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My endeavor is to delve into certain issues to give you some perspective, help you understand the world better, attempt to understand why we do what we do, and maybe in all of this, make the world teeny-weeny better! 

Disclaimer: It may be a tad bit opinionated!

So, let's get to it...

The Value of Human Life

Knock, Knock Knock... (Sadly this ain’t a knock-knock-who’s-there joke!)

But on that fateful night, when someone did knock on our flat’s door at 1 am, we were prompted to ask, “Who’s there?”

Bang came the reply in a trembling voice, “It’s me, Rahul” (let’s call him that, keeping the college batch-mate’s name anonymous)

In half-sleep, I opened the door to find Rahul, literally shivering. It wasn’t as if it was winters then, we were in Pune, which had a decently pleasant climate throughout the year. But Rahul was shivering for some other reason.

“What happened? How come you are here at this godforsaken hour?” I asked.

My other flatmate, let’s call him Amit, got off the bed and came out of the room towards the entrance door. “Abbe! What the hell are you doing here?” said he, looking at Rahul.

Amit and I looked at each other and this grim sinking-feeling gripped us in the mysteriousness of Rahul’s visit at this hour of the night.

To give you a background, three of us – Amit, Raj (let’s say) and I, had shifted out of hostel during our second year engineering to take up a flat on rent on the outskirts of Pune. Both Amit and I were very fond of Raj. Raj was the happy-go-lucky kind of a guy. He was the guy who had multiple social circles in the college ‘coz of his nature. He was the guy always bringing people together, whether or not individually they might not have had a liking for each other, but Raj had managed to be the glue between them. Not the topper kinds but very chilled out. Not indifferent kinds either but very empathic he was. He was the guy who in the face of ‘anxiety during exam time’ used to tell us, “cool cool”. Where the other guys were just hitting ‘puberty’ or drooling over it at this time, he was probably the only guy in a steady relationship with his school-time girlfriend. He was the guy who talked about love like magic in the air. He was the guy who people vomited their problems to because he listened. He was the guy that people loved to be around with. So much so, that soon this ‘likability’ for him got degenerated into a silent tug-o-war between the groups, with two groups on either side with Raj in between. Why I chose to call him Raj? ‘coz being an SRK fan himself, he was like the SRK amongst us.

As Amit and I looked at each other in that gripping feeling, on seeing Rahul, we noticed that Raj was missing. “We need to go now,” exclaimed Rahul to both of us. “And quickly,” he added impatiently but silent on what had happened.

Now, the sinking feeling in our stomachs magnified to a whole new level. I climbed on Amit’s bike and we sped, tailing Rahul, who was on his. Driving for 25 mins on the streets of Pune in the dead of that night, we finally reached a spot where we saw Raj’s bike crashed on the road..... and to our absolute horror right next to it, lay a body covered with a black cloth. Our hearts instantly sank and we couldn’t control our emotions. My head split into a severe headache – Raj and I had just fought over something and he had left home. Rahul narrated to us what had happened...... going to eat something they were in the middle of the night... bike skid... crashed... Raj hit his head to the ground, it split open and he died on the spot, while Rahul with minor injuries, lived to tell us the tale. What followed next was a sight so deeply embedded in me, that even if you cut my skull and take out my brain and throw it away, I still won’t be able to forget.....

...The sight of a father breakdown as he saw the body of his son, lying still on the road.

Raj was only 20 when he died.

It is in that dead moment, I felt a brush with Disturbing Truth of life that –

Life’s too short, too precious and highly unpredictable. All that matters is what you plan to do with it, how you plan to live it, how you plan to see it and how you plan to value it.

A flurry of questions bounced back and forth in my mind post that traumatic experience,

  • Do you intend to throw life away or respect it?

  • Do you have gratitude for it or disregard it by taking it for granted?

  • Do you intend to take, take, take only or give back too?

  • Do you value your own life?

Ever since then, I have been battling with these questions sometime or the other. But somewhere in the transactions of life, or as time went by, this got lost and sadly, we only realize this shit, once we have a brush with the disturbing truth. And we do keep getting brushed every now and then, don’t we? Don’t we. Maybe when we are in the midst of an accident or lose someone that’s important to us or have a close call with death, or something happens to someone we know, etc. That image of the body lying next to the motorbike was so indelibly imprinted in my mind, that I shudder when I still think of that incident. And not because I knew Raj, but I shuddered at the very sight of it. I mean come to think of it, I hardly knew Raj for one year or something that I still remember him 20 years after his death. But, what if it was someone else’s body lying on the ground?

What if it’s someone else’s body lying blood-covered on the road and you happen to drive by?

One of the most infamous incidents in New York’s history was the 1964 stabbing of a woman by the name of Kitty Genovese on the streets of Queens. Genovese was chased by her assailant and stabbed three times, crying and screaming out for help before she succumbed to the injuries. A very strange fact came out when the police investigated the murder. Over the course of half-an-hour that Miss Genovese was stabbed, it was learned that thirty-eight of her neighbors watched this happening from their bedroom windows, but none of them called the police. This raised a lot of eyebrows on the dehumanizing effects of urban life on humans. Abe Rosenthal, the New York Times editor, wrote in her book and I quote verbatim,

Nobody can say why the thirty-eight did not lift the phone while Miss Genovese was being attacked since they cannot say themselves. It can be assumed, however, that their apathy was indeed one of the big-city variety. It is almost a matter of psychological survival if one is surrounded and pressed by millions of people, to prevent them from constantly impinging on you, and the only way to do this is to ignore them as often as possible. Indifference to one’s neighbor and his troubles is a conditioned reflex in the life of New York as it is in other big cities.”

But there was something more to this. Two NY psychologists Bibb Latane of Columbia University and John Darley of New York University got interested and conducted a series of studies and in-depth research on this ‘alienated’ human behavior. They staged all kinds of emergencies in different situations and observed how people responded and who would come to help etc. What they found was very interesting and unfortunately very sad too -

“In the case of Kitty Genovese, the lesson is not that why no one called despite the fact that thirty-eight people heard her scream; it’s that no one called because thirty-eight people had heard her scream. Ironically, had she been attacked on a lonely street with only just one witness, she might have lived.”

They labeled this as ‘The Bystander Problem’when people know they are in a group, the responsibility of acting is diffused. They assume that someone else will make the call or they assume that since no one else is making that call or taking any action to the apparent problem, there isn’t really a problem.

Well, this theory or study was conducted in the late 60s and has been beaten to death by way of articles and in books, however, sadly so, the bystander problem has only magnified in today’s times, even 60 years after the stabbing of Kitty Genovese.

Today, do we even feel for life, as it departs when we see one? Has the constant bombardment of various ‘horrors’ happening around us, made us immune or what? Have we become assholes to turn a blind eye towards people literally killing each other? Do we stop by if we see a person, counting his last breaths, lying on the road? Do we actually sit up and empathize with the atrocities people are committing by hiding behind the veneer of religion? Does our blood boil as we see blood-covered brutally-beaten bodies being dragged by assailants? Do we need an Abe Rosenthal or a Bibb Latane or John Darley to tell us this in the 21st fucking century?

Just like in the case of Miss Genovese, we all today just stand there, watch on our ‘social media windows’ as bystanders and because there are millions watching as the horrors unfold in front of our eyes on the mobile screens, we choose to do shit about it. Instead, we choose to continue to fight amongst ourselves like animals (and have lost our ability to reason and using others as a means, read Immanuel Kant in my previous article).

Haven’t we all become soul-less bystanders?

Do we even value the life of others? or,

Have we stopped valuing life itself?




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