- 1948: Mahatma Gandhi assassinated.
- 1957: Dr Ambedkar died.
- 1966: Indira became Prime Minister.
- 1975: Indira declared the Emergency.
- 1984: Indira died.
- 1993: Latur earthquake.
The clincher? Add up the digits in each of these years. You get 22 every time! 22, the sage men pronounced, was India's unlucky number.
So why 22? What does 22 have to do with disasters in India?
Short answer: nothing. Long answer: nothing.
Here's one thing those post-quake astrologers didn't say. You take any two numbers that differ by nine and add their digits, you'll get the same total. Or if not, add the digits of the resulting number and so on, till you get a single digit total (above, 4 -- which is 2 + 2). This single digit is the digital root of the number; and numbers that differ by nine have the same digital root.
Seems startling? Really, it isn't. If we had eight fingers and not 10, and thus an octal rather than our decimal system, the same property would have held for 7, not 9. If we had 37 fingers, the same thing would have happened with 36. Though I'll say this, I'm glad I don't have 37 fingers.
Nor do astrologers, actually. Even so, you should pay no attention to their claims about years adding up to 22.
"OK, I got that", you think, "but why these major disasters every 9 years?"
Ah, now that's something else the astrologers were silent about, but are adept at: finding real world happenings to fit their fantasies. In any given year, there are bound to be at least a few major disasters or tragedies or deaths of major figures. Try it for yourself. 1962? War with China. 1967? Koyna earthquake. 1997? Diana dies. 2002? Gujarat drowns in blood. 2004? Tsunami.
See? It's easy. If you have a sequence of years, it's certain that there was some disaster, likely several, in each. And this is why you have the numerologists now pronouncing that 26 -- or 8 -- is our unlucky number: after all, the Kutch quake, the tsunami and the Bombay deluge all happened on the 26th of the month. And that, they say, was foretold at our very birth: 15-8-1947 itself has a digital root of 8!
Naturally you must forget that after Latur, it was 22, or 4, that was unlucky.
So let's not get fooled by our astrologer pals who claim one number or another is bad for us. But let's give them credit for recognizing and playing on something we all like: finding patterns. There is something strangely comforting about discovering patterns in the daily randomness of events. It's a thumb to suck, something to hold on to. Even if we can do nothing about it, it gives us some little peace to be told that in 2014, 9 years from now, we can expect a disaster. (For that matter, in 2013, 8 years from now).
Never mind that such a prediction is akin to predicting sunrise tomorrow.
But here's something else to chew on: randomness implies patterns. If you tossed a coin 20 times, for example, what would you think were the odds of at least one sequence of four heads or four tails in a row? The answer, surprising to most of us, is that such a sequence is ... nearly certain. And yet, even after reading this here, you will be astonished when you do toss those four heads or four tails in a row. (Try it). And four-in-a-row is only one kind of pattern. In just those 20 tosses, any of us would find many others.
Finding patterns amidst chaos is all very well. But when astrologers start using those patterns to talk about "unlucky" days, and doomsday stuff, that's when we should call their bluff. Because that's when mumbo-jumbo has taken over from reason.
Raymond Smullyan, eminent logician, was once asked why he didn't believe in astrology. "I'm a Gemini", he said, "and Geminis never believe in astrology."
The year was 1966. Smullyan was 22 years old.
OK, so it wasn't 1966. He wasn't 22 either. But damn, today's the 8th! Of the 8th month!