Saturday, September 10, 2005

The folly of comparison

I found (via this week's Bharateeya Blog Mela post at Harini Calamur's POV) that a number of Indian bloggers have taken offense at the tone of this Boing Boing post titled Katrina: whew, here comes India to save us, at last! and have come out with strongly worded rejoinders. The Boing Boing post essentially mirrors a post titled Thank Goodness, Here Come the Brave and Generous Indians to Rescue Louisiana (check out the "mood" and the "now playing" sections on this post!) which seems to project the classic (anachronistic) stereotype of the brown man and even manages to refer to imagery such as Gunga Din! While Uma and the others who have been driven to rage by the sarcasm of these posts, maybe we should stop to think whether some of us (i.e. Indians) are guilty of the same crime.

The most forwarded email among Indians this past week, seems to be the one that compares the aftermath of the cloudburst in Mumbai last month with that of Hurricane Katrina. It starts by giving you all kinds of numbers about the two disasters and ends with (what seemed to me) a sarcastic take on the customary labels that the media and the people have for long, affixed to the US and India, i.e superpower and third world country! Now, I got the forward twice and instantly relegated it to my Trash folder. But later, someone else at my workplace mentioned the forward and made some statements that mirrored that last sarcastic footnote that I have mentioned. I am not someone who gets my head hot over such things as forwards, but I got into an argument because the insinuations in this one just seemed plain offensive. Or is it just me?

A google search for the exact phrase "New Orleans vs. Mumbai" turns up 95 results, including a few blogs. Is it possible that these American bloggers who have ridiculed India's offer of help were motivated to post this way by these comparisons that we Indians have been making through such forwards? How many of us Indians, particularly the ones who have not seen the imagery from New Orleans 24 hours a day on CNN and MSNBC over these past 10 days, know about the scale of the disaster and the reasons behind those numbers that have been compared? For a description of the effects of Katrina, check out New Orleans resident Maitri V-R's VatulBlog which right now offers Daily updates from and for residents and friends of the Crescent City!

Sure, mistakes were made in Louisiana. The levees in New Orleans were (apparently) designed only hurricanes much less severe than Katrina. And how many of us know that most (if not all) of New Orleans is below sea level, as opposed to certain areas in Mumbai? And that the hurricane caused breaches in the levees and flood the neighborhoods with as much as 12 feet of water?

I am sure people like Amit and Dilip who saw the effects of the tsunami in India would say the same thing about mistakes made by the administration in that situation. But after December 26, the disaster response in India is probably much better now, because the shortcomings have all been pointed out! When disasters happen for the first time, be it the tsunami or the cloudburst or Hurricane Katrina, they HAVE TO BE attributed to that cause that is often termed as an "Act of God", which is NOT a religious stance, but just a term that refers to unknown and unforeseen reasons.

What's key is that we learn from mistakes that we make. Do we gain by pointing fingers and drawing parallels, and that too, seemingly with glee? It is a point to ponder! Accepted that the people in the Western Hemisphere need to get their facts straight about the "mystical" East, but do we have to add fuel to the fire with such comparisons, particularly in these testing times?
So, please stop forwarding such emails and please stop the trash talk about the difference in casualty figures. For some people I know, that seems to be a thing to be proud of. But at this age when borders are disappearing, that mentality is itself inhuman!

(Disclaimer: Some of the numbers quoted with reference to Katrina might be erroneous, but the motivation of this post is to stop comparisons at this time of need!)

14 comments:

Nilu said...

People want to take silly pride - why stop them and ruin the fun?

GratisGab said...

It takes all kinds. I haven't recvd a forward of the kind, luckily.

Madhu said...

No, Anti, it isn't just you... I was pretty taken aback by that forward too and trashed it imm.

Megha said...

I couldn't agree more, aNTi. I haven't received this forward, but I've seen references to similar stuff on the web. Glad you wrote about it.

?! said...

(a) The city of New Orleans suffered due to it's being a modern day combo of Sodom and Gomorrah ( various desis and videsi religious extremists)

(b) N.O suffered because the 'mericans, despite all upturned noses, ain't as smart/generous/efficient et al as the Indians ( mainly Indian Indians, a few videsi Indians)

(c) The Bush administrations biggest fault isn't that it continued stayed true to its cretinous track record in Katrina's case too, but that it has led to economically weaker countries coming forward to help. (various, but non-desi)

I am a bigot, when there is so much of gloating hate around, it becomes sorta difficult to choose which cause to espouse.

anantha said...

?!: You are funny! And I agree to your last point, atleast part of it, cos I won't be judgemental and tell you that you are infact what you say you are - a bigot ;)

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

Yes, anti, that statement "but the motivation of this post is to stop comparisons at this time of need!" couldn't have been better said. I agree... and am proud to say that I did not forward that email to anyone. BTW, do you know that it was also publishded in the TOI or Mumbai Mirror or someplace as a letter to the editor?

anantha said...

Sudipta: Yup, have seen a couple other websites too that have put the letter up!

Megha: Thanx....

Madhu: Saw that some bloggers have similar posts up. So there are ppl who are not exactly happy and am glad to know that.

Gabby: True, all kinds. I guess that's life!

Nilu: :p

capriciously_me said...

all ignorant idiots anti...

alpha said...

Anti, you said it mah man! and said it well!

It irks me no end...these people. I got a forward too..got riled up, but didn't pursue it. A misfortune is a misfortune..there is nothing called 'mine was a bigger loss and I managed it better than you." cheap! Just do your part if you can and please move on. STOP ANALYSING. It was like comparing September 11th and Tsumami..what the heck... ask the people who lost everything- which was more devasting?

Sriram said...

aNTi,
Me has linked this post from mine. Lemme know if I shouldn't.

anantha said...

Sriram: No problem! Since when has trackback become a crime :)

Alpha: Ya, I got into a argument on two occasions, because the comparison was not analytical and just was an exercise in gloating that I have seen in a lot of desis, a cleverer-than-thou attitude that pisses me off.

CM: Can't agree more!

IBH said...

let me vent my thoughts - Indian pride is good and I am as much as a patriot like any of my fellow Indians back home, but this just seems wrong to me......In a time, of loss and crisis like this, somebody has actually taken time to compare facts like these to prove that India is better in handling crisis - which may or may not be right but that is not the point here.....
I know many of you would have seen the loss happened in New Orleans and Biloxi on TV but sitting here, I see it almost every day as more and more bodies pile up.....let me just say it is a not a pretty sight.....I won't go into details but monsoon rains in Mumbai are really a walk in the park when you compare a category 4 hurricane like Katrina, with winds topping at 145 miles/hr....some Boeings on the ground were swept off and thrown away - that was the power.....in New Orleans, the people wouldn't be able to return for the next monthes - Katrina has flattened everything its path....
I wish the writer would have compared the Tsunami that hit us last year and Katrina...then he would know what he is talking abt.....
enough said....I am proud to be an Indian but this mail just disgusts me.....

this was my comment on Sen's blog on the same topic!

Indians take pride in being cynical at the time when crisis and loss is seen everywhere!

anantha said...

IBH: I was wondering if the email originated in India? I mean, someone sitting in India seeing coverage on Star News for a total of 60 mins as opposed to someone sitting in the continental US and watching it on CNN/MSNBC every minute of the day. Anyways, I don't wanna be judgemental, but we had the opportunity to be the better people here. I mean, ya, the offer to send aid demonstrated that idea, but talk of this kind defeats the purpose. And to see sections of the media report it, thats the height!