Two weeks ago, there was the story of Suraj, a 6-year old boy from Jaipur , who fell into a borewell and was pulled out by Army personnel. Sadly, he died later. Again, TV channels gave disproportionate publicity to this incident.
What is it about falling in wells that makes it so newsworthy and telecastable? It is tragic, of course, but surely there are other such stories unfolding all over the country? TV channels, these days, have lost their sense of balance and judgement, in their selection of stories.
That’s what I thought till I read this in a book called Black Swan, written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, an author who had grown up in Lebanon :
So, that’s the gripping power of the stories of boys falling into wells. It’s been tried out several times in the last few decades. One is almost tempted to believe that whenever there is a dip in viewership, the TV channels themselves hire Little Tommy Thin to push a little boy into the well and then Little Tommy Stout to pull him out, with their camera crew standing by.
In the 1970s, a toddler fell into a well in Italy. The rescue team could not pull him out of the hole and the child stayed at the bottom of the well, helplessly crying. Understandably, the whole of Italy was concerned with his fate; the entire country hung on to the frequent news updates. You could hardly walk in the center of Milan without being reminded of his plight.
Meanwhile, the civil war was raging in Lebanon. In the midst of their mess, the Lebanese were also absorbed in the fate of the child. The Italian child. Five miles away, people were dying from the war, citizens were threatened with car bombs, but the fate of the Italian child ranked high among the interests of the population in Beirut. “Look how cute the little thing is” I was told. And the entire town expressed relief upon his eventual rescue.
As Stalin who knew something about the business of mortality, supposedly said, “One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic”. Statistics stay silent in us.