If you are perched high up in the pecking order, a casual disregard for those (barely) surviving far below is bound to creep in. The Roman emperor Nero is said to have played the fiddle while Rome burnt; a near-imaginary quote often attributed to the French empress Marie Antoinette has her recommending a diet of cakes for the starving Parisians rioting in bread queues. Prafulla Samal, Orissa’s tourism minister, may not be anywhere near as imperial in rank but this does not prevent him from being any less imperious in tone. In the recent floods that ravaged Orissa — killing at least 83 people in two phases and disrupting lives in 21 of the state’s 30 districts — Mr Samal has found a unique opportunity: to promote tourism.
In case you are wondering that Mr Samal might have been caught, and mischievously quoted, while he was practising for a performance of an absurd comedy, that does not seem to be the case. It was while addressing a gathering of representatives from the travel and hospitality sectors that the epiphany dawned, and led Mr Samal to describe flood-affected areas as a “tourist zone”, where tourists can feel/see what a flood is/does. Or in other words, if tour operators regularly take visitors around Mumbai’s Dharavi to show ‘how the other half lives’, Mr Samal would like to showcase ‘how the other half drowns’.
In elaborating further on his novel concept, Mr Samal mentioned that an Israeli national, for example, who has never seen a flood, might be sold on the idea of seeing how Orissa floods. Obv-iously, Mr Samal had realised that rivers in spate bringing ruin and destruction hold no appeal to the intrepid Japanese nationals — otherwise notorious for visiting conflict zones and other disaster sites across the world — as they have better options in their own tsunami-ravaged north of the country. Given that mismanagement in regulating water from the Hirakud dam has been one of the prime reason’s for this year’s flooding in the state, earning it the nickname of being “government sponsored”, is it any surprise that a minister will notice a silver lining in the swirling floodwater?