Burma is disappearing, like Atlantis; sinking under the weight of bloated corpses and greedy governments. We can thank the inimitable junta and Cyclone Nargis (which macabre twit named a cyclone after a flower?) for giving the country the mystique of Greek myths and making sure it doesn’t last into 2009. One million people are believed to be homeless in Rangoon. The death toll is feared to be more than 100, 000 in the Irawaddy delta alone. Hope does not float in south Burma but dead bodies do. Putrid water, disease, food shortage, homelessness – Dante might consider a rewrite of the Inferno if he read the news reports.
Today the UN decided to suspend aid to the ravaged country because the junta is impounding supplies. The Burmese “government” says that it will distribute the supplies all over the country and meanwhile, could the citizens who are not dead and on dry land please vote for the new constitution tomorrow. Considering the fact that the Burmese leader, General Than Shwe, had gold-plated chairs and a five-tiered cake on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding while the Burmese economy was being ground to dirt, we may rest assured that the constitution will be endorsed. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a thumping majority. Perhaps even the dead will cast their vote. Most of our newspapers in India are far more concerned about the passing of a bill in parliament that secures a 33% reservation for women and whether or not Kareena Kapoor is a size zero in Tashan. I wonder whether news of the vote will reach us at all.
A friend of mine has a favourite joke about Indian media. He says, the country of Japan could cease to exist but our newspapers would be far more concerned about the pretty young Bollywood starlet who stares out of the page with mascara heavy eyes, pouting next to a headline that says, “I do not expose.” Well, the country of Burma is actually ceasing to exist and yesterday, NDTV 24×7 had a program asking whether there is pressure on women today to be sexy. In this program, Shefalee Vasudev, editor of Marie Claire, urged us to consider “how the word sexy is being vocabularised.” The ticker below informed me that 25% in a NDTV survey said lap-dancing is a good profession. The word Burma didn’t crop up even once.
While media-bashing is something I’m happy to indulge in – particularly when it has programs with media personnel who can conjure words like “vocabularise” – I have a different tack on this one. Why not focus on how Bipasha Basu treats young models badly because is there anything anyone can do about Burma? No. It’s been about 14 years of hue-ing and crying about the junta but has anyone been able to get a glimpse into that country, let alone act as a catalyst for any kind of change? No. So then why not apply game theory to the problem of being unhappily single, as a friend of mine did on May 3 while Cyclone Nargis devastated southern Burma? After all, there may be quantifiable, sociological evidence arising from the former – a girl might figure out why she’s single.
So game theory, according to Wikipedia, is an attempt to “mathematically capture behaviour in strategic situations, in which an individual’s success in making choices depends on the choices of others.” While my friend hasn’t got a mathematical equation going, she explained – while consuming copious amounts of sangria at another friend’s wedding – that there are essentially two kinds of women. There are the strong women who have in mind a certain ideal notion of a male partner and there are weak women who want to get hitched to something with dangling, fleshy appendages in the nether regions. Strong women choose a series of rejections because they are holding out and seem hopeless however it’s actually about getting past the weak men to reach the strong man whose notion of the ideal woman meets a description of a particular strong woman. Weak women, on the other hand, since they are less selective, may randomly strike upon a strong man (thus skewing the mathematical balance) but it’s more likely that they are projecting weak men as strong men so that the women don’t appear to be losers. This further skews things because it fuzzies perspective making you think a weak man is a strong man and thereby making a strong woman doubt her strength since a weak woman has ended up being the ideal for strong man. Except of course, he isn’t really a strong man so actually the balance is ok. If you’re reading this with enough alcohol in your blood stream, it will make sense to you. What I like best about this is that apparently, this theory has been derived from the guns versus butter model. Don’t look at me for explanations. I studied literature, which means I’m totally appreciating the gender bias in the symbolism of guns and butter.
Of course the utility of my friend’s attempt at turning dating into algebra suffered on two counts. One was in the fact that there were no strong men to be seen in the little microcosm of a friend’s wedding. Half the city of Kolkata was at this wedding and, if my friend’s hopeful breakup of the single population was to be believed, at least a couple of strong men should have been in the building. As it turned out, the ones she pointed out as strong men were her long-time friends – short, fat, balding, bright and characters she has never even remotely considered even dating. So I had to ask whether she wasn’t being a faux strong woman by saying she would value the brain over the body, since she was basing her own singlehood upon being a real strong woman. She’s 5′ 10″, the tallest of her strong men was 5′ 6″ and the one thing she’s maintained for the past eight years is that she needs a man who is 6 feet tall. This was the point at which tequila was poured down my throat to shut me up.
At about the same time, a little to the east in Burma, the cyclone had finally settled. More than a million people were dead. According to newspaper reports, the night of May 3 was very very quiet.
We danced to Om Shanti Om (a Hindu mantra for peace and the title track from a Bollywood blockbuster) and ignored all the 24 hour news channels. It wouldn’t have helped if we hadn’t and it didn’t hurt that we had. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what makes Pangea Day a joke. The world is not smaller. It is not coming together. We are as far apart as we ever were.