Monday, September 1, 2008

We only want the bad news

Most of us can think of a friend who frequently calls up with bad news. He had a setback in his job, his wife has a back problem and their daughter was too sick to appear for her exams. You sympathise. You worry about them. Maybe you send over a little present to cheer them up. Then months later, you learn from a common friend that he got a new job at twice the salary, his wife staged a recovery through yoga and now attends dance classes, and the daughter went on to win prizes at school. But somehow, this friend "forgot" to tell you any of that! He shares the bad news, but not the good.

Some people are particularly prone to this kind of behaviour, but overall that's human nature for you. I was reminded of this when I went to Bangalore a couple of days ago. The new airport is a disaster, and there are no roads to connect it to the city, so it will take you three hours to get anywhere - or so my friends assured me. I could remember newspaper reports on these lines and was quite concerned. But the reality was quite the opposite. What I encountered was a gleaming airport that's a pleasure to arrive in, and a highway on which (I timed it) we covered 29 of the 35 km towards Bangalore city in 35 minutes - on a Friday evening. That we got into immense traffic jams on entering the city is hardly the fault of the airport.

Perhaps there were glitches when it opened, but if the press ever highlighted the excellent terminal and smooth roads then I can't remember it. Actually I wasn't here for the last month, but no friend of mine could remember it either. We're all busy collecting the bad news and have little space in our minds for the good. What's the deep reason? I feel contemporary urban Indians are suffering a crisis of personal insecurity (despite, or because of, the fact that our country is poised to make major economic progress and perhaps eliminate its endemic poverty). Could it be that seeing negatives everywhere around makes us feel better about ourselves and alleviates this insecurity, at least temporarily?

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