Wednesday, June 01, 2011


The other day, a friend forwarded to me a message, which among other things, said that according to Feng Shui, 2011 is a very auspicious year because October 2011 has 5 Saturdays, 5 Sundays and 5 Mondays. This is very rare, the message claimed, as it occurs only once in 823 years. Therefore the Chinese consider it the Year of Moneybags. Those who forward the message to ten people would come by a lot of riches before October 2011, the message assured.

When I was a child, the world war had just ended and India was a nascent nation with little resources and many mouths to feed. Food, clothes, paper, everything was in short supply. In the 1950’s, even calendars were hard to come by. It would often be end- January if not early February by the time the calendar for the new year would reach home.

It was in the era of shortages. At that time, I did not know the Hindi word jugaad which literally means an improvisation necessitated by lack of resources. Had I known that word, those were the days which I would have termed jugaad-days!

My grandfather was great at jugaad. He discovered that the calendar for the month of January in any year is the same as that for the month of May in the preceding year. Naturally, February would be June (minus, of course, the last one/two days) of the previous year. So, till the new year’s calendar arrived, you could make do – jugaad – with the previous year’s!

Later, the bright spark that I was discovered that in leap years, the calendars for January and July are in sync; in non-leap years, it is October that is identical with January.

Now, what do Feng Shui and the Year of Moneybags have to do with jugaad? Be patient, gentle reader. It just occurred to me that as 2011 is not a leap year, the calendars for October and January are identical. If October 2011 has 5 Saturdays, 5 Sundays and 5 Mondays, so must January 2011. And May 2010. Therefore this month of five long weekends is not an unusual feature, I surmised.

How right I was! The entire calendar for 2011 is identical to that of 2005. And 1994. And 1983. And going forward, 2022. And 2033 and six years after that. Each of these must be Years of Moneybags for the Feng Shui-gullible Chinese! Looks like there would be at least one such year every decade, not every 823 years!

So this is clearly a cyber-myth propagated and perpetuated by us who swallow whatever forwards we receive and in turn pass it on.

That reminds me of what quizmasters consider a chestnut. Mr Knowall asks, ‘Why is the time shown in most of the advertisements for watches and clocks 10:08 or near-about?’ The Smart Alec who answers, ‘It commemorates the time of U S President Abraham Lincoln’s death’ is awarded the points. And if your answer is 'Watchmakers in the US were given a tax benefit for displaying 10:08 as the time to commemorate the time of Abraham Lincoln's death', you get bonus points!

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The answer is probably quite simply that it looks better, as the clock has a 'smile' on its face (not just a marketing gimmick, it really does look better than a 'down turned mouth' at 8.20). For aesthetic reasons, one would not like the two hands neither nearly covering each other nor nearly in a straight line. By default, the 10:08 looks pretty good.

Aesthetics apart, it makes eminent practical sense: the hands stay clear of other subsidiary dials. Day/date window are most often are at 3, 6 or 9 and this position does not obstruct them. Most often, the logo of the manufacturer on the face is placed above the centre, and having the hands at 10:08 causes the viewer’s eye to naturally follow to the trough, thus bringing the view right to the trademark. Also, the brand name which is embossed often below the centre, is clearly visible in the 10:08 position.

Another popular quiz question: ‘What is the expansion of the distress call SOS? ‘Save Our Souls’, did you say? Imagine the wireless operation in a sinking ship sending out a distress sign – ‘Save Our Souls’. Very evocative, yes, but absolutely baseless! The fact is that in it is a backronym, not an acronym, in the sense that unlike in acronyms, SOS came first and then the expansion! There are other Imaginative (Imaginary?) expansions too, like ‘Save Our Ship’, ‘Send Out Sailors’ and ‘Survivors on Ship’!

The reality: in Morse code, S (did-did-did) is represented by three dots and O (dah-dah-dah) by three dashes. SOS (did-did-did dah-dah-dah did-did-did) was an easily recognizable signal because of the rhythm of the beat. )

Reverting to Feng Shui, I did not forward that message to ten people: I do not want that pot of gold!


Balachandran V said...

The bit on SOS was an eye-opener! I had always thought it too melodramatic and tragic to send our message, 'Save our Souls', as if they were already en route heaven!

Never been good at figures, so the calendar thing is too confusing!

People who fall for the 'send-this-message-to-ten-and-win-money' are not gullible, just greedy and stupid. If there is anybody I hate more than anything else, it is that set of people who forward such messages.

As ever, great reading, thanks!

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

You dis-somethinged me about the SOS thing long ago. And now, I have found everything that I wanted to know about watch faces but was too embarrassed to ask! Thanks.