It can’t happen to me! (@ISB)

“I hate the way it sounds like a deadline dude!” Preeth grumbled the night before his first blog-post for this space was due. “I don’t even understand why they chose me in the first place; I write such random stuff!” he went on while I just kept giving him what I thought was an empathising look. Internally grinning that I’d already posted my first entry and thought of the topic for the 2nd one as well, I told him “Bro don’t worry, we’re the diversity candidates in here; we’re EXPECTED to write random stuff!” And what an amazing post he put up soon after! Little did I realise that it’d soon be my turn to crib as I sat in front of the laptop the night before my third entry was due, my mind resonating with the exact feeling Preeth’s had the other day. It’s not that there’s nothing interesting to write about. In fact it’s the opposite with so many crises choosing to bless us these days, leaving us wondering about the world that’ll be left for our kids to get into.

So, as I sat wondering what to write about, my mind kept going back to that quasi-devilish grin that I allowed myself the other day. “Ha, he’s the one in trouble, I’m safe!” – If not verbatim, at least this is the crux of what I was telling myself while empathetically hearing out Preeth’s ramblings. This is a clear symptom of the “It can’t happen to me!” syndrome that seems to be plaguing the human mind these days. Well, of course I had a reason and all that, but that it’s an instinctive human characteristic is my hypothesis here. One of our professors remarked that we possess a false sense of security which for instance, allows us to be confident about cracking an exam even though we know that we didn’t so much as glance at that last 30% of the course material. The amazing part is that even after looking dismayed at questions from that part of the course in the exam, we still manage to walk out with our head held high, thinking that it’d have been tough for everybody! And by the time the scores are out, all is forgotten and the next set of exams set in.

Talking of exams, I saw a Hindi movie at the end of our 4th term exams (before the horrifying events in Mumbai unfolded) called “A Wednesday” that was about terrorism and a common man’s uncommon response to it. At the risk of admonishment from the core team (we’re NOT supposed to write movie reviews here), let me delve a little into the theme of that movie that stuck with me. Bomb blasts have become so common in India these days that it’s almost routine “breaking news” for the media, so much that sometimes an actor’s intestinal problems are given more importance. Why is it this way? Like the protagonist in the movie puts it, we get used to atrocities very easily. As soon as there’s news about an explosion, it’s all over the channels, websites, papers and we gorge in the details with utmost concern. Frantic calls to friends and relatives in the affected areas to confirm their well-being coupled with some “Where’s the world going to?” conversations and the episode is soon forgotten. Till the next bomb goes off in a place where somebody we care for, lives. Somehow, we have this innate belief that this can’t happen to me! I’d like to believe that the Mumbai episode has changed this thinking in many of us, but to what extent? Enough to comment that the country’s polity is ruled by corrupt, inefficient aficionados who chose to rest on their backs despite getting prior intelligence information about the attacks? Maybe I’m being too harsh on the populace here. Or maybe it’s the sense of helplessness that ironically helps this feeling set in. I mean, what CAN you do if an RDX explodes beneath your seat in the bus? So why worry about it in the first place because IF it happens to me, I’d be history before I could do anything about it. Or perhaps, we don’t perceive ourselves as powerful enough to combat the terror powers of the world and end up developing a strong inner belief system that keeps reminding us that somehow I shall never fall victim to this madness.

Another instance of this syndrome was seen in our responses to the current financial crisis. Though temporarily sidelined by the terror-strike, the home loans that are threatening to leave us all homeless still receive an ode or two in any discussion, report, lecture, or news item. Again a classic example of our fetish for that false sense of security; this time backed by stinking mortgages. After dozens of articles, cartoons, debates and forwards, we now know that housing prices do not always go up and every single loan in a pile of MBSs can actually default! But by dismissing this as another case of the frivolity of the American spending culture that will never happen in India, aren’t we again falling into the same It can’t happen to me trap? Of course the conservative Indian mindset, together with the goons (loan recovery agents, if you may!) that our banks infamously deploy will help in preventing such a calamity befalling our financial system, but in this open world economy of today the butterfly effect is well and truly operational. Ask those investors who lost their fortunes on the red October (Friday, the 10th of October, 2008 when the Sensex nose-dived) or ask that college topper who declined multiple job offers because Lehman had given him a green slip. Dinner-table discussions reveal such mishaps happening twice over to people in the batch – those who graduated from institutes in 2001-02 faced tremendous pressures due to the dotcom bust and 9/11. Many such people struggled their ways through corporate life and embarked upon the MBA journey this year, shelling out their life’s savings for that degree that’d put them on the fast track only to see history repeat itself in a slightly different (and stronger perhaps?) flavour. So, if it can happen to them many times over, it sure can happen to me (or you!) anytime, isn’t it?

Hey by the way, did I just unearth the next potential Nobel-winning theory? Duh, it can’t happen to me!

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