Lindsay Pereira: Some of us are more equal than others
If only the avoidable deaths of common people could send us into the same kind of hysterics that the death of a celebrity tends to do
No one speaks about Sridevi now, of course, because it’s been a couple of weeks since her mortal remains were consigned to flames, and we presumably have other things to obsess over. File pic
The only movie starring Sridevi that I have seen in my life is Mr India, for reasons that have nothing to do with her talent and everything to do with my taste in cinema. I was more than taken aback by the massive outpouring of grief in the aftermath of her untimely death though. News presenters on television (to refer to them as journalists is a bit of a stretch in these intriguing times) worked themselves into shock and fury, questioning God, recreating circumstances in bathtubs, and wondering if the actress had problems she probably knew little about herself.
There were television cameras outside the room her body was embalmed in, reporters stalking entry and exit points at the airport, crowds lining both sides of the street leading to her home and the general sense, at least for a day or two, of manufactured anguish of the sort one would associate with the demise of a world leader. No one speaks about Sridevi now, of course, because it's been a couple of weeks since her mortal remains were consigned to flames, and we presumably have other things to obsess over such as the release of a controversial movie or something.
I couldn't help but compare that week of heartrending tears with the kind of sadness that accompanies the deaths of so many people around us. Yes, the death of Sridevi was a tragedy given that she was fairly young and had entertained millions with her many roles as a movie star for years. Yes, public figures tend to attract as much attention in death as they do in life, and more if their passing is untimely. No, it doesn't justify why we gloss over the deaths of so many people we ought to identify with more, simply because they are not celebrities.
We should have been move vocal when our fellow citizens were trampled to death at Elphinstone Road Railway Station last year. We outraged online for a few days, cursed the government for its apathy, and then congratulated the army for stepping in and building a foot overbridge, absolving the Railways of all responsibility for a task it ought to have taken upon itself years ago. We sent our thoughts and prayers to the families of those young people killed in a fire at Kamala Mills, patted ourselves on our backs when the BMC spent just about a week evaluating fire safety norms at places across the city, then forgot about it as we made plans for dinner at a new restaurant or pub.
Maybe we ought to spend a little more time listening to the stories of people just like us, and read more about the lives and untimely deaths of the common man, to get a sense of just how misplaced our priorities are. The death of a celebrity should trigger an outpouring of grief, of course, because that is what we have been trained to do since some bright spark came up with the concept of the divine right of kings. What we shouldn't do is write off the other deaths that occur around us on a regular basis. Not knowing these unfortunate victims is no excuse to not mourn them, to not question why they were compelled to leave their families well before their time, and to not hold the people responsible for their deaths responsible.
People discussing the difference between the Oriental and the Occidental often point out that the former believe that life is cheap, simply because there are so many of them. If this is true, and we value life less simply because we are a populous nation, it sends the wrong kind of message to those who come after us. We put up hoardings at the death of politicians who spend their lives doing nothing for us, because we are trained to mourn the passing of a familiar face. We forget the deaths of minor figures in our city's history simply because we haven't been paying attention to their stories.
It's too much to ask for, of course, this equating of a celebrity with the deaths of common people. It ought to be something we think about though because someday, at some time, the untimely death due to unforeseen circumstances could very well be our own.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org