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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2954

DUPE – an Index for Human Exaggeration during Troubled Times

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London….

Nature, which bestowed upon us the abilities to communicate, fight, multiply the kind and even the ruthlessness to be at each other’s throat if the survival is at stake, has also been kind enough to keep another gift in its spare pocket - only to be handed out among a selected few of Her favourites. It is the proclivity for exaggeration.

Since no behavioural psychologist has come up with a scale to gauge our power of exaggeration, we, the humble mortals, can exercise our democratic rights to find one. The skill for exaggeration of human beings, much to our bewilderment, transcends race, religion and even political inclination.

DUPE – Decadent Urge for Prolific Exaggeration - index addresses the forgotten issue once and for all. It puts the individual ability to exaggerate on a scale of 1 to 10.

When the Asian tsunami struck the coastal belt of Sri Lanka, three of my immediate family members were caught up in it at Hikkaduwa - the southern coastal town where western women love to lay their precious assets bare without a licence - after being at the wrong place at the wrong time as a part of their collective destiny and miraculously survived despite being thrown up about 10ft in the air, after the car they were travelling in, ended up on a pile of vehicles.

They managed to run into a hotel near-by, thanks to the kindness extended by a police constable and the staff at the very place, before the arrival of the second wave – the killer one – after rushing to the top floor at a frightening speed. My friend’s aunt who was a few miles behind them, unfortunately, was not that lucky and died in a tragic way.

On hearing the news, we, the expatriates, started making inquiries about the extent of the damage from the residents along the coastal belt. After knowing that our loved ones were safe and well, we wanted to know the damage extended inwards: a folk from Matara would say the tidal wave went inwards as far as ten kilometres; someone, say from Galle, would put the figure at 6 kilometres and another from Ambalangoda, at 5km and so on.

The perplexing divergence of the figures, defying both simple geography and theory of oceanography, especially at a difficult time, was not very funny, though; scored a 6 on DUPE scale.

So, the distraught expatriates pooled the data, calculated the average, in obvious fairness to the sources of information. The figure was still too high to believe and then divided it by a certain number to bring it down to an acceptable level. In doing so, we could estimate the real damage done and then did our bit in assisting the victims as much as possible in our own way and the rest is history.

Last year, the World Food Programme – WFP - published a report saying that 40% of Sri Lankans went without a meal for days, only to retract it later on being challenged, but after the initial damage was done.

A western donor who believed in this statistic may have been in for a shock, if he could not knock down 40 semi-starving souls out of every 100 human beings that he bumped into, while walking in a busy urban Sri Lankan street. The understandable exaggeration in this case for a big slice of donor funds, scores a hefty 8 on DUPE scale.

The terror groups take the exaggeration to a frightening height, with the blessings of self-righteous journalists and self-appointed defence analysts. Tamil Tigers, for instance, boasted that the fall of the floating capitol of their homeland was a pipe dream of the Sri Lankan president.

When it fell in the end, they declared it was a ghost town and whole strategy was wrapped up in the blanket of what they called a tactical withdrawal. The series of tactical withdrawals – announced from time to time, when ignominious defeats bang on the bunker entrances - when placed on a straight line, leads to a clear destination – the placid Indian Ocean.

The sympathisers of the outfit who are alleged to have on a generous payroll, splash the components of this blatantly bizarre exaggeration across printed media and television screens, while insulting the commonsense of ordinary folks. I would not hesitate to give them one of the highest scores on the DUPE scale – a staggering 9.

Aid agencies do exaggerate too. They used to say that there were at least a quarter of a million people trapped in the areas controlled by the Tamil Tigers. By contrast, the last census carried out two decades ago indicated a figure of much less than one hundred thousand.

When sensible people pointed out a few facts – the rate of population growth, the cultural fact of having relatively smaller families by the Tamils, displacement - both voluntary and forced, death due to natural causes or conscription – the statistically startling figure suddenly fell faster than we can pronounce the name of the creator of this mess – Velupillai Prabhakaran.

Those who exaggerated the number will have to account for the missing thousands, once the area is fully liberated soon. We are not prepared to accept, evaporation without a trace, as a fact applicable to human beings; it is only for the fairy tales for the kids of next generation, if they like.

At the moment, every one talks in terms of thousands, not millions any more, the fate of innocent civilians who have been held against their will. The aid agencies who indulged in this funny exercise can get an 8 on DUPE scale.

Intellectuals exaggerate too: we have been kind enough to forgive the folks of this community who used to warn us about the imminent arrival of meteorites, outbreaks of epidemics to wipe us out, made us bite our nails on New Year’s Eve in 1999 with a hyped-up hysteria about computers misreading a zero – or lack of it in calendar. If it is a form of survival – not necessarily of the fittest - in fairness to them, they can be place on a 7 on the DUPE.

History is awash with instances when people paid heavy price for habitual and collective exaggeration.

The oldest recorded episode in this regard is in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible. According to Genesis Chapter 11, a bunch of idiots in the ancient city of Babylon came up with a plan to meet the Almighty through a short-cut: they started building a tower to reach Him, bypassing the guidelines set out in the Holy Scriptures in seeking the very goal – a colossal exaggeration of human ability, collective or otherwise, to score a 9 on DUPE scale.

This act infuriated the God to such an extent that HE confounded the language of the folks that they couldn’t communicate with each other in the middle of their ambitious project. The construction came to an abrupt halt and the concept – or rather conflict - of languages was born. The Tower of Babel, as it came to be known later, became a monument to both stupidity and exaggeration of mortal man.

Therefore, this comes as a warning to those who exploit language-based issues or conflicts by exaggerating everything from hunger to death; coining terms like genocide and famine have the ingredients to invite the divine wrath of the Almighty again upon all of us.

So, the aid agencies, human rights groups and the likes must try their best to keep their DUPE score as low as possible for the sake of mankind in general and their credibility in particular.

- Asian Tribune -

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