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Posted at: Oct 7, 2017, 12:40 AM; last updated: Oct 7, 2017, 12:40 AM (IST)

Mere condolences won’t do

Ratna Raman
Mere condolences won’t do
THE world is becoming a more unhappy space to live in. Too many tragedies, predominantly caused by humans, are becoming the order of the day. One way of reaching out to people who have lost near and dear ones is to offer condolences. 

‘Condolence’ (Latin condole,  French condoleance) means to suffer together, and feel another’s pain and grief. Usually when humans encounter ‘bereavement’ (loss due to death) the shock and pain experienced makes them reach out and  offer condolences. Condolences are part of the solicitous concern that can be communicated through language.

In spite of all our technological advancement, human life remains fragile and mortal and death continues to be the final frontier. An expression of condolence is usually prefaced with words such as ‘sincere’, ‘heartfelt’ or ‘deeply felt’, which measure up to the gravity of the situation. It is a travesty to offer ‘warm condolences’ as the US President did in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting.  Apparently such inappropriate usage can be surpassed. Social media ensures that anyone who can see, hear or read receives immediate notification of the gaffes made in high places, globally.

Worse than sending warm condolences, is to send condolences to people who have died, because the dead at the Elphinstone stampede in Mumbai could not acknowledge the sympathy being offered to them. 

Significantly, English is one of India’s national languages and also the ‘father tongue’ of an America shaped by  male founders. Arguably, Twitter handles and handlers are effective in routine situations. Using them to address deaths caused by human failure to provide safeguards trivialises death in no uncertain terms.

Even more disturbing than the choice of medium and the ungrammatical message is the fact that heads of democracies, in charge of the very lifeblood of the process, need to do far more than merely express condolences.

In both these instances, the form of expression itself becomes an indicator of intention. The Vegas shooting was an act of evil. However, the evil that allows lawmakers and politically elected representatives to authorise the wielding of guns and  the fitting of silencers on automatic weapons, putting more lethal weapons into circulation, continues unabated.

 The railways, battling with the collapse of infrastructure, systemic breakdown and poor maintenance require repair and expansion. We cannot be ‘gung-ho’ (unthinkingly enthusiastic) about a bullet  train facility for the elite  that is scheduled to run on a limited track when essential facilities continue to receive short shrift. 

Such ‘diabolic duplicity’ (deceit) continues to be ‘condoned’ (acceptance of behaviour that is morally wrong) by supporters entrenched in the system. Both horrific events happened close to Gandhi Jayanti. Gandhi had astutely observed that ‘there is enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.’ The hatred and greed of the powerful triggers off the worst possible assaults upon humanity. Condoning it will only lead to the proliferation of more hollow condolences.

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