The anger at the death of little Mahi (whose lifeless body was rescued from the borewell she fell into 85 hours after she went missing!) across social media is genuine. The anger is, of course, directed at those who let such things happen, but even more so, it is directed at us. At the public memory of Indian newspaper readers and news channel watchers, who have gotten so used to stories of pointless death that we scarcely bat an eyelid anymore!
I always remember it being like this, though. When we were little (I was 8, same as Udai is now) and Indira Gandhi died, I was actually amazed to see so many people crying because someone on TV had died! I simply could not understand it. There were people dying in newspapers and TV all the time. Why did some people get tears and others shrugs? To my eyes at the time, many of the people shot by militants in Punjab or dying in train accidents seemed more like us. People with kids, who went to offices, carried tiffin boxes, wore nondescript check shirts and brown/grey trousers or bleached fading cotton saris. And so their dying seemed somehow to talk about the vulnerability of us. I once dreamt that my parents held hands and jumped off the Worli seaface into the sea…..perhaps a fallout of all the violence, distant and yet surrounding me.
Later, as a teenager in Lucknow, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I clearly remember a few of us took responsibility of a small pinboard in the faculty club, our venue for evenings full on table tennis, carrom and gossip! That pinboard became our canvas for expressing our feelings. We put up a daily tally of lives lost in the J&K insurgency. For months, those figures leapt at us everyday. I don’t remember the reactions of the adults round us, but our group of kids was very much affected by the sheer number of innocents losing their lives to a cause they didn’t perhaps understand or subscribe to fully.
Even then, we were steeling ourselves to become adult Indian citizens. Part of that preparation was developing a thick skin about death, killing the tears before they sprang to the eyes, stopping yourself from caring too much, convincing yourself that there is precious little you can do, so its best to get on with life and not think about the negatives.
It’s not easy to really be like that though. Many of us still get seriously disturbed by death that could be avoided if we were more careful, more sensitive, better organized, more prepared. And while I try and fight the feeling of total helplessness, I rack my brains to think about what I can possible do to change this, the deaths themselves and certainly, the apathy!