Monday, September 12, 2005

More People Died in New Orleans, So What ?



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.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Take it with a chuckle, guffaw, chortle or grunt....

Some creative mind came up with Mumbai's equivalent to America's Hurricane Katrina.

26/7 or Terrible Tuesday has a name- It's simply Cloudburst KALAVATI.

Similarities:
- Both were possibly christened by Messrs Jummanni and blessed by Eekta Kappoorr.
- Both are deadly femme fatales!

Anonymous said...

Lighten up, will ya? Forwards are not meant to be taken seriuosly!

Meenakshi Ravi said...

hi govind..i think your blog on the terrible tuesday-katrina comparison is spot on. i can't say much more than the fact that i agree with you and that i appreciate the intensity which comes out in this write-up..it's more hard-hitting and gut-wrenching (if i can use that phrase) than another article of yours that i recently read. this one had me fired up! that one had me waiting for the punch..

n.g. on 10:30 am said...

so our hon president dropped by for 45 mins to rape the guilty parties, and gave them a clean chit. what fun. maybe he'll drop by next year too.

Neelakantan on 11:14 am said...

Its a syndrome which we are all afflicted by. Our neighbourhood cablewallah used to say when we complained about poor (or no) reception, "Sir, even your neighbour does not get cable". Hello, so, should I be happy?

Very well written, the focus should be, for us, that it should not happen in Bombay again and not be happy bcos it happened in NO!

phucker on 12:06 pm said...

I like that. When something goes wrong in India it's because our culture is bad, it's because we Indians are the stupid scum of the Earth. But when something goes wrong in America, let's just all keep quiet about it.

As for advance warning - the Met said you would get lots of rain. Guess what. You got lots of rain. If you're looking at trying to figure out exactly how much water is going to fall from the sky (i.e. 37 inches), well then maybe you have the Best Brain in The Universe, because that's a trick nobody has figured out yet.

Sandhya Ravishankar said...

interesting article.. but why should you care? i'll throw it back at you and say why not? isn't journalism about feeling the pain of others and displaying it to society? to slap them in the face and say 'hey wake up, there are ppl that need help'? and if nothing don't these comparisons at least show us what's wrong with our system and how we can make it better? i think, govind, that if we didn't know or care abt the much-hated US of A and know of a better system like their's, we wouldn't know what's wrong with ours. we need information, we need comparisons - if not, those people sleeping on the dividers will continue to sleep there and believe that that's where they belong. your angst is obvious govind - the passion makes the piece powerful.

Dinesh on 4:23 pm said...

A befitting reply to an idle and half-knowledgable statistician who created the original mail.

Shivaji on 5:26 pm said...

Also it's wrong to say that Katrina was as intense as the Mumbai rains. Remember, wind was blowing at over 150 miles/hr..thats like a local train at thrice its full speed hitting you and nowhere to run....
It's like saying my back is itching but I didn't cry, and look X's mother has died and he is crying so much. I am so much braver than X.. ha ha..tra la la..

Anonymous said...

Hey Govind, I agree with ttg and sandhya that you let the American officials off the hook so easily in your blogs. I don’t think that anybody takes the stats seriously; it’s more the gist of it that we are looking at. Yes, yes, yes, u don’t care but I am going to say it anyway--

You said: “Reports say New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin urged people to leave town on Saturday and gave an evacuation order on Sunday when it looked like a Category 5 storm” – the evacuation order was issued by Nagin 20 hours before the storm struck, less than half the time researchers said people could have got out. All u got to see was a traffic nightmare with people desperate to get out. School buses were lying submerged because no drivers were willing to work on that day.

And more: “it was interesting to watch President George Bush visiting the American Red Cross and attempting to say the right things, surrounded by workers, many of whom continued with their tasks and not by sten-gun toting bodyguards like Indian politicians” – he was advised to have photo ops with black women and hug and cry. Never went to the 9th ward where people would have heckled him.

It’s not that “more people” died; it’s more the fact that response to the natural disasters failed – whether terrible Tuesday, tsunami or Katrina…your article would have been balanced if you acknowledged that.

Sakshi on 11:04 pm said...

Govind, the other day when it was raining a bit heavily..it took barely an hour for the roads in Andheri East to clog up...the government say 'Band Plastics'...but what about the screwed up 'Drainage systems' ?? Before the rains...these guys fix up the roads...and it take two days of heavy showers..and our cars along with us do ROCK & ROLL on the badly damaged roads??

We have far more intense problems than Katrina and 26/7...put together.

salome said...

Looks like the point of your post has been lost on some of those who have commented on it. The point being – New Orleans was bad but should that make us happy about being only equally bad or a little better or just a tad worse??

However, while we tend to pin point the government for Mumbai’s woes, the problem lies in its citizenry as a whole. I’ve lived in three Indian cities and when it comes to civic issues or civic sense as they call it, never have I seen people more passive than in Mumbai. It’s hard to understand how a citizenry otherwise so vibrant, quick, hardworking and clever can be so numb to garbage, dead bodies, rats,unpleasant smells and the like. July 26 happened to be one of those rare occasions when we heard some cries of protest from Mumbaikars. Otherwise they usually come across as martyrs bearing the tyranny of an uncaring government, helped along by their ‘undying spirit’. They seem to like that.

On the morning train from Bandra to Parel, a glance out of the window has often enough made me want to throw up my breakfast. An educated guess tells me that many of my die-hard Mumbaikar friends wouldn’t understand my disgust at what they have come to accept as mundane sights and smells. They may even accuse me of overreacting. Still, for once, I’m glad I’m not blessed with their kind of undying spirit.

Anonymous said...

IT is wrong to compare ... especially in this case. 9/11 changed the way we lead our lives. It taught us something, while taking away a lot. I'm not going to try and explain why the conditions are as you describe it in Bombay or any other place for that matter. We're used to a certain way of life and that defines what amount of poverty we're used to. Not to say that one group of folks is better than another, but just that poverty is relative. It should bother you no matter what level you see it at ... I think you're wrong in saying that it wouldn't bother you if the poor man at New Orleans would have to lay on the roads. Why, if you're in the place at that point and you can help, would you choose not to? Your logic defies the foundation of the UN and various global charitable not-for-profit organizations. Afterall, the life of a human in Bombay is the same as the life of a human in New Orleans. You need to understand that and not sound too self-centered. I understand that you were ticked off by some email that made an invidious comparison ... but please refrain from making statements such as these and use your discretion on what forwards you should be reading.

Anonymous said...

Hi govind, I am a reporter in the US..i already responded to you earlier when I said I agreed with ttg and sandhya. Guess seeing so many puss-filled bodies floating in the waters of NO and hearing 911 calls replayed again and again affected me. I was p*&^ed off that your article sounded so cold. Anyways, I was wondering if there was any article or in-depth look at the Weather Department in Bombay. Such as what is the budget allocation for them, who are these mysterious people, What are their qualifications and have they devised any sort of warnings like a Category 1, 2 after this event and so on, Do they have the infrastructure like Doppler systems? It would be interesting to know that, maybe I have missed seeing it on the internet. I remember reading an interview with a weather dept official in Midday but haven’t seen anything other than that.

Allan said...

Hi Govind, very well written buddy...this was worth tolerating you all these years!!

Cheers!!!

Radgovin on 2:27 pm said...

Hi Govindraj.

It feels funny to say that. I feel like I'm talking to myself. I agree with your analysis. New Orleans is not a place that is exposed to such kind of weather regularly; whereas Mumbai has had a history of heavy rainfalls. I guess we should have been better prepared.

I am studying to be an Environmental Engineer at IIT Bombay and for a term paper, I had to write a report on this incident. I had the worst time of my life doing this. There was simply no meteorological data available. I had to search high and low for writing what finally turned out to be a five page report stating why it rained more in Santacruz than it did in Colaba. I think the Americans must be better off on this front although they reacted pretty late to the warnings.

And as regards the question raised by the American Reporter about the Meteoroligical Dept., there exists one such dept. in Mumbai and it resides at Colaba. I had trouble finding it; but it's there!

Anonymous said...

It's not the govt that claimed more people died in New Orleans.. It was the media..
The government took no credit for law and order in Mumbai- the citizens did..
Over a million people reached home after learning tough lessons from the deluge..
Year after year the city is water logged during the monsoon..
The number of people sleeping on the streets too have not reduced..
Ain't this a rather late awakening of the tax payer?

I don't disagree with what you have written - but aren't your issues very bourgeois?

Anonymous said...

For the next hurricane rita update ; the easy way to keep going.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm..... Global warming and associated effects... will the Americans begin to reduce carbon emissions? Doubtful. Big dumb assholes driving round in their 4.0 litre jeeps. All the greedy little fat bastards consuming as much of the worlds resources as they can ...... Hmmmmmm ! Strange. Strange.

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