Friday, December 26, 2008

The 400-crore yacht, among other things - Part 4/5

Rich man's blood splashed on a rich man's lens
I'm sure most of you must have read at least one of the articles in the print media with the common title, 'Don't Shoot The Messenger'. By various authors, all try to defend the media, using the very example that has been cited most often as an example of the media's irresponsibility - of commandoes landing on a roof during the Nariman House siege. I personally would like to think that though that example is obviously flawed (even if the event was shown live - and there's considerable debate on that as well - given the noise a chopper makes, there couldn't have been much stealth involved), the argument isn't, and that's something I've already covered in my previous posts. Just to recall one incident that particularly comes to my mind, a reporter given access to the backside of the Oberoi/Trident complex accidentally spilled out the location of the commandos closing in on the terrorists.

But what's more of a concern to me is the 'why' and 'how' of this particular strike being the watershed. This very city has seen a spate of such gruesome attacks, and I happened to be stuck in office when a series of bombs went off in the local trains. Now, I wasn't going to be on those trains but my colleagues possibly would have, but thankfully weren't since it was issue-closing time. The marketing people came back from hastily terminated meetings and told us about the carnage they saw. People were desperately trying to get in touch with their families. We saw streams of people walking the 20-odd kms. home due to the suspension of train services and clogging of roads. I finally got home past 1am.

Interestingly, the news that followed focused on the spirit of the city (yes, that very cliche) being visibly shaken. Even more interestingly, even though just about a month back, there were candlelight vigils, peace marches, human chains and signature campaigns as a part of the massive anti-reservation protests (which I would like to attribute to that year's first hit Rang De Basanti), there was nothing of that sort after the blasts which seemed to suggest that people had had enough and wanted change. Maybe because Obama wasn't around back then. Of course, the entire coverage had its focus on the Taj and the Oberoi/Trident. Nariman House (which, it was reported by the international press on the very first day, houses an extremely orthodox sect of Jews) was completely ignored till the time our local media checked the international response and realized that it's not just some random building in the crowded bylanes of a not-so-upmarket part of south Bombay.

All the reactions have been from the showbiz and P3 fraternity, and not suprisingly, each and every one of them claims that the Taj was like their second home. Maybe they actually can afford five-stars on a regular basis; maybe they need to give such an impression for reasons known only to them. All I know is that I can't - heck, even Leopold was a place I went to when I felt I could afford to splurge - and happened to be in a mood to tolerate the differential treatment meted out to people with coloured skin. All I know is forget five-stars or even lesser luxuries - most of my compatriots can't afford to have 2 square meals a day, and who are yet to experience the things we've been taking for granted ever since we were young - telephone, television, electricity.

This is not the first time people have died such tragic deaths. Earlier, the targets were public transportation systems and such middle-class infrastructure; even this time, scores lost their lives in Victoria Terminus, a few each in Cama Hospital (imagine the kind of headlines one of those high-profile private hospitals would have made) and at Mazgaon docks, Vile Parle and Metro Circle. From the looks of things, these people were clearly lesser victims whose blood is meant to be shed. Granted that the people with the riches are the only ones in positions powerful enough to force a response, but what good does it do to talk in vague circles? And how is a rich man's blood any more precious than a poor man's?

Such stake-outs and seiges have been happening on a regular basis, but in troubled hotspots which are away from the media glare, most notably Kashmir and the North-East. No one gives a damn when that happens. The very people who are out on the streets now never gave a damn when the common man was blown apart again and again and again in the very city who ordinary citizens they now claim to be. And at the same time, they are hypocritical enough to say on camera that "earlier, these things used to happen at markets, trains and buses which are places we never went to, but now it's as if they've entered our homes. We thought that we, the elite, are untouchable but clearly even we're not safe." This shameful comment of a socialite was one of the many ones in a similar vein aired by one of the most respected 24-hour English news channels of our country.

(to be continued)

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