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!)