WE the people

It was an interesting Saturday afternoon. Two of my friends joined in to shower mercy on our overheated souls. Outside, the afternoon Sun was baking everything unsheltered. I wondered - is this Bangalore?

This used to be a garden city. This used to be a pub city as well - the trees are gone now and so have the dance floors, the powers to be want us to sip our drinks quietly till 11PM without shaking a leg & then rush back home to savor the night alone. Or with air conditioners. The original inhabitants of this overflowing cosmo tell me that even fans were a rarity in mid 90s & people were a lot more patient. There were afternoon picnics in parks, there were lakes as well. Now the only constant in this city is the giant traffic monster; growling, snarling & controlling all the educated, cosmopolitan , well travelled & supposedly intelligent assembly line workers - whose only challenge is to resist honking & save their new overpriced cars from getting dents. Patience is no longer a virtue but a weakness.

But this Saturday was not about downers. It was about swimming, screwdriver & stories. My friends K & S were ebullient, their bodies cooled down by the swim & their spirits held high by a couple of screwdrivers. The atmosphere was already pregnant with possibilities.

Just then K started telling a story.


“This is good, man. It was a very hectic week. Its all because of that wretched earthquake.”


“What? What earthquake?”


“The one that just happened. It turned out to be a dud, only after it had ruined me & my team’s next two weekends.”

“How? Did your building get aftershocks?”

“No you dumbo! It was just a few shakes, you shake more in a bus or while driving on Bangalore’s roads! It’s the evacuation that turned out to be a bitch”

“Ohh how come?”

“There was an alarm as soon as things started getting shaky. I first thought it was last night’s hangover, but then i realized everyone was staring at each other. Just then someone shouted - hey its an earthquake, run for your lives. Damn! It was panic. Luckily, the security is fully trained for such events and we had our drills just last month so everyone’s subconscious responded pretty well to the procedure & soon we were safe in the assembly area. Everyone, but the electrician - who i later came to know was a recent joiner and had not been trained in evacuation. Afraid, that there might be a fire the fool turned off main power unit as soon as it started jittering & when we were back, we came to know that we’ve lost almost a month’s work. The power backup lasted only 20 minutes!  The generators usually pick up during that time but the electricians were enjoying a smoke outside.”

“That is sad. So this is why you scolded the cook 4 times in last 2 weeks”


“Yeah. However, i noticed something unusual. As soon as everyone came to know that the earthquake had its epicenter in South east Asia and the shocks were more prominent in North they started calling their relatives.”


“What’s unusual about that?”


“Well. What’s unusual is that they did just that. No one asked if there were other casualties or if the shocks were fatal in some other parts of the country.”


“Hmmm. So you mean that they were just interested in their loved ones, no one else?”


“Yup! This is exactly what i mean. What it shows is that if I have a relative in Rajasthan but no one in Gujarat i don't give a damn if 1000 people die in Gujarat as everyone I know is safe - and that’s the only thing that matters.”


“So what are you implying? What’s the punchline?”


“That Indians are self-centered.”


“Ok. How come you turned this into a national phenomenon.”


“It’s simple buddy. We have around 5000 people in our office. It’s a massive building , i am working here for almost 5 years now and i know that there are people from all parts of India here. We were in the assembly area for almost one & a half hours and i was on a stroll. I didn't observe even a single person or a group that was discussing or even curious about the earthquake from a national perspective.
They were either:
1. Calling their relatives, friends or loved ones
2. Joking about the earthquake
3. Criticizing the facilities team for raising a false alarm, despite knowing that the earthquake was real
No one was even looking at the earthquake from a disaster perspective. It was panic, then concern, followed by indifference. “

“I see your point. I have observed this as well, in a more disastrous event. The Mumbai terror attacks. If you remember the public reaction on attacks, the first reaction was panic, then concern, followed by anger, which finally turned into frustration. Everyone was talking about national integrity but what i saw was mostly anger as opposed to grief on national loss. Considering that we Indians are an emotional species it was pretty strange“

“Agree. Compare it with 9/11. Check out the TV/News coverage & you sense a deep feeling of nationalism, even people whose families or loved ones were not affected by the attack were mourning at a national loss. Their feelings show that it hit my country and it hit me. Here the reaction was it’s Pakistan’s fault, f@#$ the politicians, we should go to war. The feeling of loss and grief was limited to those who were directly affected by the incident”

“How many times have you seen people criticizing the government & its policies? How many times you feel sorry for the state of affairs but what do you do to address it?”


“What can we do?”


“You can vote. Do you vote? Do you know anyone amongst your 5000 colleagues who does?”


“I know a few local guys but that’s it. The other reason is that most of them are from different states, so their voter IDs are not valid.”

“Yeah Mr. organized sector working man, you are educated and log on to Facebook and God knows how many technology & news sites throughout the day, you can’t Google for Jago Rey? You can't find out the process for voter ID transfer. Isn’t 5 years enough time to sort out such a small thing? Do you think you can crib about the policies, infrastructure & traffic when you don’t even make an attempt to exercise your basic right?”

“Hmm. Interesting. If you look at it from an effort perspective, it's hardly any effort at all. We spend more time posting government hate messages on Facebook, this effort can be utilized to influence the decision to choose the government.”

“But why don't we do it? Are we lazy or just indifferent? I think educated middle class, the ones whose fate depends most on the government’s decision is actually not concerned about it at all. There is only one thing he can do to make things better and he has 5 years to take that call, but he ends up not doing it.”

Finally S said - “You mean that I am a self-centered individual who has no feeling of nationalism. I don’t bother about the streets being dirty as long as my corridor is clean! That’s a bit hard to digest, but i think it’s true. I think we are actually an autocracy. This is why our sentiments for government & films are same. We choose families, because it makes life easy.”

Are we actually an autocracy?
What do you think?

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