Mid-Day did not publish this image, believing it to trivialise the deaths of employees at the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers hotel in Mumbai in November. Salil shared this image with an email list of some extremely smart people (and me), and after 50+ exchanges on the topic, opinion is still divided on whether this is an acceptable tribute to the fallen, or whether it is demeaning to them. Some of the key concerns:
- This cartoon isn't funny.
- Is it too soon to publish a cartoon like this, when people are still hurting from the attacks?
- Does it trivialise the deaths of the Taj staff, making light of their demise?
- Does it insult the Taj staff, and imply that they will continue to serve in their current roles even in the afterlife?
This cartoon isn't funny.
This is little more than a common misconception. Not all cartoons are meant to be funny. I saw this cartoon as a gentle pat on the back for a group who were exemplary in the way they behaved in extremely testing times. That made me smile.
[T]he cartoon follows the tradition of giving tribute to the departed. a recent one was after vijay tendulkar died.another one was after pu la deshpande . . . [U]nfortunately, any cartoon is naturally associated with being humorous. All cartoons are not, either by intent or default, funny. Here I am not trying to be funny at all - just pointing out how the Taj staff's valour and going much, much beyond the call of duty, gets them to heaven. Even the hypothetical facilities of heaven are improved on their arrival. [Edited for punctuation]
Is it too soon to publish a cartoon like this?
Probably. There's really no good time to publish a sensitive piece, because those affected will always react adversely towards it, even if in varying degrees. That should not reflect on the cartoon or article in question, or the intentions and sentiments it carries. As a publisher, a newspaper must take into account the reactions of its readers, as they would directly impact its future business. However, a publisher is also a voice, and must balance that responsibility with the business implications. Scales do tilt, and it is often the voice that is silenced.
I realize that this may be misconstrued, and seen as insensitive. Perhaps could do with more time between event and publishing. We are all raw now and hurt easily at anything at all. I dont mind it being posted on other blogs. But if you could add "unpublished cartoon", and add some of my qualifiers, that would perhaps help people see this as not anything more than a simple tribute to their extraordinary sense of duty, rather than something made to generate a laugh.Does it trivialise the deaths of the Taj staff, making light of their demise?
I don't think so. I can see why people would think it does so, though. As I said, my first (and consistent) reaction was that it was a congratulatory comment on the quality of the Taj staff. Morparia also addresses the potential for misunderstanding (see above). There's not much to say, but in an atmosphere of emotional discomfort and public distrust, it's as easy to sympathise with those who find this drawing in poor taste as it is to criticise them for being hypersensitive.
It is possible that those who find this offensive or tasteless, may actually be subconsciously letting us on to what they really think of this kind of work. Would such a view then not be offensive? Of course, no one will admit to this, really.Does it insult the Taj staff, and imply that they will continue to serve in their current roles even in the afterlife?
This is the tricky one, IMO. It is quite possible to pick this meaning up and run with it, but to do so would require a keen eye for the offensive. Or just an extremely thin skin. Both of these can be found in large numbers, not just in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, but as a social attitude throughout this decade. Maybe it is a mass exodus towards political correctness, or mindless aping of Western cultures (who have already migrated). Or maybe it's just us losing the ability to look at ourselves with a sense of humour (which is infinitely more saddening).
My reading of this cartoon is that if the Taj workers were to serve in Heaven, it would enhance the already lofty standards of life beyond the Pearly Gates.
Is the cartoon possibly offensive/insensitive to some because it posits that the staff is continuing to do in heaven what they did on earth? In that case, is this an unwitting comment on how we really perceive their roles here?There is an important sociological comment here; Indians tend to lower the value of the service industry to the level of servitude. This can be extended to the way we perceive certain kinds of labour as well, and our need to employ other (lesser) people to do our menial chores for us, without ever learning the skills to do them ourselves. In specific response to the NSG commandos in heaven, one of the members on the email group responded (correctly, IMO) that their presence would have sufficed, rather than for them to have been in service. But I ask in response, shouldn't all those military martyrs suffice already?
As a corollary, had I shown NSG commandos in heaven and some people commenting that they feel safer here, would that be offensive too?
Over to you.