Friday, November 28, 2008

Resilience and Resignation

J has no concept of distance yet and it is just as well. When she first saw news of the blasts in Mumbai she grew frantic to talk to her grandparents. We did what she wanted and explained how far Kolkata is from Mumbai. She kept insisting "I know its not the same place. It does not matter. It is still in India". Those were sobering thoughts coming from a seven year old who has close to no recollection of India. Indeed, distance from tragedy does not matter and that is worth remembering at times like this.

My city, my home and my people were spared this time but there are absolutely no guarantees about the next time and the next. It is like sitting atop of a rumbling volcano and counting oneself safe because it has not erupted quite yet. We are all biding our time in what appears complete helplessness. There will be regret and outrage expressed, the strength and courage of the people of Mumbai commended, strong statements of condemnation made, in a few days the story diminish in prominence and after a while there will be a false sense of well-being - at least until we are jolted out of it yet another time.

The Mumbaikars I know at work were lucky in that their families and friends were safe. It was business as usual for them unless you browsing the web while at work, for the latest news of Mumbai. Indians as a people have an ingrained sense of fatalism and it seems like tragedies like this makes it only that much stronger. It can be an admirable or frustrating trait depending on the circumstances and perspective.

One friend who has family in Mumbai said that no place in the world is safer than the other. To wake up alive in her city is no more or no less a miracle than it is to do so anywhere else in the world. That is a typically Indian response to calamity and one that I can relate with - maybe it is in our DNA. We for the most part seek refuge in our karmas and collective destiny of which we are a part instead of being the change we wish to see in the world. It is one thing to be resilient and quite another to give in to resignation. In trying to be one we must have lost our way and ended at the other.

We don't usually think in terms of doing whatever it takes to make sure this is the very last time such a thing happens in our country - that would be an American response. When tragedy does strike closer home, we would mourn our loss more viscerally but it might not substantially change our worldview. I feel crippled by how I am not able to work up a rage against what just happened. All I am capable of doing is praying that it does not happen again to anyone knowing fully well that millions of such prayers have not borne any fruit. I am the proverbial ostrich burying my head in the sand, even as a raging sand storm is burying us all under it. Suketu Mehta has in this touching NYT op-ed, an antidote perhaps.

No comments: