The end is nigh?


Amy, a Facebook friend, posted on her page, “My wish is to know whether the world ends in 2012”.  I wanted to retort to Amy – “Don’t we all?” – but decided to test the same question on a few of my friends first. Surprisingly, most of them just shrugged their shoulders dismissively. There are a few who are concerned enough to raise a few worried frowns. I suppose they are the “glass is half empty” type and tend to read dark portent into any signs.

Of course, man has been obsessed with the concept of the apocalypse (end of the world) since time immemorial. It has been the topic of many a sermon, film, biblical passage, mythological construct, expressions of many religious faiths, and philosophical discussions. At a more earthly level it is evidenced by the appearance of the “sandwich men”. We call them the “sandwich men” because they strapped boards to their chests and on to their backs; all carried  and the dire warning “Repent! The end is nigh”. I used to see them parading up and down Oxford Street in London when I was there in the early 70s. I wonder if they are still at it.

In those days they used to be viewed as cranks to be treated with ridicule but with the recent “signs and warnings” around the world we are now not too sure.

Dire warnings and signs are indeed aplenty these days. There are scores of books, hundreds of articles and dozens of television documentaries depicting the critical state of our fragile earth.

Last week I saw a very good television documentary by the very reputable National Geographic channel showing very graphically the depletion of the ice floes in the Polar Regions and the consequent disastrous impact on the animal lives there.

Then there is the capricious weather pattern – featuring deluge-like floods in some parts of the world and famine induce drought in others, and of course, we cannot fail to notice the increasing frequency of earthquakes.

Those are just some of the natural disasters but what about the man-made ones of wars and environment degradation? With so much less-than-pleasant news staring us in the face it is enough to drive the more neurotic among us into the arms of the prophets of doom and the sandwich men.

This year is especially significant because of the Mayan Long Count calendar. The calendar was constructed by an advanced civilisation called the Mayans who ruled the roost in South America from 200-900 AD. At its zenith the Maya empire stretched around most parts of the southern states of Mexico and reached down to the current geographical locations of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and some of Honduras.

The Mayans were certainly no mugs. With their awe-inspiring architecture and sophisticated concepts of astronomy and mathematics they were undoubtedly one of the great civilisations of history. Then, almost in an instant, this sophisticated society which at its height boasted a population of over 20 millions, imploded. They just deserted their magnificent cities leaving all their intricate building structures and impressive pyramids to be claimed by the jungle. To this day their sudden demise remains one of the greatest archeological mysteries of our time.

While scholars and historians may lament the loss of this great people, most of us might not lose too much sleep over their demise, except for one of their legacies – the Long Count Calendar. Rather disturbingly, this calendar, designed by a great civilisation, marked 21st Dec 2012 as its last day.

Mythologists and Doomsday theorists, as is their wont, are ever ready to pounce on any significant date for them to spin their tales of end of days. In the past the prediction of the sudden end of the world has been the primarily the exclusive territory of religions. Now Science too seems to point to similar calamitous denouement, though it tended to place it at some time millions of years hence.

However, of late with the increase in natural and man-made disasters the doomsday scenario seems to creep closer and the fact that Mayan Long Count Calendar ends in 11 months’ time just add to our discomfiture.

I prefer to be one of the “my glass is half full” persons. I believe that while there is life, live. The Mayan never claimed to predict the end of the world. I think they just thought that it was not necessary to devise a calendar that would run beyond 5126 years. Even if they did (claim to predict the end of the world) they were at least 1000 years off the mark. Their own world ended quite suddenly in 900 A.D.

For those who may be driven to depression and contemplation of suicide by all the talks about the end of the world, let me share this view from a wise man: “To meet our end collectively in an apocalypse is not necessarily a bad thing. Though we loathe to talk about it, death is the inescapable fate of man. Dying alone is perhaps a worse fear than death itself.

The plausible possibility of an apocalypse at least provides the comfort of knowing that we will certainly not die alone. It would be an event shared by billions of others at about the same time”.