Everybody loves a good tragedy, right?
Good news. I’ve found the answer to life. Bad news! It’s death. A scientific study of 7 billion people of different genders, races and “Which Salman Khan Movie Are You?” answers showed that there are only two things that we all have in common. We are all “Tere Naam” and we all die. In India, we die more than most, and we do it in style. Like the man who tried to zipline across a river by his ponytail. Some men fight drought, disease and abominable misery in their quest to hold onto life. Others have it so good that boredom makes them test their hair as an airborne vehicle.
There are 1.2 billion of us, most of whom live in deplorable conditions. People die uncared for on the streets. Others look at them and thank the stars that they have a roof over their heads, even though they had to pay six men from the BMC (and the baba who chanted at a coconut and set it on fire for luck) for the illegal house. Which then collapses and kills them instantly. Others join politics to fight the corruption that causes such senseless death, and they do a great job of it, until the day they meet with an unfortunate accident that kills them. But we continue to believe in this totes (short for “my education was a waste”) amazing ideal of India, and we put men at our borders to preserve it, and then one day, five of them die. And then a voice from the other side says “Sorry uncle galti se shot maara” and we tell the kids they can’t play cricket for a few years, and the prince and Cinderella live happily ever after.
We die with such consistent ease in this country that the only way we can deal with it is to turn it into entertainment. A 14-year-old girl dies and a nation hangs on forensic details. A troubled lady hangs herself, and the public glare is so intense that it magically makes Aditya Pancholi relevant again. And natural disasters? Those things are a godsend. The waters in Uttarakhand filled up half the valley and more importantly, every single news programming hole in a one month radius. Finally a wholesome tragedy the entire family could enjoy. Illegal construction along riverbanks! Biblical rainfall! The irony of the faithful paying pilgrimage to the lord! Governmental ineptitude! Armed-force awesomeness! It gave us so much to bullshit about at dinner parties that we’re still serving leftovers two months later. Narendra Modi rescued 15,000 people. Rahul Gandhi rescued 5 million. And then they both hugged at Baba Siddique’s iftar party.
If the Romans had ratty SUVs that ferried 49 people down the Expressway at night, there would never have been an overrated Oscar winning film with Russell Crowe in it. Actually that’s not true, we’d still have A Beautiful Mind. We’re cavalier about death because in a country this large, no matter how many people die, it’s still something that happens to “other people”. When people die in numbers, the collective tragedy overwhelms the individual ones, and we’re spared any contemplation of them.
Pop quiz; how many jawans died in Chattisgarh in June? You can’t remember because it was too many statistics ago, just like the death of these jawans in Kashmir will soon be. We’re desensitised to death and for once, it’s not pop-culture’s fault, because nobody dies on our TV shows. They just go away and come back as Ronit Roy. It’s not even the news-channels’ fault. They only turn it into entertainment because we’re already desensitised to it and they know we won’t mind. We’re desensitised to it because life in this country kills you. When life is cheap, death is banal.
I’m disappointed nobody’s monetised it yet. Why not do a reality show? We’ll call it Shradhanjali Idol’s Got Talent Ka Muqabla, and every week, people with hopes and aspirations can be on TV and explain what senseless tragedy they want to die in, and we all get to vote on who has the best, most inspiring tragedy waiting to happen. At the end of the season, we pick kill a winner and award his family prize compensation money, and our collective guilt is assuaged until next season. I think ratings would be great, finding contestants will be easy, and there’s enough evidence in the papers to suggest that a Junior spin-off will also be easy to do.
Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo.