Carol Andrade Column: Our lives are valuable

Okay, I could have said ‘every life counts’, but the truth is some count more than others. A mother’s life over her foetus. A young person over an old. Good over bad, though both terms are relative. Rich over poor (oh yeah! Try and deny that). These days, unfortunately, a cow’s life over a human being.

That is why I said ‘valuable’, which is an intrinsic quality, as opposed to no value at all. Also, in India, ‘keemat’ is everything except when it comes to human life.

Why am I nattering on about the value of life? That’s because I came across this story of an elderly man, living off the grid in the Scottish Highlands, who got sick and was rescued after his distress beacon was heard in Texas and redirected back to his home country. The awe factor, reflected in the headline, was about the triumph of modern communication and the speed with which messages are heard across the world.

For 25 years this man has lived in a remote area within a forest but he DOES have technology, so big deal. Perhaps to heighten his own feeling of isolation, just once a week he activated a SPOT personal satellite tracker and messenger system to connect with friends and tell them he was okay. Then he got sick and SOSed. The hermit needed urgent help, feeling dizzy and all.

The signal failed to be picked up in the UK, but 9,000 miles away in Houston, it was picked up by an International Emergency Response Centre. Apparently, this place keeps scanning airwaves for just such messages. Imagine!

Houston informed UK officials, actually Her Majesty’s Coast Guard, and they sent a helicopter with seven men to pick up the old man, and ……wait for it…… they couldn’t see his home because of the thick forest cover.

So they alerted the Lochaber (so Scottish!) Mountain Rescue Team, which then reached the hermit on foot, picked him up, delivered him tenderly (okay, the last word is my own), to the Coast Guard which then got him to hospital. And Ken, the Mountain Man, is presumably hale and hearty again, ready to go back to living ‘off the grid’, leaving me marveling at the different, madly expensive elements that were required to keep Ken (no surname provided) living in the manner to which he has become accustomed.

See how much more robust we are about life and death and the relative value of the former, computed swiftly in a range of circumstances, bringing into play a huge number of factors that even we are usually unconscious about, namely caste, class, political and social ideologies. Don’t lie, you’re as bad as me.

This enables us to go serenely about our own lives as others lose theirs, to walk past accident cases on the street, pausing only for some footage and a selfie, to shrug off stories of medical emergencies while surrounding ourselves with layers of safeguards, to read of suicides among children and young married women with the utmost equanimity and a mental shrug, meaning ‘thangggod we’re not like that’, and view lynch mob videos while turning up our eyes to God to thank him that we aren’t living in UP as we plaintively complain about Him not doing his job and stopping these people because it makes us all look so bad in the international press.

This morning, I read about the Juhu police getting an automated external defibrillator to use on people who might suffer from sudden cardiac arrest. Joggers, apparently. They fall, the police materialise with the AED and whap them back into the land of the living.

But I live in India, where we are used to people falling off trains, getting run over by cars, being hit by falling trees or being buried in the debris of collapsing homes, besides all the rest of the “gir gaya, mar gaya, jal gaya’ ways of dying.

And I had this vivid picture of the Juhu police waiting menacingly on the road for joggers in distress, AED in hand. And failing to find one distressed enough, shocking a pickpocket or just two people who have got into a fight into better behavior. Electrically. Long ago we have discovered the truth of the saying, ‘Life’s a bitch and then you die’.

Oh yeah. Happy Valentine’s Day. Get yourself another enormous, pink plush bear.

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