Behold, the Great Indian Dope Trick! Mastered by millions, it’s best performed on a motorcycle: Head cocked sideways into shrugged shoulder, cellphone tucked in between, plane of vision angled nonchalantly into a flat world, hands on the steering, one foot above gear lever and the other near brake, the mind a split screen between traffic and talk, and the brain a mass of sensory-overloaded slush.
The socially and economically evolved version is performed in the driving seat of a car, one hand holding the wheel and cellphone, the other tapping out messages on a compact pop-up keyboard; automatic transmissions are a Godsend. There’s even a briefer — and far braver — no-hands-drive version too: The Frantic, Zipless Dope Trick.
Meanwhile, legions of beginners roam the land, learning the ropes in bipedal format across highways, on roads and through alleys.
Those chats and conversations have to keep going, and those office mails scream for instant replies. And what better than a Facebook foray or WhatsApp walkabout to enliven a commute?
The Dope Trick is illegal, a punishable traffic violation. But come rain or hail or shine, in a jam or not, on a city road or toll highway, nothing can stop the purveyors of this deadly art. Never mind that these tricky customers are moving hundred-odd kilos of bike or several hundred of car. Never mind also that this behaviour is the same as the careless handling and wanton public use of a firearm: endangering others because of a criminal lack of responsibility.
We’ve all seen it, and continue to. Do these people deserve cellphones?
Lives are at stake here, and enough are being lost for the world to take notice. Enter the selfie. Given that most self-clickers cannot resist proximity to extreme danger, death draws the final shutter with regularity. Between October 2011 and November 2017, some 259 persons were recorded as having killed themselves for a selfie. Half of them were Indian.
The study in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care that uncovered these uncomfortable numbers called the phenomenon a ‘major public health problem’. So we’re world leaders in ‘killfies’ or ‘selficides’. Did these people deserve cellphones?
And then there’s games, repetitive snapshots of cartoon fantasy, addictive by nature as well as design. No, this is not about ‘Blue Whale’, a sinister suicide promoting game that stayed in the headlines in 2017 before it was discovered to not exist. This is about PUBG, or Players Unknown’s Battlegrounds, and its runaway popularity.
PUBG was banned in several Gujarat cities, nearly a dozen being booked by the police. The company that makes the game, South Korea’s Bluehole Inc, had to make a statement. “It is meant merely for entertainment and should be enjoyed in a healthy and responsible manner,” Bluehole said.
Which is admission that many weren’t doing so. The game features players being dropped by the dozen on an island where they must then survive by the logical expedient of ensuring that none of the others don’t. That’s as healthy and responsible as it gets.
One recent viral video featured a PUBG warrior intent on his craft, situational awareness par for this course of death and destruction. There was only one little problem: he was getting married at the time, and the ceremony had taken second priority to PUBG. And of course, the Gujarat schoolboy who stole `50,000 from his father to fuel his PUBG progress. Do these people deserve cellphones?
TikTok, an online video sharing app, is where this argument gets legal. A ban on the app — because it was said to be promoting child pornography—was sought in the Madras High Court; a ban was ordered, and the issue made its way to the apex court before an unbanning happened.
This is about what we, the people do on TikTok. Download it and see a random selection of 15-second videos uploaded by Indians. Most, an overwhelming majority, fall in three categories: lip-synching Bollywood dialogues, lovelorn plaints, and bhai styled short acts. The monotony is mind-numbing. Is this, then, representative of what we as a people think and choose to echo-communicate? If this be the digital sum of who we are, the question stands, upright in portrait mode.
About 150,000 people die in road accidents every year in India, or 400 every day. We need our roads and vehicles but many Indians do not deserve to be behind a steering wheel. We need our cellphones but in a billion-plus country, several million Indians may not deserve to have cellphones.
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