One of the most beautiful things about being a facilitator is that you get to interact with many different people regularly and have access to their stories, which, on the whole, helps you understand the state of the world in a way the media cannot.
For instance, I was completely floored by the story one of the participants of my recent workshop narrated, which illustrates for me the terrible effect blanket coverage of negative news can have on impressionable minds.
This happened during the 26/11 terrorist attack. When news spread of the assault, my participant, Kashish Kapoor, was concerned because her husband was out in the field, her uncle worked in the Oberoi and her niece was a regular commuter at VT station at around the time the attack began at VT. She switched on the TV, and like most of us during those four bizarre days, watched the news round the clock as the terrorists played a hide-and-seek game with the police, and even the army.
Kashish has two children, a girl who was six years old then and a little boy of four and a half called Kuber. The latter was a lively energetic little fellow, ready to play with his mates any time of the day, and a lover of animals. However, most families refused to let their children leave their house and so the little boy too watched TV with her.
Around the third day, he asked her to stop watching the news. She obliged but after a while, almost unconsciously, she returned to watching the news, in thrall to the event that held her city captive. All of Mumbai and perhaps India itself was doing the same thing.
That night, she was awakened by her little boy shouting loudly, “Don’t kill me, don’t kill me.” However, his eyes were closed and it was clear that he was sleepwalking. Hugging him and reassuring him that all was ok, she took him back to bed. The next morning she woke up to find that Kuber’s eyes had turned upward and he was in the midst of a severe epileptic attack.
By the time he was rushed to Bhatia hospital, he had slipped into a coma. It took one month for him to come out of the coma, with the help of one of the best child neurologists in the country who operated from Hinduja hospital.
It was he who later pieced the whole thing together and concluded that it was the extreme fear and anxiety that the attack had aroused that caused something in Kuber’s brain to give way, resulting in epilepsy.
Kashish says that around the time they took her little boy to the hospital, there were other children who had been admitted with epilepsy. Was 26/11 responsible for them too? Who knows? What is clear is that this event has had more casualties than the victims who were gunned by the terrorists.
Perhaps parents should take great care to make sure that children are not unduly exposed to terrifying news. Their tender minds are unable to comprehend these events and are bound to collapse into fear and trauma.
I remember that around the time the Nibhaya episode played out, one of my neighbours confided that her 17-year-old daughter was going to Pune to study, but she was really worried for her because the child had been so traumatised by the Nirbhaya incident that she absolutely refused to go out at night.
What are we doing to our children? This is an indictment of the kind of sensational newsmongery that happens on TV. It is time the media reviewed its credo: Bad News Sells. That philosophy is destroying lives. The more the coverage of the negative, the more negativity there is to cover. We need to put a halt to this vicious cycle.
How? By stop watching the news. We need to force them to give us more balanced fare. We want news that won’t turn our stomachs, or create trauma for our children.
It is high time we made this happen.
Kuber is now 14 and a half. He is conscious and can recognise his family, but he is unable to speak or take care of his needs. Poor boy. May God give him back his powers. My heart goes out to him and to his brave family.
Suma Varughese has had a long and illustrious career as a writer/editor/journalist for 40 years. She was the editor-in-chief of Life Positive, India’s premier body-mind-spirit magazine, for over 12 years, prior to which she was the editor of Society magazine for five years and has also been a senior editor with Gentleman magazine. Suma is a popular guest speaker at many conferences and seminars and has been intimately connected with the rise of the spiritual movement in India.