Wednesday, September 14, 2005

On Why Comparing N'Orleans and Mumbai is Stupid

A few days ago, I received a forward.

Otherwise known as an annoying thing that threatens you with death if you don't forward it to at least 5 people OR promises you money from microsoft if you do.

Contrary to my modus operandi, I read through this one before deleting it.

At this point I should say I received it at a time when I was in great mental turmoil over an issue I was composing a blog-post on. That issue's posted here, but since I found the forward strangely relevant, I forwarded it to a 100 people in my address book, in order to do a little research. These people live all over the globe--many in this country, many back in India, and those in Australia, the U.K and the middle east. The email read as follows:

"nches of rain in new orleans due to hurricane
> katrina- 18
> inches of rain in mumbai (July 27th).... 37.1
> population of new orleans... 484,674
> population of mumbai.... 12,622,500
> deaths in new orleans within 48 hours of katrina...100
> deaths in mumbai within 48hours of rain.. 37.
> number of people to be evacuated in new orleans...
> entire city
> number of people evacuated in mumbai...10,000
> Cases of shooting and violence in new
> orleans...Unnumbered
> Cases of shooting and violence in mumbai.. NONE (In
> fact people went out of way to help each other)
> Time taken for US army to reach new orleans... 48hours
> Time taken for Indian army and navy to reach
> mumbai...12hours
> status 48hours orleans is still waiting
> for relief, army and electricty
> status 48hours later..mumbai is back on its feet and
> is business is as usual
> USA..."world's most developed nation"
> India..."third world country"

Im not the forwarding kind. And this bit is in bad taste-- we can be better than this, surely?-- and misses one or two very crucial facts. The first being [thanks, david] that n'orleans is under sea level. Mumbai isnt. And the second, that Mumbai was hit by torrential rain, not a hurricane. Doesnt take much more than 8th grade geography to tell you those two things are very different.

But I forwarded it out coz I needed to know-- what were the reactions to such a piece going to be? Surely many miscellaneous backs were patted, in private or public. But were there any other reactions? If so, what were they?


The fact is, if a hurricane ever did hit Mumbai, the situation would be as bad as it is in billoxi or n'orleans. I would like to think that the Indian government would move in faster to help-- somehow, Im not too sure. God knows I never want the situation to arise where I will be forced to find out.

The fact remains however, that there were no reported cases of violence in Mumbai. And none along the south-east coast either, post 26th December. I heard of no raped women or children. I heard of no "looting" or murder. Drunken brawls, coz the men said their boats were gone, their nets destroyed, what else did they have but the arrack? No one had to patrol the refugee camps though. Anarchy translated into a few fights for food packets the first week. But then due to such generous supply, those died down quick.

But perspective again-- The fact is India survives on a network of families and friends, the kind that America does not know of. Those affected by both the mumbai rains and the tsunami found refuge in the homes of their extended families, an uncle of a cousin, friends of their father in a town nearby. And unlike America, no one in India waited for red cross to step in. Families and individuals all across the country reached out with food, information, shelter and medicines. People collected clothes. People coveyed food packets.

But housing plans kicked in only a month or so ago. Those displaced by the tsunami have been living in refugee camps, blue tents, their relatives' houses all this time. No one could put the fishermen back into the sea a month after the tsunami. No one could relocate all the families and start rebuilding lives immediately.

They wont be able to do these things in billoxi, n'orleans or any of the other cities soon, either.

The victims of Katrina are very different from the victims of the tsunami. They live in America, they have lived steeped in the hot soup of media representation, the need to join the rat race with the rest of the country and finding themselves prevented from doing so due to the bottom rung they stand on. And here, there is no belief in Karma. America unlike India, has no ancient history of society rumbling on like a well-fed elephant, all its different parts and levels working in some strange harmony. It is a country that has instead been founded on the principle of "life liberty and the persuit of happiness" only to find that they are denied all three because they dont have a sufficient bank balance.

There is no such thing as humility of position in yankville. There is such a thing as anger at being kept down, anger at being marginalized.

I'm curious about the reactions to the Katrina disaster though: In countries around the world, including the U.K, Europe and India, everyday people are being quoted saying they think its a shame America can't handle its own disasters, and has to ask Red Cross to intervene internationally to provide aid [The BBC carries the article here]
Apart from all the arguments one could have-- What makes people refuse to see the misery, and state socio-political reasons for their hard-heartedness?


By the way: a few of the reactions that found their way to my inbox, from those 100 people:

Here are some of them:

"This one's been doin the rounds.. kinda weird that we chose to pat our backs on this, considering all the loss of life and livelihood.. my 2 pesos!"

"and again yesterday 2 hours of rain was enough to make the city come to a standstill for some time...I am also impressed at Mumbai's ability to bounce back...but these repeated disruptions in life doesnt speak volumes abt Mumbai's infrastructure....."

"My hope is that in this 21st century we drop the post-colonial labels of first world/third world and realize that the measuring stick used to assign those labels was dictated by a few self-important nations which moving forward will no longer dominate the international scene. This is a hard thing for many in the U.S. to accept, but economic forces will force us to wake up".

" I agree to this -
Cases of shooting and violence in new
Cases of shooting and violence in mumbai.. NONE (In
fact people went out of way to help each other)"



A Hairy Snail said...

the only thing that actually hit me in that forward was the bit on violence. america's dark side surfaced and could not be subdued. that sucked.

but one thing that rocks though is india sending $5 million for aid and relief. heh heh. talk about third world countries.

you may find this link interesting to read through too.

balihai said...

i would imagine this debate to be beyond the current problem of providing food, clothing and shelter.

what i saw on the news left me numb. the disturbing bit in orleans was the violence.
bombay, the city i live in, on 26th july went through a deluge.
it rained 944mm in a few hours leaving most of the city completely covered in water.
that was exactly the same even if we were a few feet above sea level.
i don't think there was much crime reported in this city of 18 million people.

in the meantime everybody seems to have not even heard of the floods in europe.
romania is working quietly without the hype.

the people have to think beyond their own insular existence.
writers, communicators and media specialists have the power to do that.
people need to be taught tolerance.
education and awareness will help.

vote (wherever you may be) against the gun.