Saturday, May 28, 2011

Life at Par

Yesterday, I was travelling with some people in NCR when, in conversation, someone brought up the topic of a 9 seater crashing on the roof of a house in Faridabad due to a strong storm over Delhi. The plane was a flying ambulance carrying a comatose 22 year-old patient & his cousin from Patna to Delhi (for medical treatment). The crash killed all the 7 members on board (the comatose man & his cousin, the pilot & co-pilot, the anaesthetists & the nurse). Additionally, the wife of the house owner, his daughter & daughter-in-law who were resting on the roof of the building were charred to death while the tenants & the daughter's son managed to escape just in the nick of time.

Now, this was an article that I'd failed to come across in the papers (owing to how irregularly I've been following the papers). So when the topic was brought up, I listened with curiosity to the comments being floated around. The lady who brought up the topic went on to comment on how tragic it was that a young guy who was being brought for treatment should die so tragically & how the "nayi-naveli dulhan" (the daughter-in-law had married into the family in Feb this year) met with such a tragic end. She then went on to sum it up & said "Bhagwan ke tareeke bhi ajeeb hain" (God's ways are strange).

In the evening, I came home & promptly looked for the day's paper. The paper carried articles quoting relatives of the deceased.

The man who lost his wife, daughter & daughter-in-law stated "I have lost all the women in my family. I have lost everything in life."

There was a mention of the anaesthetist on board, who died in the crash.
"Frequently assigned air ambulance duties, anaesthetist Rajesh Jain had left home on Wednesday around 1 PM to ferry a patient from Patna to Delhi. He told his family he had no idea when he would return. Little did anyone know his family would never see him again. Jain was an anaesthetist at New Delhi's Apollo hospital. Along with him, his colleague Syed Arshad Abbas & nurse Cyril P Joy, all part of the medical emergency services team at Apollo Hospital, were killed in the accident. Jain is survived by his one year old son & his wife, who is expecting their first child."

The articles also had a quote from a relative of the 22 year old patient (named Rahul Raj) who was travelling on the flight:
"Rahul had jaundice. On Wednesday he suffered liver failure & slipped into coma. The family decided to shift him to Delhi but he died in the crash. We have lost everything."

While reading these articles, I did obviously feel terrible about the loss suffered by the kith & kin of the deceased, due to such a freak accident. However, at the back of my mind, there was also another thought playing: How is it that the paper played up the stories of only 3 of the misfortunate: the newly-wed daughter-in-law, the comatose young boy & the anaesthetist? Was their death a bigger loss than the others'? I don't think so... but it is worthwhile to note how media ( & in turn, our society which is reflected by our media) determine the value of a life lost. Does the death of a newly-wed bride pinch more than that of a mother of a young child or an elderly woman? Does the death of an expectant father with a toddler & a second child on its way hurt more than the death of his other colleagues? Does the death of a comatose patient deserve to be played up more than the death of the able-bodies cousin, pilot & co-pilot?

Is it because these heart-rending stories play up on our inherent fears of being left stranded & helpless by our loved ones that they have more news appeal? Or do people have shelf-lives wherein, a person who is in a position to contribute something to a dependent/helpless person is of more value? Hence, it is easier to write about (& gain sympathy for) a person who is the sole bread-winner of a family or for a woman who is the mother of a very young child or for a younger person who is yet to live out their life? Is that why the loss of a 45-50+ year old person who has no kids to feed (or marry or educate) is easier to write off?

The fault may not lie in the journalistic principles but may instead, perhaps lie in the inherent selfishness of human nature. As long as we have something to benefit from someone, they are a loved one whose loss means "losing everything". Otherwise, they are just people whose time would have come soon anyway.

As a side note, I've always felt that in an ideal situation, families should travel together so that if one dies, there is no one left behind to mourn the loss. However, recently I came across an alternate belief (prevalent in several business & political families), wherein people want to be survived by family members to carry the legacy forward. Hence, travelling together would lead to a 'placing all your eggs in a single basket kind of situation' & hence, unadvisable. Morbid as the line of thought may be, it is worth a moment's consideration..