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Louis Vuitton over life

A passenger reaching for a piece of luggage before escaping a burning plane mirrors the bond between man and materialism

By The Editorial Board

  • Published 18.05.19, 10:46 AM
  • Updated 18.05.19, 10:46 AM
The plane that caught fire in Moscow on May 5, 2019. Some survivors of the air crash had actually paused to gather their possessions before fleeing the wreckage
The plane that caught fire in Moscow on May 5, 2019. Some survivors of the air crash had actually paused to gather their possessions before fleeing the wreckage The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, via AP

A wag had once observed that the human mind can only appreciate the true meaning of renunciation at the moment of annihilation. However, the realization of the futility of ownership need not dawn before a meeting with the Grim Reaper. Human beings, especially those with a philosophical or religious bent of mind, receive plenty of opportunities to reflect on the possibility of ridding themselves of earthly possessions in the course of their lives. Most faiths push their flocks towards shunning material possessions. Several philosophical traditions have also deliberated upon the same subject, as have works of literature. Yet, in life and even at times when the destruction of life seems imminent, the umbilical cord that attaches men to materialism remains intact.

Evidence of this durable bond came to light, once again, when it was observed that some survivors of the recent air crash in Moscow had actually paused to gather their possessions before fleeing the wreckage. Admittedly, the delay caused would not have saved all of the 41 lives that were lost in the fatality. The evacuation process, Aeroflot revealed, had taken 55 seconds, and was well within the specified norms of emergency evacuation. Yet, it is possible that had some of the survivors cared more about lives than luggage, the death toll could have been lower. Worse, this is not the only recorded instance of air passengers reaching out for their bags during a crisis. In at least two other accidents, one involving American Airlines and the other featuring British Airways, passengers had been spotted escaping with their bags and boxes in tow.

An obvious explanation for this transgression is that air passengers around the world remain unwilling to follow the rules. This in spite of the fact that airlines, be it international flights or those in the domestic sector, methodically apprise travellers of the dos and don’ts in the case of an emergency. That public travel comes with its own set of regulations and ethics eludes the majority of travellers. For once, luggage-loving Indians can claim, with some justification, that they are not the only guilty party. The other — deeper — inference concerns humanity’s relationship with materialism. This, after all, is the Age of Mammon and nearly everything can be bought with the help of its formidable prowess. The march of global capitalism has kindled in civilization an insatiable urge to derive pleasure out of possession.

But possession, apart from its futility — life and luggage are not immune to the passing of time — is also deleterious. The triumph of materialism has distanced mankind from spiritual pursuits and ideals, littering the path to moksha with obstacles. The planet, too, is paying a price: greed has nearly stripped the earth bare of riches and resources, threatening the future. Finally, not everyone has the luxury of owning a piece of hand luggage. The dispossession of the poor makes materialism a conflicting phenomenon.

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