Monday, May 21, 2007

A little crisis about "crisis"

There is nothing new for me in Somini Sengupta's latest piece in the New York Times really; every Indian is intimately -- in every sense of that lovely word -- acquainted with the details of the abyssmal power situation in India.

I have a smaller etymological quibble. Are we correct when we use the term "crisis" to describe India's power situation? Correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't "crisis" describe a situation that was all right once but is now in dire straits? Or in other words, for something to be a crisis, doesn't there have to be a sort of a golden past, when everything worked, and which has now degenerated rapidly (or slowly) into the current situation? For instance, to quote an analogous scenario, when one talks of the California Power Crisis -- and I lack an economic understanding of it -- doesn't that mean that there was a time when things were all right in sunny California? And then, whatever the cause, things weren't all right and went from bad to worse to catastrophic (in the mild sense of the word)?

Because if that sense of the word is right, then India just has a problem (magnitude notwithstanding) -- and has always had it. Power cuts and load-shedding were as common before economic liberalization as they are now; it's just that it's more visible now -- the most vivid things for me in Sengupta's piece were her descriptions of high-rise malls with smoke billowing out of them even as they are surrounded by a dark neighborhood.

UPDATE: There does seem to be a way of applying the c-word to India's situation. Here's how Websters defines "crisis":
1 a: the turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever b: a paroxysmal attack of pain, distress, or disordered function c: an emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person's life crisis>
2: the decisive moment (as in a literary plot)
3 a: an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially : one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome crisis> b: a situation that has reached a critical phase crisis>
So even if the word here doesn't exactly connote a golden past, it could theoretically, at least, connote a golden future. As the dictionary says, it could mean that "decisive change" (for the better, one hopes) is impending -- which could then mean that India's present situation is a crisis.

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