25 October 2016Last updated

Features | People

Suresh Menon: so sue-happy

Our columnist travels to New York and finds out what really makes its residents so very sue-happy

Suresh Menon
20 Sep 2016 | 04:40 pm

There is something pathetic about coming to a city for a holiday and being forced to sit indoors because of the weather. The city in question, New York, is hot – locals enjoy the sun and the heat and talk of ‘marvelous weather’, while we inhabitants of a country where, by New York standards, the weather is ‘marvelous’ the year round, call it ‘unbearable’.

We left Bengaluru, which was having a rare heatwave, to find solace in New York, and to the naked eye there is no difference in temperature at all. The question is: whom do I sue?

Funny, isn’t it, how one begins to talk like a native within days of arrival?

Suing is the national sport here. People sue if the coffee is too hot, not hot enough, does not contain caffeine, contains caffeine. It’s a wonder anything gets done at all. Which brings me to the plethora of medical ads on TV – which one is forced to watch because it’s too hot outside and one is between reading books or writing.

How healthy is America? Not very, going by the ads. Those who don’t suffer from chronic stomach problems tend to have chronic migraines, and those who have escaped either come up against skincare problems that aren’t cosmetic. Of the lesser spoken activities of the human body, the lesser spoken the better. But all ads have a common theme: we will cure you, unless, of course, we don’t cure you. That is the essence of the message, although it is put across in myriad ways.

Take a tablet – not literally, but take a tablet for example. ‘X’, it says (it doesn’t actually – but you can fill in the name of the tablet) is terrific on migraines. Take one (and only one) and you can hug your child again, read the book you want and lead a happy, contented life. So far so good. And then comes the ‘but don’t sue us’ disclaimer. It will cure you, says the ad, unless you have this, this, that or the other. Plus there could be side-effects ranging from itching, pain in the lower back, nightmares, constant coughing on Wednesdays, and occasionally even death. This philosophy of treating death as a side-effect is quite profound. Or silly. Take your pick.

Sometimes the disclaimers are longer than the claimer. After all it is easier to say what something will do (‘cure cough’) than to say what it won’t do (‘enable better hearing’, ‘write your tax forms for you’, ‘sing’).

And since I am writing this from America, let me add: this column is not guaranteed to make you think, laugh, cry, or pull out your teeth. So sue me.

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Suresh Menon

Suresh Menon

is a writer based in India. In his youth he set out to change the world but later decided to leave it as it is.