Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What Is Bombay Really Scared About ?


In my previous post, I wrote about the palpable fear that most Bombayites feel today when stepping out, the shudder that accompanies every sighting of a waterlogged road. Reading some of the posts that followed and the references to media, I am a little confused.

What are people fearing here ? Is it the feeling of being caught inside a car with the water level rising (I came close yesterday and on 26/7) or falling into a manhole whilst crossing the road OR is it television/news reports of the possibility of this happening ?

I admit, you do experience a sense of alarm watching television or seeing the large pictures on the front pages of newspapers. But are you scared into submission ? I really wonder. Before TV came in, the newspapers were putting the same pictures on page one. As they should. TV turned much of this into real time dissemination.


Ridiculous Proposition

So are we saying we are quaking in fear because of what we see on TV ? I think that's a ridiculous proposition. I don't know (maybe there are some of you out there who do) of one Bombay (Mumbai) resident who is shivering in fright only because he or she watched TV in the last few days or read the newspapers. Its very simple. People are scared because of what they experienced. First hand. On the night of 26/7. Do note am not saying everyone is equally affected.

I accept that the images do cause apprehension amongst those who do not live in the city. So, someone living outside India and watching an Indian TV channel or reading a news website report would be worried about his or her family members and friends. Images, reports may sound overblown. Or for that matter, family and friends living in other parts of India. But that's the nature of the news business.

I am obviously a little biased here. But to my mind the thing that media has done is to put tremendous pressure on the civic authorities (albeit with little results). Its highlighted the collective incompetence that passes for civic administration. It does so in a manner that is relentless. Opinions may vary about the treatment but the net impact in my mind is positive. The citizenry would feel better having an active media than not.

Raw, Cold Fear

To conclude, there is no substitute for the raw, cold fear that you've experienced whilst wading through 5 feet plus of water and the waves licking your chin. I know some who have, am sure you do too. Or the memory of someone who lived on the ground floor of your building and was trapped by the rising waters. And died. Someone you saw every other morning on your way to work.

That is true fear. No amount of breathless media reporting can substitute or make up for it. And thank god for that ! That's what's keeping people in their houses and wary of stepping out. Its as clear as that.

PS It rained again in Bombay (Mumbai) today and it was yet another day of deserted streets. Thanks to which I reached my place of work in less than half the usual time it takes

4 comments:

Bombay Addict on 6:36 pm said...

GE - partly agree and partly tend to hold a different view.

Where I agree - 26/7 created a benchmark and no one wants to relive it. For a minute, assume that there was no TV coverage of the rain in the last few days. Would the fear still be there ? Of course it would. So what's the difference this year so far ? Mix of past memories, what we hear from others - and of course the TV channels. Remove "past memories" from that equation and this would probably be just another year and another day of Bombay shutting down. That's my view on your first question on what are people fearing here.

Yes, the newspapers have always been putting pictures. But that's true for the Gulf War as well, right ? As you pointed out TV channels added that "real time" effect. And I'd say they've added that emotional effect. (let's not go into the good/bad aspects of that, I mean I have no idea what the channel bosses were thinking when they put shows titled "behal mumbai, kehar ki lehar", etc. And to make it worse give background music.).

Where I have a different view - On the media putting pressure on civic authorities and being relentless on them - Yes. But only for a week. Probably max 2-3 weeks. No channel or newspaper cares a damn for the other 50 weeks. And rightly so. I mean from the channels perspective why would they cover anything on Bombay's monsoons in Jan, Feb, March or Oct, Nov?.

Is there relentless coverage of the Madhav Chitale Commitee Report ? Or the Justice Sawant Report ? Development and damage control takes months of effort. Was there anyone, anywhere to hold the BMC, MMRDA, etc responsible for implementing the recommendation of the above committees on a daily or even a monthly basis ?

Obviously I don't expect the TV channels to do this kind of coverage. As citizens, we have to do this. Accountability on a regular, disciplined basis.

A few days of getting aggressive and grilling the CM, Johny Joseph, MMRDA might count for relentless. But only for these days in July. Come Oct or Jan, the monsoons are a fond memory and the hardships forgotten. Till the next nightmare, till the next memory of 26/7.

NK said...

Hey,
To answer what people maybe afraid of:
1) Falling sick due to wading through flood water resulting in a loss of many man hours and maybe even a financial loss.
2) Losing your belongings, damage to your house when flood waters seep in.
3) Dying-we all hear it in the news but imagine the plight of a family who loses their loved one and the sole bread winner of their family just by drowning in flood water which could have been avoided.

I also want to ask what will happen if the city's transport is paralysed and there's a medical emergency, maybe a pregnant women gets into labour or someone gets a heart attack, how will they reach the hospital?

The civic authorities have failed: They don't ensure that garbage is collected regulary, drains and gutters are cleaned and that all construction/road repair work is wrapped up before the monsoon season begins.

They don't issue warnings early enough and their helpline nos. are more often than not engaged.

Last year and this year too, I waded through water to get home. Luckily this year at least the WR was functioning, even though all trains were delayed. While I was walking (make that wading through water) there was no police man in sight-they were conveniently standing on dry ground. The residents in my neighbourhood tied ropes and were helping people reach their destination, guiding them where the road had pot holes.

I'd spoken to the traffic police before I reached the railway station, on my way home-they were clueless about the condition in the city-they were not even informed if the trains were functioning or not, which major roads were closed to traffic due to floods etc.

Its a shame that this year all this is happenning even thought the rainfall has been much less.

Manish on 4:36 pm said...

The media is very important for information dissemination but their main aim is to sell their content. They sensationalize things to an extent much greater than the true picture.

This happened to me when i was in Chennai when Tsunami hit many parts. My house was some 100 metres from the sea but was lucky that Tsunami did not hit in that area that bad. Not even hit the road adjacent to thew beach. For the next 1 month or so my parents pestered me to shift my house even though i kept telling them that everything was fine. But the news channels showed otherwise.

hmmm... on 8:43 pm said...

real fear remains, but fear fuelled by the tv is a reality. for example, the bus which was burnt in early hours of the day was shown blazing every 10 minutes on more than 10 news channels all the way into evening. it was as unnecessary as inevitable. i maintain that failure of civic authorities has to be dealt with strongly, but why show knee deep water at 7 am in 7 pm bulletin and NOT show that water has been drained? must show both, isnt it? mostly senior citizens and parents try to get information from tv and worry to no limits about their children at school and at work. and they do worry and fear. really.

and that they fear is an indication that still believe in whats being shown. i think television should take that as a compliment and do better work. surely, bombarding images and screeching through the screens every few minutes is more vivid and powerful than one front page picture. it should be more responsible simply because it has more impact. no?

 

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