Friday, March 31, 2006

Tragedy in the high seas

Tragedy struck Bahrain last night. A dhow carrying nearly 150 people capsized, and 57 people perished and 60 were rescued and the rest were declared missing. News is still trickling in and it is apparent that any further news will not be very encouraging. That's the nature of disasters. They are not meant to make us feel good or feel positive about life. They are meant to connect us with our vulnerable side. And most of us are uncomfortable with such connections.

However, it is much easier to philosophise, rationalise or even argue the moral complexities of such disasters, but if such an event claims someone we know and care about, then, the discussions acquire a different tone altogether. Statistics no longer become a series of numbers to consider but a measurement to quantify the scale of personal tragedy. Numbers become a tool to seek answers for that heart wrenching question - WHY?

I wish I had answers to explain why my dear friend Samir Thorat perished in this disaster. I wish I could have some easily digestible answers to help understand why such a disaster should happen to someone I know. I wish I could have some satisfying answers to calm the storms of doubt and bewilderment.

Sadly, I don't.

It would be wrong to assume that it is possible to have pat answers available at the tip of one's fingertips. Tragic equations do not operate with such emotional precision. They compel us to go beyond the obvious and scrape at the barrel of the certitudes we are familiar with.

And in such cases, it is always better to look at facts that are available because only these have the kind of tangibility we are looking for. Hence the facts available in this case may help provide some answers. It seems that the dhow was capable of carrying only 100 people and the tour operator insisted on cramming the boat with additional passengers even though the captain objected. It seems that the dhow was not meant for such a trip. It seems that the dhow was not insured. It seems... well, these are just some of the 'facts' that are trickling in. They may or may not be true, but they form part of the loud whispers we are hearing. Human error, human apathy, human arrogance, human indifference appear to be the prime culprits in this terrible tragedy.

These 'facts' may help fit the pieces of the jigsaw together, and may enable us to find some kind of closure. At least, in the short term. But, in my opinion, it would be far better if this tragedy forces authorities to introduce curbs to prevent recurrence of this disaster. It is obvious from the 'facts' that the accident could have been avoided, and so it would be in the general interest that strict legislative measures are introduced to reinforce safety as a guiding principle for any future pleasure cruises.

If this is done, then, at least, Samir and others wouldn't have died in vain.

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