On 1st December 2015, Bhavesh Nakate, a 21-year old IT professional from Mumbai fell to his death while travelling to work on the footboard of a crowded suburban train. An extremely sad but common accident on this railway. What made it bizarre was the fact that the entire sequence was filmed by an indifferent co-passenger on his mobile phone even as the hapless victim pleaded for help in gaining a foothold on that crowded train. For those of you from other continents who may go “tch tch” or roll your eyes in disbelief, please google Mumbai Suburban Railway and familiarise yourself with the passenger load and daily statistics. These trains run packed like nothing you have ever seen, with more than eight humans packed into an area less than a square metre during peak hours. Yet a hand that could have saved his life was busy shooting his final video.
An unverified photo circulating online shows a group of ten boys & girls posing for a ‘groupfie’ on the edge of a cliff moments before all of them reportedly plunged to their death when one of them slipped, pulling each other down in a death grip. The sheer danger of such a risky exercise was lost on these youngsters looking for a ‘viral’ photo op.
Each day after 03 Apr 2017, when I return from Bombay High flying along Taj Lands End on Bandra’s seafront, I am reminded of Arjun Bharadwaj, a 24-year old student from Narsee Monjee College, who live-cast a tutorial on ‘how to commit suicide’ on Facebook before he leapt to his death from the 19th floor of that 5-star hotel. He was silently suffering from depression but had an active status on social media with many ‘followers’ and ‘friends’ – blindsiding his family who realised too late that his life was going all wrong. Incidentally, Taj Lands End’s tagline on their website reads ‘the extraordinary is everywhere’.
Predictably, all these videos and photos, like many more that surface on a sickeningly daily basis, went viral. I find it an eerie sign of our times that the Mumbai Police tweeted soon after Arjun’s suicide “Deeply bereaved with suicide of a young boy in the city. We urge the youngsters to reach out to us #WeAreListening”.
But are we? These days likes, hashtags and tweets have come to mean more than a warm hug; more than a simple, physical assertion that “I am always there for you”. It is far more convenient, like pizza delivery, to sit in front of your laptop and punch out ‘smileys’ and ‘hearts’ when someone close to you could be losing their last battle.
The obsession with selfies and videos will continue to claim more lives what with latest generation smartphones whose USP is a powerful front camera. Recently, Wikipedia added a dedicated page to injuries and deaths caused while taking selfies. Socialite Kim Kardashian hosted a first-ever ‘Selfie Awards’ ceremony on 21 Jun 15.
As per Greek mythology, Narcissus, son of river god Cephissus and nymph Liriope, saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it not realizing it was an image. So much so, that he lost his will to live – and died, contributing the term ‘narcissism’ to the English language. Maybe we are seeing a revival of that condition with devices designed to give us a worldwide audition just by a few taps on the cold, bright screen of a smartphone.
What has happened to our society? What’s with the affliction for cameras, selfies and likes? According to a report in The Washington Post more people died in India while taking selfies in 2015 than anywhere else in the World. What if surgeons started taking selfies against the backdrop of opened-up patients? Or pilots started taking selfies during take-off or landing? Or drivers started taking selfies on treacherous highways?
On my evening walk to the Juhu Beach in Mumbai, I often pass by an official ‘I Love Mumbai’ selfie point next to a busy traffic junction where even momentary distraction can be deadly for a pedestrian. An Aug 2016 directive from the Indian Tourism Ministry asked state governments to highlight or cordon-off ‘no selfie zones’ because of the rising number of deaths in selfie-obsessed accidents. What will this achieve in a country where signages and warnings are blatantly ignored like nutritional information on colas?
I have 300+ followers on Facebook. These ‘followers’ follow my best curated moments and have little stake in my day-to-day life. I don’t know how well they would appreciate my fallen moments. My select photographs, sentiments and happy moments out there on social media are but fleeting moments in the very average, normal life of an aam aadmi (common man, before it was copyrighted by opportunists). If I posted photos with puffy eyes and unkempt hair (which is me when I wake up on most days), or videos of my one-sided, male-chauvinistic arguments with Madhuri, would you still ‘like’ me? Probably not. ‘Unfollow’ perhaps, soon followed by ‘unfriend’ if I continue on this path. Because then I won’t be part of this ’live for likes’ community.
I have over 3000 connections on LinkedIn. But if I get fired from my job tomorrow, I am not sure how many would care to offer even a fig leaf of support. All it takes is a couple of clicks to ‘unfriend’ or ‘remove’ a connection. That is how fickle and fragile it is, never mind all the elegant jargon that social butterflies bandy about. So many vultures silently consume my daily output without ever caring to offer a hand of support when I am dealing with real life issues.
A ‘like-minded’ culture then is the herd mentality we all have accepted as the new normal. More ‘likes’ one garners, more ‘likes’ will follow. More your ‘desirability quotient’, more people are likely to ‘like’ you. Nobody wants to be left out of the herd. Never mind real issues. Once the herd starts moving, real issues will get obfuscated by the trampling hooves. Can life be reduced to such simple denominations of ‘likes’ and ‘comments’?
It is a sobering thought that in the end, 24-year old Arjun Bharadwaj’s excruciatingly lonely life was reduced to nine small notes and a 1 min 43 second video, almost in keeping with our short attention for real life challenges like depression, autism, addiction, or things like that. All this while, we continue to spend hours posting & ‘liking’ selfies, memes, trivia and blogs (like this one) on the same stage where he took his life.
Isn’t that ironic?
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2017. All rights reserved.
Featured image courtesy: Pamela Rutledge/Shutterstock