The young man giving finishing touches to the Ganesh idol wasn’t infuriated, he didn’t mean to offend me but that was his reply – simple and straight. He anticipated a reaction and waited for a couple of seconds before getting back to his work again. I kept quiet. I looked at his father who was friendlier. He was the one I had struck the conversation with before approaching the son.
The father would be about 70 years old. His colourful Rajasthani pagdi (turban) bred a sense of familiarity that drew me towards him from the other side of the street. He sat on a wooden chair just outside the tent that they had set up at the roadside. Behind him stood huge idols of the deity Ganesh ready to be dispatched for the upcoming festival of Ganesh Puja (worship). They made idols for a living. I also happened to notice the young man’s wife putting washed clothes up for drying and their infantile son sleeping in a make-shift crib.
I had befriended the father by this time. He was concerned at such a behaviour of his son and looked in askance towards him. I turned to the son to get into a longer conversation.
Cut to two days prior to this encounter. A picture appeared on my google news feed. He was Aylan Kurdi. The family had been identified as well. Indeed, pictures speak a thousand words. Reactions started pouring in as if the world had suffered a massive heart-attack. Offers of help rained like never before. A few countries showed that they cared. It took the body of a three-year old washed ashore to open a few eyes. It is a matter of another deliberation that most eyes are still closed – worryingly, the ones that matter. Aylan Kurdi was not the first one to drown and the subsequent reports tell us that he was not the last one either. The picture did more than what a thousand reports could not do for decades. This is also a part of human evolutionary process. We are no longer affected by written or spoken words. The reports of mass killings don’t affect us unless we are exposed to the accompanying pictures. It is a slow reverse-sensitization mechanism that has come into play much more pronounced than ever. The controversy over the documentary on Nirbhaya case was much ado about nothing. The details that the convicts furnished had already been explored and discussed in detail by all the leading news channels. Merely saying ‘Girl gang raped in Delhi’ doesn’t cut the mustard. Animated recreations of the incident start flashing on monitors for edits and cuts and finally end up in our living rooms with a few censorship warnings. Only thus we get successful in reaching out to the sensitivities of the common man, only then he reacts, only then he holds protests, only then he marches amidst the candle lights.
Social media is the tissue paper to the wailing hearts. Heart-wrenching hashtags are thought out, touching lines are scribbled on the picture and lo, they become the proverbial viral content in no time . Status updates may die, pictures don’t. Also, technically it takes a little more time to think through and collect our thoughts and understand the problem and voice our opinion than the much better and smarter way of likes and shares. That is the power of social media democracy. Almost instantly, wannabe documentary makers, photographers, bloggers, writers, newspaper columnists join the fray. The number of hits is proportional to the number of hearts they touch by their creations. Efforts are made to reach out to as many people as possible. A group discussing donuts on Facebook might find an Aylan Kurdi photograph in one of the comments with a link to the dedicated work of the creator. This is done to see if the donut dunkers can stop discussing do-nuts for some time and generate a few more hits on the creation page in order to show their solidarity. Such experiments have been hugely successful. Looks like Angela Merkel was inspired by one such blog to open her country’s doors for the asylum seekers.
We have grown too thick-skinned. Mere mention of somebody dying has lost its old world charm. It’s only prudent then that people first take pictures (and also a selfie if the looks permit) before they meander to help a victim. After all, all one can save would be probably a couple of lives, but a single share of the photograph will make it a mass movement, voices will rise, opinions will be heard, hashtags will trend, protests and candle-light processions will subsequently follow. Clearly whoever said ‘Prevention is better than cure’ was a wise one. It is now an opportune moment to open Instagram/Facebook/Twitter accounts that are dedicated to the cause of sharing such pictures, and since this won’t be a perennial solution either, in future we might need to shoot Aylan-Kurdi-drowning-live-video to generate sufficient amount of wrath for candle-light marches and also take our people to Greco-Roman amphitheaters to orchestrate mass killings for education and research purposes.
The young man working on the idol realized that I was looking for an addendum to his ‘No and continued – “Sir, last month we went to a hospital. My son is suffering from GBS (Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system.) The hospital management told me that the treatment would be free of cost as I wasn’t doing well financially. This was a big relief for me and I agreed to speak in a video clip where I was supposed to say that the hospital has treated my child for free. They also promised that more help will come. Only when I saw the bills later, I realized that they had used me for just their gains. I was made to pay for the expenses incurred and the video was used for hospital’s promotions. ”
After a brief pause, he continued – “A documentary film-maker told me that we would make a documentary on the art of idol-making and promised me that he would share whatever profit he makes out of it and it would bring me some money as well. We shot the complete video and I have not seen him since. Everyday somebody comes with a huge camera and backpacks, takes our pictures and videos and tells us they will get help for us, nobody comes back.”
My original question to him was – “Would you like to talk about this craft to the world?” I am proud of his ‘No’ today. This world doesn’t deserve to know. There is no picture attached to this post. I did not click any. The location details have not been provided on intention so that I keep the jackals away. I made two friends that day – father and the son.
You don’t write a blog with the pictures of dead bodies of your loved ones. You don’t need anyone to tell you how you should feel when your dear ones get hurt. The liberty that we take with the misery of others, the wrinkles of an old-man who doesn’t care for your stray DSLRs, the ignorance of right-to-privacy of the underprivileged, the pain on the face of the sex-workers in our so called underbellies, and the dead body of an Aylan Kurdi is not because we are compassionate, it’s because we don’t feel anymore. The entire civilization suffers from a chronic numbness. Apathy runs amok. Anyone who doesn’t share our DNA is expendable. God forbid, next time your loved one doesn’t wake up from sleep, try taking a glorious shot and posting it on your ‘You’s photography’ page.
I appeal to all the creators. Introspect, and see if you have become destroyers in the quest of getting that perfect creation of yours. To the audience I appeal, do not wait for a Leslee Udwin to teach you what a gang-rape means.
Difficult? Take a pin, prick yourself, and see if some blood still runs under that thick skin!