- WHAT DISASTERS TELL US ABOUT HUMAN NATURE
Courtesy: K.R. Ravi
WHAT DISASTERS TELL US ABOUT HUMAN NATURE
When life offers us situations of great tragedy or dilemmas we are tested. Human nature is seen at its rawest in such circumstances. One sees the noblest side of ourselves and also the meanest.
Take two situations, in one of which I was the affected guy and the other one — in the wake of the Uttarakhand disaster where media reports tell us of human behavior at its best and at its worst.
A decade ago I lost my father at a ripe old age. While we accepted his passing away with relative equanimity what happened at the crematorium needs re- telling. We were allotted a time slot of 3 pm for the electric crematorium. As readers will readily agree the ceremonies etc. do not always work with clockwork precision and despite our best efforts we reached the crematorium about ten minutes late. The man in charge said that we cannot now proceed with the cremation and we must come back the next day. Just when we thought that the trauma of a month maintaining vigil outside the ICU followed by the loss of our loved dad may have come to an end this guy’s stentorian diktat came as a shock. Not used to this kind of situation I lost my cool and blasted the man.’ After all the other families at the venue were still performing rites and the crematorium was free so why can’t we go ahead?’ I charged. But the man remained unmoved. This stalemate continued for over fifteen minutes when an elderly man from another family approached me and said that I ought to have known better and must simply pay the man a thousand rupees.
‘What?” I asked in rage. ‘ Is this an occasion to ask for a bribe when my family—as well as the others here - are already plunged in grief?’ ‘Sir, for your family it is a calamity maybe but for this official it is just another day at the office, another job’ said the elder calmly.
I began to see the situation in a fresh light. I handed over the ‘unofficial’ speed money and minutes later all was over.
Something similar has been reported by survivors of the Uttarakhand disaster. Reports say that some of those who managed to trek their way to relative safety finally managed to reach a small wayside hotel only to be told to cough up RS 180 for a roti. Similar instances of what may be called obnoxious behavior are in the news like taxi drivers demanding Rs. 1000 from each of 7 passengers for a ten kilometer ride.
This raises the question - is there no place for compassion even in the most tragic and painful of situations? Are we as humans or at least some of us so greedy that we will throw all sense of decency to the winds?’ Is this phenomenon — called scalping – inevitable?
Before I throw this question open, let me add that are ennobling stories too. In Uttarakhand itself many reports have come in of our soldiers risking their lives to save people. When an Army officer spoke on TV to assure stranded people that ‘we are coming. We will sacrifice our lives to save you’ I could not but shed a tear of joy considering that such a statement was in contrast to the TV images of politicians going for what looked like joy rides in helicopters and waving at people perilously hanging over precipices inches away from possible death. To me this ‘waving’ is unpardonable.
Now coming to the dark side of human behavior those with a ‘pragmatic’ approach to life say that one has to seek an explanation for so called greed or scalping in the simple forces of demand and supply. When rotis are in tremendous short supply it is ‘natural’ that excess of demand over supply WILL lead to rise in prices. The taxi driver who asks for ‘extra’ over the meter amount when it is raining heavily is doing just what the demand supply imbalance demands.
Perhaps one may like to see how people behave in calmer times. You may have noticed that the finest professionals in town- doctors, lawyers, executives, film stars, cricketers etc. – command a huge premium over the ruling market rates for less endowed professionals. Do we ourselves not swell with pride when our son or daughter gets a higher pay packet compared with other similar qualified professionals? We justify this by saying that our kid is brilliant. What we imply is that there is a mismatch between supply of brilliant people and the demand for such talent.
Admittedly there are many dimensions to human behaviour and despite centuries of contemplation and research we are far from understanding ourselves. Maybe some of us ought to contemplate on this subject in the quiet of the Himalayas. Oops—that can be dangerous.
K.R. RAVI WWW.KRRAVI.COM
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