Monday, September 22, 2008

...so they were Indian.

Two interesting blogposts on Sepiamutiny were the genesis for this post. Also read Deep_Thought for a similar take.

The first is on Atul Vyas, an Indian who died in the recent train crash in the Los Angeles area of the United States, and the second is on Minal, who was one of the 32 victims of the shootout at Virginia Tech. Both articles are essentially eulogies, by people who did not know them when they were alive.

While the general idea of the posts is as far as I can gather, to remember those who passed away in tragic accidents - the specificities and general tone of the articles I find objectionable.

The article on Atul Vyas, a bright med-school aspirant is essentially the AP article on him supplemented by the blogger's own jarringly disproportionate emotional reaction to those details. For someone who came to know of Atul's existence only after his death, the "my heart turned to mush" reaction is a bit much.

Yes, Atul Vyas was an Indian twenty year old boy who loved waking up late and weird dancing, and was well-loved in general. He was bright and smart and while it is generally acknowledged that his passing was a loss to the world, I believe that as long as we did not know him, this whole "he was an Indian victim, and we are all Indian so, of course, we will all behave like we all knew him in person" reaction is extremely patronising, and by virtue of such, certainly disrespectful to the deceased himself, whose identity was certainly more than the cloyingly cutesy stereotyped-twenty-year old image that is being projected to generate mass emotion in all his "brother Indian expats". Not to mention how annoying this must be for all his friends and family, the people who genuinely knew him and miss him for the person he was.

This farce is taken about a couple hundred steps further in the article on Meenal, who the blogger has adopted as her - wait for it -"Choti Behan". Meenal's love for earrings and icecream have been lovingly culled from, of all things, her orkut profile, and all her scraps have been carefully examined and appropriately sobbed over by the blogger. The whole article has the approach of a hastily researched 'Human Interest' project (1 orkut profile, 1 newspaper article, 3 blogposts) tossed with as much overdramatic breast-beating as discretion will allow.
The only motive appears to be the generation of large-scale sympathy for one of the very few brown victims of the tragedy.

While the general idea of remembrance of people who have passed away in tragedies such as these is no doubt commendable, the whole tone of the article is more than annoying. It is cliched, syrupy and cringe-worthily teary for someone who didn't even know the victim personally. While I would certainly like blogposts written on me I die, I'm damned if I want to be adopted as a "choti behan" and cried for purely because I was Indian and brown. That's just insulting.

Posts of this kind have one main problem, namely the disproportionate focus on the brownness in anything. The tragedy and the other victims are mentioned and then summarily ignored while the blogger labours in his endeavour to "humanise" the sole brown victim for the benefit of the collective tear-glands of the entire expat Indian community. There is nothing that distinguishes the brown victim from the other victims except the brownness. In a world where racial profiling is legitimised and all guys in beards are Osama Bin Laden, this sort of passionately ethnocentric mourning is disturbing. If loss of life has transcended colour and ethnicity, so should remembrance and mourning.

Sympathy is fine, but sympathy dumbed down for the Lowest Common Denominator transcends funny, and cannonballs right into pathetic-land.

The bottomline is - leave the eulogies to the people who are qualified to write them. Anything more is patronising and disrespectful. The only exception to this rule is available to The Hindu, which will inevitably, when you die, inform the world that you have "attained the Lotus Feet of Rama." :-)

But then, that is The Hindu. And really, how can you not love The Hindu. :-)

Opinions?

12 comments:

Mudra said...

Agree completely. And in their over-sympathetic reaction for the Indian, they completely ignore the others who died. Come on, if you are mourning, do only Indians deserve your sorrow?

Oh, and the way people (not just bloggers, but newspapers as well) dissect someone's Orkut profile after their death - disgusting.

gawker said...

This is a great post. Very well expressed and mirrors my own feelings.

"It is cliched, syrupy and cringe-worthily teary for someone who didn't even know the victim personally"

Yes, yes and yes.

Sij said...

Waited so long for a post from you..its finally here and it hasn't failed to amaze..I agree that the recent trend of emotional discretion and racial morality has long forced itself into the minds of avid "India TV" viewers and their observant and socially stimulating point of view has been my daily dose of humor.
You consider their posts as annoying but my over-drawn sense of reality has me seeing them as excessively amusing.
One more thing..i dont know why this happens but when i read your post..its like "Movies-like" infatuation that i imagine you writing in "slow-motion" :)...i know it sounds corny but this is a confession.My priest will hear the same this weekend :)

Hakuna Matata said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hakuna Matata said...

Aarushi murder case rerun. Damn, it did become a farce when they started showing video clips of her swimming in her swimming pool and exclaiming like any other kid how much she loved the water. And this as news. Bleddy farce.

indiegurl said...

@mudra: i haven't read a paper since the 1 day old mumbai mirror on my flight to college ya, so cannot comment. Yes i am blushing :D

@gawker: glad you agree :-)

@sij: i think it is every blogger's secret dream to have comments like yours :-D thank you :-)

@hakuna: i know man... it's almost hilarious. Almost.

smeagolosaurus said...

Hello, fellow inhabitant of cyberspace. Here I am,reading the opinion of 'indiegurl' who didn't quite like the opinion of the people from 'sepiamutiny'. Interesting names. Quite frankly, it really isn't quite hard to see why the said disagreement happened.

What IS hard to see is why sepiamutiny’s research material is the subject matter of the disagreement. Feelings can be conservatively defined as an affective state of consciousness, such as that resulting from emotions, sentiments, or desires. A eulogy, essentially being an expression of the positive feelings you had for the dearly departed, is conditioned and culled not from truth but from experience.

First, indiegurl believes that it is improper for a eulogy writer NOT to know the deceased when the deceased was alive. If sepiamutiny had read the deceased's blogs when the deceased were alive, would it make a difference?

Second, indiegurl seems to make a distinction between 'knowing a person personally' and knowing him passively through impressions that the person left in cyberspace. Evidently, to write a eulogy for that person, one ought to confirm to the former and to write one if your interaction has been of the latter variety, is just disparaging and even ,ahem, insulting (to? oh, indiegurl of course).


The crux of this whole distinction seems to lie in the definition of the word 'personally'. In order to strike a contrast to 'impressions left on cyberspace' and thereby make a logical distinction, I guess one ought to assume that indiegurl meant 'knowing that person through one-on-one face-to-face real world interactions'. I fail to see how that guarantees true knowledge of that person.

Allow me to illustrate. Tom Keating has gone down in history as one of the world's greatest art forgers. He died a disgrace to the art community, hated by one and all within it. But for most of his life, he was respected by all who 'knew' him and was considered an honest dealer of genuine art. If he had died without being busted, I am fairly sure this would have figured in his eulogy.

What I am getting at is that a eulogy need not be a reflection of 'facts uncoloured by feeling'. It has been, from time immemorial, quite the opposite. Further, I genuinely hope indiegurl does not believe that one ought to know 'everything' about the person one intends to write a eulogy for. THAT would be ridiculously amusing. Assuming that she doesn't, we are only debating the degree of requisite knowledge. THAT is a clash of opinions and essentially an equal debate where indiegurl's opinion is as good as sepiamutiny's.


So, logically speaking ,sepiamutiny's 'eulogy' is an expression of sepiamutiny's feelings towards those factoids about the deceased's lives sepiamutiny knew. Which ,as i've argued is perfectly fine for a eulogy. It does not rule out the possibility of other more 'comprehensive' eulogies,does it? It is always open to indiegurl to 'un-hastily and intensely research' on the deceased's lives (100 interviews, school records, home videos, diaries ,police records , seances et.al.) and come up with a 'measured and appropriate' emotional response to said deceased's demise.

Third, indiegurl has problems with the "the disproportionate focus on the brownness in anything. The tragedy and the other victims are mentioned and then summarily ignored while the blogger labours in his endeavour to ‘humanise’ the sole brown victim for the benefit of the collective tear-glands of the entire expat Indian community.There is nothing that distinguishes the brown victim from the other victims except the brownness."

If 8 of my cousins jumped off a train to their death and I want to write a eulogy for ONE of them, would you blame me for not including the guage of the train, the lateral g readings of the carriage during the crash and my feelings for the other 7 in THIS one's eulogy?
If the fundamental problem is the 'racist' tone of 'brownness', then my dear, it seems like a fundamentally valid ground in the arena of feelings. The only thing that distinguishes war-heroes from prisoners-of-war is citizenship; the only thing that distinguishes a distant relative and a complete stranger is ties of kin. Would you hold it against anyone if they 'feel' for one side more than the other? The 'brown' people are a "political, racial, ethnic, societal, and cultural classification" ,if THAT isn't enough ground to empathize and 'feel' a little more about one kind of person than the other, I wonder what is?


Fourth, about the ‘point’ of a eulogy. Indiegurl says "The only motive appears to be the generation of large-scale sympathy for one of the very few brown victims of the tragedy." WHAT pray is the POINT of a eulogy ? If anything they all leave some of the alive happy, some pissed and the rest blissfully unaware of their existence. As far as the deceased are concerned...frankly my dear, I doubt they give a damn…….. because they're fucking dead and at the lotus feet of rama….the wi-fi sucks : -p .


P.S - why wasn't i told?

bassiouni beats bantekas said...

Hello, fellow inhabitant of cyberspace. Here I am,reading the opinion of 'indiegurl' who didn't quite like the opinion of the people from 'sepiamutiny'. Interesting names. Quite frankly, it really isn't quite hard to see why the said disagreement happened.

What IS hard to see is why sepiamutiny’s research material is the subject matter of the disagreement. Feelings can be conservatively defined as an affective state of consciousness, such as that resulting from emotions, sentiments, or desires. A eulogy, essentially being an expression of the positive feelings you had for the dearly departed, is conditioned and culled not from truth but from experience.

First, indiegurl believes that it is improper for a eulogy writer NOT to know the deceased when the deceased was alive. If sepiamutiny had read the deceased's blogs when the deceased were alive, would it make a difference?

Second, indiegurl seems to make a distinction between 'knowing a person personally' and knowing him passively through impressions that the person left in cyberspace. Evidently, to write a eulogy for that person, one ought to confirm to the former and to write one if your interaction has been of the latter variety, is just disparaging and even ,ahem, insulting (to? oh, indiegurl of course).


The crux of this whole distinction seems to lie in the definition of the word 'personally'. In order to strike a contrast to 'impressions left on cyberspace' and thereby make a logical distinction, I guess one ought to assume that indiegurl meant 'knowing that person through one-on-one face-to-face real world interactions'. I fail to see how that guarantees true knowledge of that person.

Allow me to illustrate. Tom Keating has gone down in history as one of the world's greatest art forgers. He died a disgrace to the art community, hated by one and all within it. But for most of his life, he was respected by all who 'knew' him and was considered an honest dealer of genuine art. If he had died without being busted, I am fairly sure this would have figured in his eulogy.

What I am getting at is that a eulogy need not be a reflection of 'facts uncoloured by feeling'. It has been, from time immemorial, quite the opposite. Further, I genuinely hope indiegurl does not believe that one ought to know 'everything' about the person one intends to write a eulogy for. THAT would be ridiculously amusing. Assuming that she doesn't, we are only debating the degree of requisite knowledge. THAT is a clash of opinions and essentially an equal debate where indiegurl's opinion is as good as sepiamutiny's.


So, logically speaking ,sepiamutiny's 'eulogy' is an expression of sepiamutiny's feelings towards those factoids about the deceased's lives sepiamutiny knew. Which ,as i've argued is perfectly fine for a eulogy. It does not rule out the possibility of other more 'comprehensive' eulogies,does it? It is always open to indiegurl to 'un-hastily and intensely research' on the deceased's lives (100 interviews, school records, home videos, diaries ,police records , seances et.al.) and come up with a 'measured and appropriate' emotional response to said deceased's demise.

Third, indiegurl has problems with the "the disproportionate focus on the brownness in anything. The tragedy and the other victims are mentioned and then summarily ignored while the blogger labours in his endeavour to ‘humanise’ the sole brown victim for the benefit of the collective tear-glands of the entire expat Indian community.There is nothing that distinguishes the brown victim from the other victims except the brownness."

If 8 of my cousins jumped off a train to their death and I want to write a eulogy for ONE of them, would you blame me for not including the guage of the train, the lateral g readings of the carriage during the crash and my feelings for the other 7 in THIS one's eulogy?
If the fundamental problem is the 'racist' tone of 'brownness', then my dear, it seems like a fundamentally valid ground in the arena of feelings. The only thing that distinguishes war-heroes from prisoners-of-war is citizenship; the only thing that distinguishes a distant relative and a complete stranger is ties of kin. Would you hold it against anyone if they 'feel' for one side more than the other? The 'brown' people are a "political, racial, ethnic, societal, and cultural classification" ,if THAT isn't enough ground to empathize and 'feel' a little more about one kind of person than the other, I wonder what is?


Fourth, about the ‘point’ of a eulogy. Indiegurl says "The only motive appears to be the generation of large-scale sympathy for one of the very few brown victims of the tragedy." WHAT pray is the POINT of a eulogy ? If anything they all leave some of the alive happy, some pissed and the rest blissfully unaware of their existence. As far as the deceased are concerned...frankly my dear, I doubt they give a damn…….. because they're fucking dead and at the lotus feet of rama….the wi-fi sucks : -p .

bassiouni beats bantekas only to be eaten by smeagolosarus said...

sorry about the double posts...was operating Mozilla and IE simulatenously and had the comments page open on both.

indiegurl said...

@smeagolosaurus, etc.: To think i was just wondering about brevity being overrated... Perhaps you might consider a blogpost of your own? That way you don't clog up my comments also, yesno?

Also.....ok yes. Point taken. Grudgingly, but taken.

Mudra said...

Wow. You have a thesis section, not a comments section.

The Quirky Indian said...

Isn't this just one manifestation of a larger issue - how we appropriate, with inappropriate alacrity, the (questionable) "Indianness" of anyone in the news abroad, particularly stateside - be it Bobby Jindal, Kal Penn, Meenal, Atul Vyas, Sunita Williams, Shyamalan or some third generation kid of Indian-origin who won the Spelling Bee?

Quite pathetic, but we are like that only. What is to be doing?

Cheers,

Quirky Indian
http://quirkyindian.wordpress.com