Be afraid. Be very afraid. That was the tagline of The Fly, the 1986 sci-fi horror flick about a transportation device gone horribly wrong. The machine had the atoms of an object broken down inside one teleportation pod and faithfully rearranged in another pod across the room. Travel across distances was to be made in seconds.
Essentially, the screw-up happens when the inventor puts himself inside the device for the first human test run. Unknown to him, there’s a fly that’s also in the pod. Both human and fly atoms are broken down in a pod and rearranged in another. The result: a drooling, compound-eyed human-fly that’s scarier than Salman Khan when he’s forgotten to shave his chest.
Then, there is Sheila Dikshit and her take on a transportation project gone wrong. Her tagline after last Sunday’s Delhi Metro construction crash that claimed six lives was: “I don’t think Delhiites are scared.” The Delhi Chief Minister came to such a conclusion after seeing Delhiites “come out and say on television that DMRC chief E. Sreedharan was the best”.
I saw the same channels, but have been hardly comforted each time I pass a construction site these days. And Dikshit may have been rivetted to Khatron ke Khiladi (“Did you ever harbour non-Platonic feelings towards Vijay Kumar Malhotra?”) when other channels got Metro workers to say that they were scared of more accidents and wanted to leave and get different jobs. You get a free lifetime pass to all the Metros in the world if you can name four of Sunday’s victims. (Clue: Anshuman Pratihar, Nirajan and Badan Singh are three names.)
Whatever be the case, Monday’s accident — when cranes came crashing down while trying to clear Sunday’s rubble — underlined how fate and spit, not nuts and bolts, keep things up and running in New India.
Things have always been falling apart and crashing into each other here without us getting into too much of a tizzy. It’s where all the kerrang happens that determines when we take out an umbrella for protection. There was a time when train accidents were as much a part of the Great Indian Scenery as the diarrhoeic jet of books about India’s growing superduperpowerness these days. With last week’s Metro accidents, largescale and random physical danger has finally become as palpable to us as a car crash in South Delhi. Disaster has come to town and it’s not even non-banal terrorism!
But there’s a lag between our (thrilling) collective urban fear of a giant chunk from a flyover falling on our heads and what we actually do to avoid this from happening. Never mind that there are no hard hats for most non-Sreedharans. We don’t even like wearing helmets on our motorcycles. And if you can fix a wiring problem with a gum, why go in for a re-wiring? Services are the cheapest in India.
The downsides of jumping from an agrarian economy to a service economy minus the boring bits of any Industrial Revolution-Shevolution are showing. Isn’t getting one’s kachhas in a twist about quality control and safety something that pampered foreign people obsess about like bottled water? A crash here and a tumble there with a few deaths of people who don’t quite make it to the candlelight vigil grade can’t change that.
Have corners been cut in the Delhi Metro project? God knows. But know this: ‘Be afraid. Be very afraid’ was also the tagline of Bean: The Movie, the rip-roaring 1997 comedy starring Rowan Atkinson, playing the lovable, bumbling, hardly articulate “child trapped in a man’s body”. Sounds familiar?