Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Unbroken Human Spirit

Torrential Tuesday: Down and Under

Little did we know about human helplessness than in times of natural calamities when hundreds die just because the rain gods forget to switch off their generosity button. Unchecked generosity may be dangerous, but it evokes a sense of generosity among mankind. Strange? But true.

Such was the terrific Tuesday, the rainiest day in Mumbai’s history. That day around 2.30pm I was cosying up on a couch, sipping over a cup of chocolate coffee at The Times of India building oblivious of the fact that history is being made outside this journalistic precinct. I was waiting for Sudeshna Sen, Resident Editor of The Economic Times, for an interview. My ignorance turned into knowledge in between the interview when she got a call and somebody informed her about the raging rains in the suburbs. She feared the obvious: the disruption of public transport system. Her fears came true later.

Editors should always be taken seriously.

As I walked from CST to Lamington road under an umbrella accompanied by so many strangers I realized two things: we human beings are so prone to Nature. We may go to Mars but there are certain things in life over which we have no control. Secondly, the sight of so many thousand men and women heading towards their habitat made me ponder: there is no place like home on earth. Rarely comes a moment but it does come when there is a uniformity of response among mankind. Natural disasters like this may claim precious human lives, wash out hundreds of buffalos, cause landslides and fire, people may snuff out inside their cars and rumour mills may cause stampede but it cannot take away something which is so human, the unbreakable human spirit.

In the aftermath of this deadly deluge, so many stories of courage, endurance and survival emerged out of fallen debris that it’s hard to believe. Are these tales of survival a result of indomitable human spirit or should we simply call them miracles?

If we endure and persevere in any kind of calamity or affliction, miracles do happen.

Why do natural disasters happen?

Science may provide ‘how’ but it cannot answer ‘why’.

Disasters happen to remind us that there are many bigger disasters prevalent around us yet we are so indifferent. They happen to wake up our collective sleeping conscience. Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise. It comes all of a sudden with no prior announcement but while leaving, it leaves a message which is quite worded: ‘why do we need a disaster to provoke generosity?’ – wrote M. J. Akbar in the aftermath of the tsunami. There are so many ‘disasters’ like poverty, hunger, AIDS etc. But do they make headlines? Or do news channels flash them? At least one byte? No. perhaps these ‘disasters’ may not be as glamorous as a deluge of nine feet water.

Talk of the Shanghaisation of Mumbai or turning Mumbai into another Manhattan, it does not excite me at all especially when we don’t have sustainable infrastructure. We need to improve basic civic amenities: having a better drainage system, an effective and uninterrupted public transport system – the announcement of the metro rail project is a step in the right direction.

Many Mumbaikers from all over India may have passed this water kingdom phase with a smile but don’t forget that there are at least 250 families who have lost their dear ones. We all collectively share their grief.

Whatever happens, Mumbai is a city which always thrives back to normalcy – that’s the spirit of Mumbai. As Maya Angelou said in another context, “You may write me down in history … you may trod me in the very dirt. But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

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