Reactions To The Mumbai Blasts…

Like a lot of people, I was a helpless observer of the events unfolding in Mumbai last night.  There was a drive to contribute accompanied by a distinct inability to do so.  In the end, I became part of the masses watching this unfold on media and trying to ensure that friends and family were OK.

Friends and family…  Would first like to pass on my condolences to all who were directly impacted by this.  Loss of life or health is not replaceable with any post-facto actions.

I would also like to pass on some of my observations.  What surprised me was that these observations have large support from the sources that I was able to observe – comments on TV, digital media or print media – the general public comments.

Panic

A lot of panic was generated yesterday.  Panic was related to a general feeling of deja vu, and the experiences of the city and country from the pre-decessors.  The panic was exacerbated by the actions of the media.  What did impress me though was the calm and methodical approach taken by the people in charge.  Regular, clear, concise communication with no pre-analysis announcements – the biggest difference that I was able to note.

Police

Seemed to do a better job than I remember ever before.  They were much better at communication, but in the scenes that I could see, the hawaldar on the ground was still confused.  Preparedness, organization and ability to respond quickly seems to still need work. Inability to clear and secure the sites quickly also bothered me.

Media

The behaviour of the media did not surprise me.  That to me was strange given that what I saw I categorized as deplorable. There has been a lot of criticism of this in previous incidents; likewise in this one, but not sure what would motivate our dear TV news channels to change.

  • The TV news channels were running in a loop – showing the same things with an amazing frequency.
  • They kept people extremely up to date on any official announcements regarding casualty numbers and the ilk
  • They were relentless in pursuing eyewitnesses; 1 channel even interviewed a person who had run away from the scene without seeing anything
  • The images were graphic, in a lot of cases not even blurred. People were being encouraged to send more images in
  • In getting this information, neither the TV crews or the other people at the sites worried about trampling all over the evidence
  • There was no information on the state of traffic, trains, buses, etc so that people could find their way home
  • There was no information on blood donation that I noticed – either encouraging or directing donors
  • There was no direction on what people were supposed to do

There seemed to be a focus on satisfying the voyeuristic desires of people sitting at home (like me); not to pass on helpful information to people caught-up in the mess and needing help

 Digital Media

 I have not been a user of twitter until recently. What I have heard about it’s past contributions is one of the reasons I am there now.  The tweeps were what really made the day here. What I saw:

  • People publishing phone numbers in public advertising assistance [food/shelter/medical help/etc]
  • People publishing routes that they are taking so that stranded people could get assistance
  • People responding to cries for help appropriately and providing solutions
  • People willing to give blood and other people directing them where to go
  • Somebody got the bright idea of consolidating the information so that it would be easily trackable and usable
  • Latest information on traffic, trains, buses, taxis and what not – actually useful to people
  • Other kinds of information was available – who to attack, how other countries would respond, etc.  However, there were an equal number of people asking them to hold-off until the emergency had been dealt with.

The brilliant behaviour of the people and the usefulness of the adopted platform to the cause is something that should be remembered in this hour of pain.  To whatever degree, these actions did alleviate some of the pain that would have been present otherwise.

 What I observed was interviewees on the TV, people on twitter and people I have had conversations with having similar sentiments. I am sure with a little bit of change we can do better next time.  For there to be no next time is the best, but that would require a lot of change.

What I learnt and what the 9-to-whatevers can take away is that resources available are not the only thing that drive results.  TV channels and the like have many more resources and better organization than any loosely built collection of individuals.  Yet, this collection provided a significantly higher benefit last night using the meagre resources.  Differences in motivation? drive? desire? leadership? ? ? You tell me…

Update:

A link detailing some of the activities that helped.

Article 377 – RIP

18 years ago, we made a decision.  We decided that we wanted to get rid of the shackles that had been binding our economy – we have made significant strides in the right direction there.

The question I have is if now is a similar watershed for our social shackles.  The striking down of the anachronistic law recently gives me a great sense of being there.  The government has finally decided to butt out of our bedrooms – a great beginning.  They have come to the realization that what the British saw fit for us a century and a half ago and not fit for themselves for the last five decades may not be fit for us after all.

Don’t get me wrong.  Do I want to sleep with another man? No.  But what I celebrate today is that any other man who answers yes can do it with the same aplomb.  What I really want to say today is Thank You.

Blow! Out

Let me begin with a story.  A few years ago, my sister was visiting me in the US.  One of her friends had also come to New Jersey on a professional assignment from India.  There was a need for him to go from his hotel to another one, about 15 miles away.  Three factors came into play here; there was no ride (lift) available to him, the hotel had rental cars available and he had been driving in Delhi for several years.  He came to grips with his fears and decided to take the plunge and drive [along with a rider].  He consulted my sister on the best route and the best road behaviour and off he went.  An anxious 30 minutes later, my sister received a call signifying that he had indeed made it to his destination without major incident.  In fact he was rather proud of the fact that he only had 4 people honk at him during the trip!

What a difference in perceptions!  In fact, what a difference in facts!  In Delhi, I can personally vouch that any trip of 15 miles or 24 km of good driving in traffic will elicit an order of magnitude more people blowing their horns at you.  I can also personally vouch that in 15 years of driving in the US, my horn usage would have been limited to single digits.  So, the meaning of 4 honks was quite different for the two parties on the call.

In India, blowing your horn is a way of life on the road.  I have observed a person pressing the horn about every 2 minutes on average just out of habit.  Let us not even mention traffic jams and red lights.  I have also observed that the public is becoming fairly immune to the horn – they seem to filter it out when they hear it.  Further observation states that the solution being provided to this is louder and more metallic horns.  Loudness of horns is a major concern for new car buyers and the dealers are quick to respond with upgrades.  What a world…..

I am sure every resident of and visitor to India is aware of this.  Nothing new there.  However, I would like to propose a radical solution.  Let us ban horns – disable them on every vehicle on the road.  I can already hear the screams; ‘you are crazy’, ‘that will lead to chaos’, ‘how will we warn people of impending doom?’,….

I agree.  I probably am crazy.  It will lead to chaos.  But for how long?  The theory of creative destruction teaches us that alternatives are found.  Human behavioural studies teach us that people adapt.  Let us, for a moment, analyze how people will adapt.  I can guarantee that they will not stay off the road.  They would do that today if they could.  Other techniques to adapt would include using one’s senses; look left and right before joining a main artery; look in your rear-view mirrors and side mirrors before changing lanes; wait for the light to turn green before crossing a red light; wait for the pedestrian to cross before turning on a side road; ……

Wait!  The proposed results seem to suddenly make things nice.  This is the way we want everybody on the road to behave (except ourselves of course).  This will make my life better, we say.  But, will turning horns off make this happen?  In my view it will.  The price will be the chaos until self-preservation forces a change of habit.

Will the desired habits be formed?  Will the price be worth it?  Is it a whackily practical thing to try?  What do you think?