aftab Saeed To each his own. We Hindus (well the majority) tend to believe that there is a certain science to the art of predictions. While there are bad and phoney astrologers/palmists/numerologists (just as there are some bad politicians), the entire flock doesn't deserve the wrath of the sceptics. As one would observe statistically about Hindu marriages, the percentage of wedlocks not going as per plan is miniscule. This is not to say that love-marriages aren't destined for the long haul or there aren't any divorces in arranged marriages. Vedic science mapped the planetary and star positions (for astrology) long long ago when the whole world was thinking the earth was flat. Same goes for birthstones - it is a science. Just certain cultures don't entertain these anymore I would say. Then there is also Vaastu - which is the science of construction with auspicious proportions/direction for dwellings, business offices, etc. (like the Chinese Feng Shui). The world is an Amazing Place.
Jul 26, 2012 12:56am
You're right people will do anything to get their 72 virgins in heaven :)
Kaka Khan
Jul 26, 2012 03:16am
I think you got that wrong MKS. It is people like Aftab and Ali Gul Pir who are seeming to get under BNN's skin. BNN guys have been around for years, but it took Aftab and Pir just a single parody song each to become big. And by the way, not only NFP is an influence on Aftab and Pir and other political parody and satirists out there, he is also good friends of the BNN people. But let's face it. BNN or theformer 4-Men-Show guys have been losing steam and audiences fast. And they're coming across as hurt cry babies on Twitter.
B R Chawla
Jul 26, 2012 04:30am
Astrology ! No I do not believe in it. It may be partially right by a fluke strengthening Its credence with a few. At the same time marvel at the exactness with which the astrologers have been calculating the position of the stars since ancient times. They must have been great mathematicians or astronomers who invented decimal, zero, pie and what have you when the Europeans were still living in jungles. No blind faith! Astrology is not an exact science - only a untamed off shoot of astronomy at best. If it were an exact science many historical catastrophes could have been averted.
Inayatullah Mian
Jul 26, 2012 05:05am
When the originality of thoughts and simplicity of words resonate and appear in ink, The readers are apt topause and think. And then come diverse comments, positive, negative, some accounting for some dissonance, and some funny an d witty. I feel our opinions are learned--mostly product of our culture, upbringing, and may be religious convictions.Opinions are opinions but should we give them protected-species status always. I think it was a satire about our society and the TV, entertaining, engaging, and innocently trusting.
Just Zen
Jul 26, 2012 05:09am
What a ridiculous comment, Mr. Saeed! I am a bit dispappopinted shallowness of your comment above. I never heard about such a ritual among Hindus as mentioned by you (and I have lived in many places/states in India, including >15 yrs. in a small villege). I wish you understood the definition of a Liberal: A progressive person who is not judgemental and analyzes the data before making any conclusions. I wish your had done some research before making outlandish claims/comments about Hindu rituals. BTW: I am an Atheist (and possess a Ph.D. degree in Engineering) and do not believe in destiny or predicting the future. I do believe your own deeds determine your future.
Jul 26, 2012 05:27am
As a Liberal Hindu I also feel surprised when a marriage is broken by uttering 3 words - Talaq. Also I feel surprised why women are dressed like penguins
Jul 26, 2012 05:30am
I agree with you Ranjan. These people think astrology as some mystic science. For us its an offshoot of Vedic Mathematics. Parashar and KP are very evolved methods for prediction. Actually you cannot teach Quantum Physics to people who are studying Addition and Subtraction now
Jul 26, 2012 07:53am
Why not! who made this rule. It was relevant and it can be read by majority of the readers. It felt like a fresh breath seeing the Urdu transcript in the chain. After all it's a readers based site, using English as its medium.
Jul 26, 2012 05:43am
Singh, You think Astrology is Nonsense and we accept your difference of opinion. But have you studied yourself any book of astrology ?? Its maths. I think you had a bad experience with a cheat which made your opinion. I have complete sympathy with you. People like B.V Raman and K.N Rao are known Worldwide. World Famous Mathematician Shakuntala Devi Turned into a great Astrologer becoz of her prowess in Mathematics. You need years to study it.
Jul 26, 2012 05:44am
good article
Jul 26, 2012 05:59am
A broken clock is "right" twice in 24 hours. Need we say more? If astrology is "scientific" because it involves a lot of math, then who's to say that believers of "intelligent design" are wrong as they use a lot of "scientific" terminology (maybe not a "lot")?
PAK Tester
Jul 26, 2012 06:05am
@Salaam You mean the women does not deserve heaven or you mean they get 72 virgin men.
Jul 26, 2012 06:09am
You commented our education sucks ! Barrack Obama said - American Students need to study like Indians and Chinese !!! The way we were educated, we stand globally. m not sure about you
Jul 26, 2012 06:16am
Nagas eat dogs and Doms eat rats, That doesnt mean all the Indians eat Dogs and Rats ^^
Jul 26, 2012 06:51am
Astrology is a valid science dear friend. I've personally witnessed vedic astrology produce accurate results time and again. If you dismiss something as 'hokum' without taking the trouble to know anything at all about it then you are simply being irrational and judgmental. Please look up this video on youtube that goes under the title "Michael Shermer debunked by Astrologer on his own show". Vedic astrology is put under test under controlled conditions and the results are will interest you to say the least. Do take a look buddy.
Jul 26, 2012 08:32am
Astrology fascinates many, and i don't think that its bad, every individual has his/ her own right to select what they want to write, read or do. therefore we should not hurt anyone by saying that its nonsense. and by the way astrology gives you guidelines but only believing it and not concentrating on your own efforts is not right
Jul 26, 2012 08:42am
What has being friends got to do with this? Can they not disagree on stuff? Unless you are suggesting it is all a charade. Bbrigade and Ali PIr have become instantly popular but what have they brought forward after that( minus A G as his hit is pretty recent so we can wait and see). No matter what their audiences are still limited, whereas, BNN's is more diverse. The article itself is not a comparison b/w 2 styles of satire, Murad and Qasim Ali made it so. So, you be the judge on that as to whose followers are more rattled over this. again, everyone is entitled to their opinions.