Some superficial lessons in Sandy’s wake | Arkadev Ghoshal

Some superficial lessons in Sandy’s wake

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/lookcatalog

Disasters bring out the real faces of people, they say. As someone sitting thousands of miles away from where Hurricane Sandy made landfall and left a trail of destruction in its wake, these real faces are becoming awfully clear, at least in some of the cases. Switch on the internet, go to sites like 9gag or 4chan (with caution, of course), and you will see and learn a lot of things that might otherwise have passed under the radar of even the extremely well-informed.

One of the first things I came across was the typical American trait to joke about a disaster to make it seem lighter. I had first come across it in the form of jokes about Osama bin Laden that began circulating just a couple of days after the 9/11 terror attacks. Other jokes at that time were about how those who had carried out the terror attacks with the promise of virgins in heaven had all been duped, because all the virgins turned out to be men!

Much like the famed spirit of Bombay/Mumbai — the city seems to have some way or the other to claw back its way to normalcy after every terror attack or natural disaster – Americans seem to use humour to cope with anything that throws normal life out of gear and brings about streams of tears. This time, the jokes compared hurricanes to women, and wondered if Chuck Norris was blowing into the water somewhere in the ocean. And when New York announced that its annual marathon would be held as planned, despite waterlogging in many parts of the city, wisecracks said they would bet on Michael Phelps to win it!

The disaster also seemed to highlight the level of ignorance and stupidity prevailing in some corners of the country whose President is often labelled ‘the leader of the free world’. There was much mirth surrounding a young man pointing out to his mother that the microwaveable dinner she had stocked up in preparation of the hurricane was a huge fail, because there was a huge chance that the storm would cause power outages. And as is the norm with the ‘swag’ and ‘YOLO’ generation, oblivious teenagers asked about this new girl ‘Sandy’ who everyone was talking about.

The hurricane also served to make some very important points. It exposed the ill-preparedness of the emergency services for exactly this kind of an emergency, with hospital generations falling short of the one task they had. It somewhat begs the question of if India is prepared for such calamities to even a fraction of the degree that the US is. Another very poignant portrait was a before-and-after montage of a beach, with the first picture showing the coastline strewn with garbage, and the second giving the impression of virgin sands. It would probably take just a couple of weeks to bring the beach back to its garbage-strewn condition.

Then there were the acts of altruism that serve to restore our collective faiths in humanity. From rescues – both human and animal – to random unselfish acts to help neighbours, these were the ones that built up some much-needed faith in humanity.

And finally, there were those who were ignored. Although Sandy had hit the Jersey Shore in the US East Coast, it had caused quite some amount of damage in Cuba too, and 9gag was quite vocal against the mainstream media for not reporting it. As for our news channels and dailies, some readers and viewers griped about how a storm in a faraway land had received more attention than the floods and subsequent riots in Assam a few months ago. I wonder if this post managed to add to that grouse.

(The views expressed in this column are the writer’s own)

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  • Divya Jyoti Arya

    Quite a good observation of the incident and its aftereffects… However, You chose to over-critisize the US people… I personally feel its a human tendency to overcome its grief by creating the humor equivalent to the level of suffering in order to maintain the balance of its inner self… If mumbai people are not creating joke then it doesn’t mean they are still crying for the scenes… Life in mumbai became normal after every disaster… People kept moving on! If mumbai people were that much internet-savvy; then you could have found same kind of response from them as well!! Anyways, good job in order of expressing views! :)

  • Manjishtha Bhattacharyya

    If ‘a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down’, you can’t blame the Americans for washing away memories of this stormy terror with humor. And, yes, disasters sure provide sneak peeks of all that is raw and rough concealed away conveniently below the carpet. Nice read :)