ELPHINSTONE TRAGEDY: WHEN COMMON SENSE DOES NOT WORK


( This is an article by Amitava Roy, a musician well established in Mumbai. This article is a reproduce from facebook)

The bridge collapse at Elphinstone road was a tragedy waiting to happen. There are hundreds, nay thousands of such tragedies waiting to happen in India. The only difference is that this happened. Today even if we walk along the bylanes of Metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai we will see so many entangled electrical wires overhead on streets, rickety buildings moth-eaten since centuries and roads with potholes and bumps and if hypothetically all of them were to give away at the same time, news channels would have a problem which to cover first and which one is the real breaking news.
Acts of god apart, even where everything is more or less safe, there are criminal elements and terrorists who could deliberately inflict casualties on innocents anytime anywhere. So the question to ask is what should the government do? Or not do?
Today, as always in fact, it is the government of the day in the line of fire when such things happen. I am not for a moment suggesting that the government is not responsible though. If the people have elected you to represent them then even is someone slips on a banana peel on a public road he is well within his rights to blame the government.
Having said that let us now look at the tragedy from a different lens. First, I heard on the news that the bridge was 106 years old. So which government is really responsible for the 22 lives lost? Who is responsible for the tears of the relatives of those who lost their lives for no fault of theirs? I am asking that question.
Being creatures of logic led by rational and common sense thinking our approach is predictable here but I would like to ask some uncomfortable questions here.
All news channels focused on the tragedy on Navami day, an auspicious one, for the devotees of Maa Durga. My question is just this. Why did not the channels visit that bridge just ONE DAY earlier and asked the Fadnavis government hard questions as to why this bridge has not been repaired? Common sense answer 1: Nobody could possibly know what would happen. Common sense answer 2: The news channels were covering other equally, or perhaps more important issues like petrol price rise, economic downturn or the Kashmir killing of an Indian soldier on a holiday by terrorists. There were more, you can take your pick. So predicting a tragedy like Elphinstone is about as easy as predicting the 12 digit winning number of the next Assam lottery. So Common sense answer 3 must be that the Fadnavis government, or by extension the Modi government cannot be blamed for not foreseeing the tragedy and acting in time. But this statement directly refutes my own statement earlier that the government of the day is responsible as it enjoys power, A/c comforts, private vehicles and so many perks for ruling. So common sense answer 4: Common sense does not work always in the way we want it to.
Now, let me play devil’s advocate (as I love to) and ask that the bridge was built 106 years ago so the first culprit is that builder. However, at that time the population was much less and the fact it lasted 106 years is a tribute to a great job done so verdict: NOT GUILTY. The British government is the next on the guilty list but here too the same logic applies so verdict: NOT GUILTY. Then came independence and the first PM Nehru. He did nothing to correct it. But he had huge, huge other priorities over repairing bridges so the verdict; NOT GUILTY. Taking it all the way down to Fadnavis, the verdict is always: Not GUILTY.
My take therefore, must be that it is we who are actually guilty. As a Mumbaikar, I too must have travelled on that bridge on several occasions but I was too busy with my own issues to take it up with the authorities. Each monsoon building collapses occur, many people living in such buildings do not move as they have no place to go even when the warnings are clearly posted on the walls. They can only HOPE that it will hold tomorrow as it does today. India is a vast expanse of land with diversities and heritage. There are scores of uneducated, less educated or even educated illiterates like you and me who have no time to fix the small little problems in our building or community or locality or slum or penthouse or wherever we reside. It is a reality that each one of us sets our own priorities in our own little world and public service or compassion for the other guy is way down on our priority list. Therefore, it is easiest to blame the government, the railways, global warming or that moustachioed fellow across the street rather than look within.
I am guilty my lord, I truly am but maybe I am different from you only in that, impossible as it may seem, I want to improve myself and stop blaming others all the time. Maybe that’s why I am writing this….maybe.

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Author: Your useful Books.

An online seller of books. Lives in Mumbai and Kolkata.