Monday, September 12, 2005
Rejoice, it took them longer to get assistance
An interesting bundle of statistics is floating around the internet. A bundle which somehow contrives to prove that we in India and Mumbai were actually better off on Terrible Tuesday compared to what New Orleans went and is still going through after Hurricane Katrina lashed the city.
There is no argument on fact, since the US government did react late, flood control mechanisms did fail and the administration did sleep through several warnings on the dangers of the levees collapsing or the water overflowing into the low lying New Orleans.
Some of the figures are terribly out of context as a Class III student will tell you but that’s not the issue here, it’s the genesis of such garbage that needs to be addressed. Okay, America took greater losses in Katrina compared to Mumbai. Possibly true, but do we know for a fact what we lost in Mumbai on Terrible Tuesday. I am yet to meet someone who says he has a clear economic fix, collective or individual. Its amazing how lack of knowledge turns into statistical reality !
How Does It Change My Life ?
That is still not the point. I have a simpler question, make that three. How does it matter if more people died in New Orleans or half the Home Guard is in Iraq fighting a lost cause ? Specifically, just how does it improve my life ? Let me put it this way - I utterly fail to understand how my gloating over America’s misfortune or its misplaced sense of priorities will improve the miserable quality of life that I am subjected to in this city and country.
Does a ridiculous statistical comparison change the fact that I am exposed to sub-Saharan living conditions in this country, right in my city, Katrina or no Katrina. Does it change the fact that garbage lies strewn on streets regularly, the streets themselves look and feel like they’ve been bombed out and people travel like cockroaches in suburban trains ? Remember, its proven that cattle travel in better conditions.
Sure, our criminally minded bretheren were extremely considerate on 26th July and did not display untoward or deviant behaviour. I would think that’s because the floods brought them to their knees as well, but let’s assume I am wrong. In which case, we should weed them out and reward them and/or forgive them for all their sins. After all, they more than cleared the benchmark set subsequently by a few natives of New Orleans.
Geniuses, All ?
Does this also mean that the folks at our civic and state administration are actually geniuses who toil night and day, who we’ve been unfairly pillorying against for, oh one almost forgot, not doing their job and taking a holiday when everyone needed them the most. Perhaps yes, because in New Orleans, federal assistance only reached a day later. So, by that stretch, the BMC need not arrive at all, or better still not exist.
Such fool-hardy statistical comparisons might warm the cockles of some self-exiles and make them say, “Hell, what we left behind was not bad at all. Maybe one day we should go back.” Or alternatively, it’s a taunt to the country whose nationality they’ve embraced, blindly or otherwise. “Hey, I gave up my third world existence for a first world and is this what I get ?”
Guess what, it still does not matter. I don’t know about the poor people in New Orleans. As a lover of jazz music, I would express more than the normal levels of sympathy with the citizens of that city but that’s about it. Their plight is not my biggest concern. My plight is. To the best of my mind, my continued misery in this lawless city is a bigger issue to me right now than a statistical comparison with someone who, guess what, might just be worse off.
I Pay, So I Deserve
Millions of people, like me, pay taxes in India. As tax-paying citizens, we deserve and will fight for the best that we should get. Whether it is better civic leadership or better responses to crisis situations. Terrible Tuesday was a disgraceful failure in leadership and only sought to highlight administrative rot that had set in long ago. It only brought to boil frustration that had been bubbling for years.
As a tax payer, and thus the salary payer of our many civic and government employees, I am entitled to service. They better serve me, because they are paid to do so. They are not paid to draw comparisons with someone who is worse off, first or third world. I am not saying they do, but they dare not take refuge there.
They are not paid to hand over public property (which belongs to me and them) to slum lords, encroachers and builders and bring to ruin a city which is carrying maybe four times the people it can. They are not paid to make my life more miserable, whenever I engage with them, whether its while buying a house or performing any of the innumerable tasks they are supposed to.
Sure, we have an undying spirit, one that ensures we bounce back. Its good to feel good about it, when we are down, not when someone else is. That's not undying spirit, that's behaviour that borders on the savage.
Ever driven on Mumbai’s streets in the middle of the night. Seen the people sleeping on the road dividers. Wondered why they do that ? Its clearly the most unsafe place to be parked, given that inebriated private secretaries of politicians or sons of industrialists might run them down and of course get away with impunity. Yet they are. I don’t know why, but I am sure it’s not their first choice when they repair for the night. Do the poor of New Orleans sleep on road dividers on the street, highly unlikely.
Again, does it matter how the poor of New Orleans sleep. Not to me. Maybe they don’t sleep at all. But it matters to me why Mumbai’s homeless sleep on road dividers, like so many other things in this city.
We Do Some Things Better, So ?
There are lots of things we do better, try security at airports, higher education and citizen gun control. But I am not here to draw comparisons. I want the best. The best part of Katrina was that there was advance warning. I think I deserve advance warning, about calamities and perhaps, one day, even corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. As a tax-paying citizen, I want my government to learn from the mistakes of others and incorporate them in its own response plan.
Most of all, I want, as a tax payer and citizen, government and other citizens to set standards, not to fall over each other lowering them and gloating when someone else goes down under.