So last evening was interesting. After work, E and me were sitting outside on her terrace enjoying the sunset, which is breathtaking by the way. We were both just relaxing, reading a book or so and suddenly there was some noise. I didn’t pay much attention till E remarked – “C’est quoi ca?” (What is that?) I tuned in and it sounded to me like firecrackers. This is how India sounds like for a month during Diwali. So I was curious. E who has been living here now for a while and has been in other ‘dangerous countries’ before said – It sounds like gunshots and started making calls to some people to find out what was happening. I was suddenly not so relaxed. My first concern was that we were sitting outside! ‘Shouldn’t we go in’, I asked? But the noise was coming from a distance and we so it would not hit us, I was told. The house guards came around and said it sounded like gunshots to them as well. So they went to check and I sat down and listened. It went on for a good 10 minutes or so – the not so gentle pitter patter of the apparent gunshots. And then all of a sudden, it stopped.
The guards came back and told us what was happening – apparently someone was burning bamboo at the governors house and that was what all the noise was about! Burning bamboo.
It seemed quite funny at that time, but later that evening when I was reflecting upon this, a strange realisation struck me – The ‘shooting’ sounded like firecrackers, I didn’t even notice! It’s funny how when we imagine something as bad as shooting it sounds really really scary, but this ( which according to E, who has actually heard real shooting before, and was sure this sounded like gunshots) sounded like firecrackers. I have grown up hearing firecrackers for years – so it was normal to me. But to everyone else it was normal as well. The sound of gunshots. In retrospect I was surprised by how calm we were. I have a friend who grew up in the North of Mexico. I spoke about this and she said ” yeah, it’s sad but you get used to it. After a while it becomes just another noise in the room”. The violence in her region has been going on for 8 years now. And does it make international news? No. It has been happening for way to long and now it has become ‘normal.’ And this is not the only instance when this has happened. Just think about it – people getting killed, shot, bombed, raped, kidnapped, tortured and mutilated in so many parts of the world – and we don’t hear about it anymore – it is now ‘normal’.
Bringing it back to the single story narrative – the assumption is that, ‘this is what happens there’, so it is normal. Gunshots in DRC? Ofcourse. That’s normal. Bombs in Syria – Ofcourse. Riots in Burundi – normal. How is it that millions of people are getting displaced at this very moment from their homes, losing their families and their lives as grenades rain down in Bujumbura and the world doesn’t know/care about this?
There must something very wrong with us as a species. We call ourselves resilient, we call the ‘normalisation of violence’ a ‘coping mechanism’. We go about living our lives. As long as the bullet doesn’t hit us, the earthquake doesn’t bring our house down, our children are not taken away – its okay, it is normal. We don’t even see it as violence anymore. We sit and watch, and warn ‘our people’ from venturing out into these ‘dangerous areas’. Just because certain people want to stay in power and their friends want to stay in power, they let millions of others die. And what does the rest of the world do? We nod our heads and say ‘that’s sad’. We shrug our shoulders and sigh and continue living our lives…