Mumbai has been lashed by heavy rains - yet again. The story is the same as it was ever since I took interest in this world 20 years ago. We've had knee deep/waist deep water in some areas, trains have halted, air traffic disturbed and some homes flooded.
For those who have been in Mumbai for a very short time, this happens atleast once every year in Mumbai. And yet, this year was different compared to all those years.
What was different you ask? It was the Mumbaikar for one. Another very different thing has been the overzealous press, which has inspired the title of this post.
26th July 2005 changed the way many Mumbaikars looked at rains. I was one of the luckier ones who had the comfort of my company bus and managed to reach home by 2 AM in the night. The rest did not reach home from work till the next day. They battled for their very lives, fighting the angry waters in the most unimaginable places; highways, railway stations, roads they travelled everyday. Many lost the weary battle. Others live through it, shuddering at the sight of a bucket of water for days after.
Such was the damage that one day caused this brave and sometimes cruel city. The Mumbaikars who once readily waded through knee deep water to meet their deadlines now sit at home at the very sight of heavy rains. The first day of rains were welcome by all, as they brought relief from the sveltering heat. The rains continued to the next day and the cool comforting winds and showers took the face of fear in the minds of these people.
There was another reaction to the July floods last year. The rest of the country woke up to the fact that people live here in Mumbai. The long standing image of Mumbaikars being insensitive and invincible suddenly received a major setback as the country saw live images in the news of Mumbaikars struggling through the waters trying to save their own and their fellow citizens' lives. The Mumbai rains which regularly stop the city a couple of days every year suddenly came into the faces of the Indian news fraternity and the country.
But it seems that this visibility has done more harm than good today. The rains in the past few days (going on as I write) have brought out a very desperate side of the news channels, each one trying to top the other trying to paint a grimmer and grimmer picture of the situation, all to get viewership. Yesterday a leading news channel showed waterlogged areas in Andheri, Mumbai claiming that there was no way traffic could continue in that area. The water was barely ankle deep. Agreed that it is still a worry, but there is no way that ankle deep water could cause any harm to cars and buses.
The best news cut, which led me to write this happened a little over half hour ago today. A News reporter described (and showed ofcourse, for the added effect) a grim situation in Goregaon where the water was "6 to 7 feet high" and was about "waist deep".
OMGWTF!!! We actually have 12 feet tall men in India!
This kind of news coverage induces two things in two different kinds of people. One section of the population goes into absolute hysteria, scared of the wrath the rain gods are incurring upon us Mumbaikars. There's the other who assumes that the press reports simply cry wolf all the time to get viewership and go headlong into some very dangerous situations.
And finally, if the sensationalist reporters were not enough, major news channels have come up with the concept of a citizen journalist. This is a good initiative on the face of it, an attempt to make the citizen more aware and involved. I saw an amazing shot of the Mumbai floods as sent by one such "citizen journalist". It was a 8-10 second long clip of which 1-2 seconds showed cars and buses struggling through knee deep waters. The rest of the clip focussed on the posterior of a young woman wading through thse waters. Great journalism; lets have more of those ;-)
So in the end we have a corrupt government, an otherwise insensitive populace and a sensationalist press. And we want to be called one of the greatest democracies in the world.