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And India Goes Berserk

August 6, 2009

If it was not this it would be something else. This is not the first time either. I would wager my last paisa that people are looking for some excuse to go crazy. It is the swine flu this time. The darned flu has taken the life of a young girl child who could not be diagnosed in time and the poor girl died. This was not only unfortunate but the negligence was criminal. I understand that her family is suing the hospital and the pharmacy that did the tests. That is how it should be. One needs to take such things seriously. It is also heartening to note that people are aware of the problem. What is not justified is the way people are descending in hordes at the few government centers that have the H1N1 testing facilities. The test is very expensive and the facilities are limited. The government is trying its best to give the ones that require the tests and those found positive are being given the strong Tamiflu drugs. What takes the cake is that all the 24 hour TV channels have swine flu as the lead story and they are going to ridiculous details from talking to the survivors, to repeatedly showing the kind of mask that should be worn to this that and the other. One doctor who was invited to one of the leading English language TV channels mildly reminded the anchor that there has been just one death from swine flu whereas there are hundreds of thousands dying from gastroenteritis, malaria and other such diseases in India every year. He went on to explain that if the symptoms are such that a test is required then one should go in for the tests. And one has very good chances of survival as there are drugs to control the flu and most patients survive. He added as an afterthought that death from this flu is an exception rather than the rule. But people just won’t listen. The TV channels are going on and on about the swine flu without any sense of proportion. The people are also reacting as if there is a monster in every neighborhood and there was a situation in Pune where the district magistrate was pushed around and yelled at by people furious that they were not being tested. This mass hysteria can get ugly and the people must learn to see things in perspective.

Swine flu is something that is a negative event. One can excuse the public to get belligerent. There was this one so-called positive event – the movie Slumdog Millionaire. The wretched movie was based in the slums of Mumbai and had India as the back drop. Naturally, some of the cast and the crew were also Indian. But it was a British film made by a British producer and director. Somehow, maybe because of the gore and the filth shown, the movie caught the fancy of the jury at the Oscars. The movie went on to bag all of eight Oscars. From those eight I think three went to Indians. The music director A.R. Rehman, the songwriter Gulzar and one of the technicians from a group of three won Oscars. All hell broke loose. The country went wild. The movie was hailed as Bollywood taking over Hollywood!! Nothing could be more ridiculous. The newspapers had only one lead story all across India from the vernacular press to the English newspapers. The TV channels went crazy with talk shows on the movie and what not. It was like one big party for the nation. All those who happened to be a part of the movie went all out to celebrate the so called ‘victory’ of sorts. I wonder how many of us actually saw the movie. It was an ordeal I am told (I am not much of a movie buff and tend to keep away from the best. Slumdog was not my priority) and few people could sit through. The movie showed the life in slums and was in graphic detail. The movie was a slap on the face of us Indians. And the comedy was that we did not even realize it. We took it as if it was a jewel in India’s crown. The movie expectedly did not do particularly well at the box office here in India. The director, Danny Boyle had to repeatedly remind Indians that this was a British movie. But no one would listen. India had gone berserk. And that was it. It took quite a while for this madness to end. And when it did the hangover set in and people started looking for something else to go crazy about. When we Indians do not find anything else, we fall back on cricket. I think the IPL started soon after and we had reason to go mad again. India took a sigh of relief.

There are national berserk events and then there are some regional ones. Like the death of MG Ramachandran, the Tamil superstar and film producer. Tamil Nadu was in a state of shock and mourning such that more than a dozen people self immolated to death. Trains were stoned by irate mobs and they had to be cancelled. Tamil Nadu was burning. The state of Tamil Nadu had gone berserk. Schools and colleges were closed as were the offices and courts. Even the private companies and enterprises shut shop for a couple of days till sanity prevailed. Here in Karnataka a similar situation arose when the Kannada superstar Rajkumar passed away. It was almost a replay of what happened in Tamil Nadu after MGR’s death.

In Bengal the Bangalees lose a bit of sanity every year for ten odd days when it is time for Durga Puja. The people celebrate the way only Bengalees can. They wait for this festival for the whole year and spend like crazy during this time. To really understand what Durga Puja or just simply Pujo, as they call it (like the Brits call Wimbledon, the Championships, as if there is no other tennis tournament in the world) one needs to be in Kolkota (Calcutta) during that time of the year. Roads are blocked and one cannot find a taxi, the only way to commute is either to walk or to hire a hand held rickshaw. There are Puja pandals (loosely huge kiosks) everywhere and there is such a crowd that it is very easy to lose sight of where one is and where one is going. Bengalees from the world over converge on Kolkata during the Puja. Bengal goes berserk.

The fact is that we Indians react to situations and events in an emotional way. We as a nation lack a sense of proportion. We need to pause and think before we react. The above are just a few examples that I could think of, there are many others. And this is a pan India trait. This has nothing to do with North, South, East or West of India. Now that I have mentioned west, I might add that Mumbai goes wild during the Ganapati festival every year. But I think that Kolkota is miles ahead the way they celebrate the Pujo.

Yours truly is also an Indian. I abhorred the way the nation went crazy about Slumdog Millionaire. However, I am a North Indian and we tend to go over the top during the crazy festival of colors – Holi. And there is another small admission. I love it.

Update 10.08.2009: The girl child who had died of swine flu in Pune, Rida Sheikh’s family first threatened to sue the hospital and the pathology lab for negligence. It appears that they have filed a complaint with the police. But things have failed to move. They have said that they do not want any monetary compensation now, all they want is an apology from the hospital and the doctors. The health minister did them no favor by saying that Rida was moved from place to place and because of her 80 other people have now got swine flu. This statement was in bad taste. The Sheikh’s did not know that Rida had swine flu in the first place. It was only in the last stages of the disease that she was tested for swine flu and was found positive. I guess the doctors and the hospital were caught unawares. This is a case of incompetence and lack of awareness among the medical fraternity here in India rather than negligence, which is even worse. An apology will be in order. For the Sheikh’s to say that Rida is a ‘shaheed’, a martyr, as because of her death so many others could be tested and precautions put in place is again hyperbole, a typical Indian reaction to an unfortunate tragedy. I do however, concur with Rida’s father who first went to the press saying that he was there to inform that he had lost his daughter because of swine flu and that precautions should be put in place so that no other parent has to go through what he and his family have. I have two kids and I can understand his pain. This is not going berserk, this is being a responsible citizen.

Update 31.08.2009: Vijay Mallaya’s F1 team Force India has taken the podium with Italian driver Giancarlo Fisichella. They stood second in the Belgium Grand Prix. It is no mean achievement and the nation should feel proud for Vijay Mallaya having dared to enter an unknwon territory and managed to make an impact after struggling for almost two years. Yet to say that ‘India conquers F1’ as one of the TV channels did and making this the lead story in all the leading newspapers and TV channels is going berserk again. We are all happy that Vijay Mallaya could achieve what he did but hold on guys, this is the first time the team has won any points. Lets keep some sense of proportion. We are sure Mr. Mallaya will lead the team to greater hights. I am as excited as anyone else for  namma (our own – Kannada) Vijay Mallaya but this is just the beginning. But berserk we must go and lo behold the nation does a summersault. I wonder how it would have been had the driver too been an Indian – maybe Narayan Karthikeyan or Karan Chandok. One can only imagine. F1 must seriously look at India as a potential market now where they can have a circuit. Even if 10 percent of the population goes crazy over F1 it will mean 100 million screaming Indians. Bernie Ecclestone I am sure is giving India a thought as a possible destination for F1 in the future. The other ‘news’ doing the rounds is that Fischella may be snapped by Ferrari before Monza. That would be a body blow to the Force India team.

Update 03.09.2009: Giancarlo Fisichella found he wanted to be with an Italian team at Monza. This is not for just one race but for the season. Fisichella will now be the brand ambassador of Ferrari. Vijay Mallaya has released him without any hassels. It has been galatay  (naughtiness, vaguely – Kannada) of the worst kind. Now Force India will have to find another driver in this short time. The onus for the rest of the season will be on Sutil. The good news is that F1 is coming to India soon. The formalities are over and the race track will be built in Noida.
Another Instance:  The death in a helocopter crash of YS Rajshekhar Reddy has seen more than a hundred people die by either committing suicide or due to heart failure. The reason could be the drama that surrounded his death. It was first reported that YSR’s helicopter was missing and finally it came about that it had crashed and that all six people on board had died including the chief minister. All hell broke loose. Indians lost their sanity again.

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