Fixing the blame: Anatomy of a building collapse

Lets play a game. Its called ‘Fix the blame’. Its a multi-player game with the following participants: Greedy building contractors, corrupt municipal officials, the colluding police force and, lastly, the poor and needy people.

The first move is done by the greedy building contractors. They wish to earn profit from thin air and are willing to go to any lengths (i.e. stoop down to an abysmal level) to achieve that goal. They realize that they can earn enormous amounts of money by constructing cheap high-rise buildings in a matter of months on illegal land, bypassing all kinds of rules and regulations, and then selling them to desperate individuals in search of a roof over their heads. But obviously, they have to shell out some money to their ‘supervisors’ who are in the know of their greed. You can’t pick a fight with the crocodile if you want to swim in the lake, can you? You have to keep them happy.

So the next roll of the dice is from the corrupt politicians and municipal officials, who choose to look the other way when in fact its their obligation to stop a wrong deed from happening. All in the name of a few bundles of cash that pass into their hands from the building contractors. Some relevant persons from the law enforcement agencies, i.e. the police force, too get their share of this money to keep quiet and pretend they are patrolling a paradise.

Enter the poor and migrant population, who get the last chance at throwing the dice. With everything back home up in the air and job security in a new city being a myth, they are living with an uncertain future. A pair of clothes at the max, very little food, no shelter to call ‘home’ and an ever burgeoning family with hungry, crying infants to look after (figuratively) with not even a remote hope of medical care. Add to that the hot sun or the incessant rains. A rational way of thinking isn’t a priority when you have an empty stomach. Then they come across someone who is selling a house to renting it out at throwaway prices. It seems like a glimmer of hope in a dark alley, and they grab the opportunity, knowing fully well at the back of their minds that they are treading thin ice here, not knowing the background or the history of the builder in question. It solves today’s problems. They live to fight another day, and who knows what tomorrow might hold.

Unfortunately, that ‘tomorrow’ doesn’t hold good for them. Its no surprise that substandard material and shoddy practices have been used to construct the multi-storey buildings. Moreover, the land the high-rises are built upon is a covered sewer and is as unstable as quicksand. Their luck runs out. One such building comes crashing down to bury the people, and their hopes and ambitions, in a pile of rubble several meters high, leading to numerous deaths. A danger that everyone involved knew fully but chose to ignore.

Game over. Go ahead, fix the blame.

Thane Building Collapse (April 2013)

Thane Building Collapse (April 2013)

Last Thursday, an 8-storey building came crashing down in a congested suburb of the over-crowded city of Mumbai, India. 72 lives were extinguished. Almost the same number were injured, some severely. Many more have been rendered homeless. There are stories of 10 month old kids still waiting to be united with their moms and dads, who are dead, unfortunately. So who was at fault? Upon whom do you fix the blame?

And this is not an isolated case. Its not the first time something as catastrophic as this has happened, and its certainly not going to be the last. Its just an example of what happens in most developing countries. And this vice is here to stay. For most of the victims, its a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

(Image credits: indianexpress.com, indiatoday.intoday.in, dawn.com)

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Lance Armstrong and the need for ‘visible success’

Lance Armstrong’s fall from the seemingly insurmountable heights of sporting fame has become a topic discussed about as much as the 2012 doomsday prediction. Alas, the former happened more suddenly and tragically than the latter.

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The embarrassing confession (Photo: EPA)

If, like me, you’ve grown up reading Armstrong’s autobiographical books, the revelation of his doping will hurt. Massively. He had already overcome the deadly challenge faced by cancer and conquered death before his very first Tour de France victory. In that, he was a hero already. But if human history is anything to go by, people high on success rarely know when and where to draw the line.

That said, can you realize all by yourself that you’ve got to draw that line? Does it always have to be that you’ve got to be different, stand out from the rest crowd to be noticed and almost worshiped? Armstrong wasn’t the first one to cheat death, and certainly not the last. Did he need a more visible form of success to be remembered in the annals of history? To have that true ‘fulfillment’ in life, do we always need someone else to tell us that we’re great?

Questions can get more curiouser, though. Would’ve Armstrong’s Cancer charity, ‘Livestrong‘, gathered the same publicity and importance without all his (now illegal) superhuman victories and feats on the race track? Would we all have still worn those wristbands? Would it have garnered the same amount of donations from the world over? And what now for the brand of the organization?

Erasing titles and the records of yellow jerseys is theoretically possible, but it is uncanny how the act of forgetting a bad memory is always harder than that of remembering a good one. Armstrong’s ‘make believe’, while it lasted, inspired a generation of athletes and regular people alike. He was sort of an advertisement for sport of cycling. It won’t take long, though, for people to shun the very thought of him when his actions should actually be a benchmark for immorality. In a way, he still is an advertisement for sport, of how not to be successful.

It would be best to end this post with Armstrong’s own words on the probe into the doping scandal:

“Its hard to define victory, but I thought I was out of the woods. And those were some serious wolves.”

He was right about one thing though. Its really not about the bike. It never was. And now it never will be.