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  • The third law of bad luck

    Posted On June 14, 1999

    By Karan Thapar

    To start with there is Sod’s law. It’s the simple, predictable and unfailing principle that anything that can go wrong will. There’s also the Devil’s corollary which determines that this will happen at the worst possible moment. So when you are least prepared for it or most desperate to prevent it misfortune tends to strike.

    I’m not talking about big disasters. Those one can contend with. Most of us respond to them with fortitude if not also efficiency. It’s the little things that throw one.

    Think about it. Just as you sit down to watch television the lights fail. The day you’re late for work you find the car has a flat. If you are desperate to make a call the number is usually engaged. Just when you need them you can never find your keys. The list could go on and on but the point is the same. Things go wrong at the worst possible moment and at that time everything that can plays up.

    However, I’ve discovered what I call the third law of bad luck. Once you buy something to help in an emergency, emergencies start to happen with increasing frequency. For instance the lights at Vasant Vihar hardly, if ever, used to fail at night. Yet the day I installed an invertor that’s exactly what started to happen. Then again, I’ve never used a stabiliser with my music system. But when, in response to everyone’s advice, I installed one the system packed up because of an electrical imbalance. And no sooner did I hit upon the idea of having the furniture scotch-guarded than a battery of guests began spilling red wine and greasy curry. Till then, of course, the sofas had survived without stain.

    Today there is a real sense in which the availability of the cure leads to the spread of the disease. Shortly after heart by-pass surgery became common, or at least easily accessible, the numbers affected by heart disease ballooned. I can even bet that one day this will prove to be true of anorexia and bulimia and, perhaps even, cancer and aids.

    I half believe that if you don’t worry about something it won’t happen. But once you show concern chances are your fears will justify themselves. Rely on your luck and the Gods tend to smile upon you. But take sensible precautions and the outcome you hope to avoid, or want to protect yourself against, begins to materialise.

    Of course, I haven’t the guts to tear up my insurance policy, throw out the generator or eliminate stabilisers. Fortune may favour the brave but sometimes it’s safer to be a coward.

    Things aren’t what they used to be

    “Rani zara BBC te laga.”

    That was how my father would ask my mother to switch on the news. It was almost a daily ritual. Dinner over and before turning-in his thoughts would turn to the BBC and as the rollicking notes of ‘Imperial Echos’ would waft out of the old family transistor, heralding the start of the bulletin, we would all gather around and start to concentrate.

    In the 1960s and 70s, before I left to study in England, the BBC was the only credible source of information. One might have listened to AIR – Doordarshan was still a joke – but few of us believed what it said. In fact even in 1984, when Indira Gandhi was killed, Rajiv only accepted the news when he heard it reported on the BBC. Such was its power and such was our dependence on it.

    How things have changed. A quarter century after his death my father would be perplexed if he could see the BBC. That, I suppose, is the first thing that would amaze him. Today the Beeb is seen, for it’s a TV channel, and the radio station of old, though still around and performing as well as ever, is, sadly, no longer heard and almost forgotten. But what would have truly upset Daddy is the content of the news. It’s not the sort of stuff he would choose to loyally watch.

    Last weekend, as Kosovo came off the boil but Kargil got hotter and hotter, the BBC virtually ignored the South Asian story yet treated the European one as if it was the only thing happening on the planet. Entire bulletins were devoted to the K-For troops arriving in Pristina, the confusion between NATO and the Russians, the joy of the Albanians and the concerns of the Serbs. But the foreign minister talks in Delhi, the tapes that alleged the Pakistani army is masterminding the Kargil operation and the threat of war between India and Pakistan often did not merit mention at all.

    The reputation of the BBC was built on three planks. I might not have understood this so clearly in the days when I sat beside Daddy and the crackling transistor but today, in retrospect, I am convinced I know why he was such a fan. It was genuinely world news. Nigeria or Laos would feature as often as New York and London. It made a special effort to cover India. Years later, unable to shake the BBC habit, I can remember listening to the World Service on a car radio in Cambridge at 4.00 a.m. to find out the details of Indira Gandhi's 1977 defeat. And, thirdly, it stuck to the main points. As a result in ten minutes you could find out all that you needed to know. After that if you wanted more there was always Radio Newsreel but that was usually for addicts or experts.

    BBC World, as the TV channel is misleadingly called, has broken all three rules. Last weekend the news was about Kosovo and only Kosovo. It completely ignored India despite the compelling reasons for covering it. And the amount it told you about the situation in Slavic Europe was more than anyone, other than a Slav, would want to know. Single-focus, over-kill and a dismissive attitude to the rest of the world.

    No wonder BBC TV news does not have the loyal fans BBC Radio once had. Even though today we have Zee and Star News, whilst the World Service had only AIR to contend with, an Indo-Pak story could still drive people to the Beeb. Except now when they tune-in there’s nothing for them.

    All the lovely programmes that run at 10.00 O’ clock at night notwithstanding – and soon I shall be one of them – BBC TV will only pick up numbers when the news has more to say about us. I, for one, hope that happens soon.

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