Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sowhat-itis. A national scourge

It can happen in any city in India these days. On the weekend, a simple middle-class family goes out for some plain fun in the shopping mall. A young executive decides to have a quick bite at the corner before heading home. A student hurries to buy some essential stuff for her college assignment before the shops close. Just as all these people are busy with their own lives, a flash of lightning and a deafening bang. The bomb kept in a nearby dustbin by a mindless, faceless and heartless terrorist explodes. Many unsuspecting innocent lives are shut off forever.... For those who survive, life is never the same again.
It was the same story this week in Delhi. But I experienced something different within myself. The spread of a national disease called sowhat-itis.
Being born and schooled in Delhi, the city is closer to my heart than any other. I have many friends from school days and those whom I have met later in life who currently stay in Delhi. And yet, for a full 24 hours and more, I didn't' bother to find out if they were all ok. Sowhat-itis is dangerous - it plays tricks on your mind. I found the perfect explanation for my behaviour. So? What can I do about this sitting in Pune? If one of them has really suffered in some way in these blasts, can I help in any way? How would calling up and finding out help me? I will be contributing to jamming the cellphone networks even further, isn't it? If any of them is really in trouble and remembers me, s/he will call me.
I slept that night, or rather, I like to believe that I slept. In the deep recesses of my psyche, I kept seeing my friends - tadi, buli, karir, padoo, sushant, ajit, alka, ashwini, rachna, karan, and so many more. Anyone of them or someone from their families could have been at Karol Bagh, CP or GK-I that evening.
Yet, I never bothered to pick up the phone and call anyone.
Finally, the next afternoon, I called up Sanjay Agarwal (better known as Padoo to many) and spoke to him. His nonchalance only aggravated my sowhat-itis. He calmly remarked, "what can people like you and I do, when we have a government that only talks but never acts? Theek hai, ab aisa hi chalega......"
I am sure that ministers are given a standard manual on the day they take oath. It consists of 'things to say on different occasions.' So our minister picks up the manual and thumbs through the by-now-well-rehearsed dialogues. There has been a train accident? I see... hmmmm, yes, its page no. 32. Are the cameras ready? OK, here goes. "I am deeply anguished by this horrible tragedy. The wounded are being treated in the nearby hospital. A sum of 1 lakh rupees will be paid to all the families of those who are dead and 50000 to the injured. An enquiry commission has been instituted which will submit its report soon. The guilty will be punished." Next day a distinguished personality dies of old age. OK, turn to page no. 56. "Mr. XYZ has left behind a void which can never be filled. The best tribute to him would be carry on his great work for the betterment of society." Then the next day, a bomb blast. Page 2. "We condemn this dastardly/cowardly act on our country. We will not buckle under any pressure and deal with the terrorist elements severely. The guilty will soon be brought to the court of law. I appeal to the citizens to keep calm and maintain communal harmony."
Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Jaipur, Varanasi, Hyderabad, the list just goes on. After some time, the names stop mattering. Till the day it happens to YOU. By then, it is too late...... Sowhat-itis has claimed its next victim.

No comments: