The News Detox

I have never been a dispassionate reader. Whether it is fiction, news, biographies, even fan-fiction. Initially, reading for me was all about the characters and the people involved. Over time I learned to appreciate writing and fiction in several layers and levels, but that first instinct to live vicariously through the characters is uncontrollable.

I remember reading The Clockwork Orange during my final year in college. I consider that one of the worst decisions of my life. Sure, the writing was great and the story dealt with some really interesting concepts. My first venture into dystopian fiction.

But it robbed me of sleep and peace for several weeks following the read. I was upset, scared, terrified of human nature. Worst of all – it ruined Beethoven for me. It’s like Stephen King’s It. Who said clowns were funny? They are monsters after my life.

With fiction, I can exercise choice. There is always the blurb which will tell me whether or not I am in a state of mind to read it. Once I read Revolutionary Road, I put off reading Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye for a whole year. It was good decision.

I don’t have the luxury of choice when it comes to news. Most of the news I read is through social media feeds – Twitter, Facebook etc. I also have apps downloaded on my phone that send regular notifications. For months (maybe even years) now, my days begin and end with news about rape, terrorism, cruelty, corruption, misogyny and the sheer apathy of mankind. And if on a rare occasion there is none of that, I am forced to read about a pointless, mind-numbing account of some random TV star’s wedding or a ridiculous catfight between celebrities who can’t act their age.

The mother has been reproaching me over my perennially vexed disposition. My temper is far more volatile than it used to be. In fact, I was rather proud of my generally calm temperament. No idea how I lost that.

I realised it has a lot with what I allow my brain to ingest. How am I to have a good day when the first thing I read in the morning is about farmers dropping dead like flies under the weight of endless debts? Or a woman in my own neighbourhood being raped mercilessly?

I am unable to congratulate friends on their pregnancy because I worry that if they have a girl, the child might get raped at some point in her life. My mother sends a prayer every day for girls forced into sexual slavery in Syria. When a politician does something worth appreciation, I cannot help but wonder if he did so only for publicity or to serve an ulterior motive. I am always either cynical or pessimistic. It’s not a good feeling to live with.

Since the past week I’ve been on what I call the news-detox-regime. I’ve unfollowed all news media on Facebook and Twitter. I don’t read the newspaper. I never watch the news on TV anyway. Complete mind-fuckery. I hoped it would help me cleanse my mind and body of the heaps of negativity.

Easier said than done. If I don’t read news, a friend will send me a Whataspp message about the shooting in Texas. Someone on the elevator will discuss the rape of two women in Uttar Pradesh. Some friend on Facebook will share a Dodo post about someone who tortured a puppy. I cannot help but feel for those people, seethe and become convinced that mine is not a country for women. Or animals. Or the poor.

I know I will get there. Cleanse was never easy. Cannot cut sugar and trans fat and dairy from one’s life in a single stroke. Takes time. Maybe start with portion control

I will get back to reading news at some point but I will have to manage my habits to ensure that what I read is simply to keep abreast of important events, and read material that is truly insightful. I want knowledge, and not just information in form of flashy headlines with twisted accounts of events, sprinkled generously with thoughtless opinions in poor language.

Meanwhile, I also need to change the way I read. I will not be left with any peace if I read everything I come across with such involvement. It makes one miserable.

A dear friend of mine writes a story on her blog. The protagonist in that story recently ended up breaking her best friend’s heart – despite her best intentions. I cried myself to sleep that night. It didn’t help that my friend writes spectacularly well.

This cannot continue. Cannot afford that. I don’t want to have to restrict my reading of fiction – which I truly believe is the best and easiest way to expand one’s experiences and understanding. Reading makes you a better person. I just don’t want it to also make me an unhappy person.

Any suggestions on where to start? Has anyone else tried this news-detox? Has it worked for you?

Let me know? 🙂

 

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Coldplay Rant

I love Coldplay. I really do. I once spent a good chunk of my meagre savings as a grad student to go watch them perform live in Manchester. They made it worth the effort. One of the best evenings of my life.

BUT BUT BUT. That doesn’t mean I like everything they do. The previous album was rather boring. Their brand new song is not. It’s catchy and hummable and pleasant; but the video. Oh my God. This stuff sets my teeth on edge. Like Danny Boyle and Katherine Boo weren’t bad enough, we now have this ignorant piece of shit.

Yes, they enjoy creative freedom and can do whatever they want. I’m not offended. It is annoying though. We’ve had enough people from the West making India look like a prehistoric place filled with godmen and snake charmers — a population rebelling against a “civilised world”. A world so removed from all that is “modern” that it seems to offer some sort of enlightenment to those from the first world. Rubbish.

Sure, religion is a huge part of who we are. But India is hardly the only country where that holds true. What’s with demonising Islamic nations and exoticizing Hindu ones ? Is everyone really so short of ideas that they feel the need to redo these stereotypes over and over again?

Coldplay’s new video also manages to sprinkle a few dilapidated cinema halls in between all the colourful hermits. Because how could an Indian stereotype be complete without a shady reference to Bollywood? They even went as far as to call Queen B “Rani”, the Hindi word for queen. So creative, no?

Oh, and I have complete faith in the idiocy of Sonam Kapoor; it’s hardly surprising to see that she’s a part of this phantasmagoric circus. Also, it seems the song was shot in Mumbai. One of the busiest, most densely populated urban centres in the world. I don’t know if the makers of this video were ignorant of this fact or just chose to ignore it when they decided to only focus on people dressed as rainbows. Beyonce included.

Anyway. I’ll just enjoy the song, and try to forget the video. I still like Coldplay and Violet Hill continues to be a favourite. Though I do prefer toy elephants in the videos.

On Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani

I watched Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani today. Here’s most of what I have to say about it:

  1. It is easily one of the most visually appealing films I have ever seen. Absolutely stunning. A treat to the eyes. This element alone made it worth the money I spent on the tickets.

  2. Priyanka Chopra was great. Ranveer Singh was outstanding. Tanvi Azmi was brilliant. Deepika… she was great in parts but I think the others outshone her.

  3. Ranveer and Azmi managed to get the Marathi diction right to a large extent. It took no effort from my end to believe that I was, in fact, watching Peshwa Bajirao on screen.

  4. The first 20 minutes of the film are most memorable. It also has one of the most enthralling opening sequences. Spellbinding. At least for those 20 minutes. What happens after that is rather disappointing.

  5. Bhansali couldn’t have cared less about Maratha history and the facts associated with it. I am all for creative liberty, but I hope for a little more effort into staying true to the actual events when you decide to title your film Bajirao-Mastani. I don’t think this warrants protests or boycott; it is disappointing nonetheless.

  6. I need to check who wrote dialogues for this film. There is some poignant writing but I don’t understand how he/she could include so many Urdu words in dialogues for Maratha characters. I don’t claim to be a historian but I don’t think Urdu had percolated into Hindi/Maratha languages at the time of Bajirao I (1700-1740). It sticks out like a sore thumb – there are characters speaking in Hindi that is still deeply rooted in Sanskrit, interspersed with some Marathi, which I suppose is to lend some authenticity. And in the midst of that you have Urdu words that make an appearance way too often for them to not strike as completely out of place. Words like “ghuroor” and “ishq” among many others.

  7. Mastani is supposed to be a Rajput princess. Pray tell me, which Rajput princess dances in the Royal Court to entertain others at the slightest opportunity? Bhansali’s Mastani does this all the time. There are better ways to showcase Deepika’s dancing skills, no? Also – there are too many songs. TOO MANY SONGS.

  8. It could not be more obvious that the song Pinga was added just so there was a sequence with the two leading ladies dancing together (An old favourite of Bhansali’s). It doesn’t fit into the plot at all, not to mention how far it is from historical facts. It doesn’t add anything to the film; if anything, it just extends a painfully long film for another 5 exasperating minutes.

  9. This film needed to be at least 45 minutes shorter. The second half just drags aimlessly; towards the end I couldn’t wait for them to [SPOILER ALERT –SKIP TO 10] just die so I could get on with my life.

  10. There must be 10 points in this post. I like the number 10. What can I say? Oh – yes – Raveer Singh is an absolute dish. And I fine actor, might I add. But that is secondary when he looks like this. Yes, yes, I am being shallow. No apologies made.

It’s worth the money only if you enjoy great cinematography and visuals. If you’re looking only for plot and/or entertainment, I suggest you wait till they air this on TV.

Kthanksbye!

PS – This films also stars Milind Soman. And he’s pretty good. If there are others like me who have a perennial crush on this 90s heartthrob, give it a go 🙂

 

I Went to Japan

I was in Japan on holiday earlier this month. And it was wonderful! The weather was perfect, the people were lovely and the country was breathtakingly beautiful. Some thoughts/observations:

  1. We flew to Tokyo via Beijing. Missed the connecting flight from Beijing to and had to catch the next flight out. I don’t think they use air conditioning at that airport; probably just circulate the outside air. I say this because our flight was delayed due to unprecedented snowfall in Beijing. And sitting at the airport Gate waiting for my next flight, I felt as if I’d turn into an ice statue myself.

  2. I visited Tokyo, Nara, Hiroshima, Miyajima Island, Kyoto and Aichi. My favourite was Hiroshima (and Miyajima Island, which is located NW of Hiroshima Bay.)

  3. Hiroshima is so lush and beautiful; it’s hard to believe that city was reduced to rubble less than a century ago. The fall colours across the city was a spectacular sight.

  4. Miyajima Island was, personally speaking, the highlight of the trip. Fall trees spread across the seemingly endless streets, wild deer strolling everywhere, the Itsukushima shrine and its serene beauty and warm waffles served in small cafes. I didn’t want that day to end. Really.

  5. Much like India, you don’t have to look too far to spot a temple or a shrine. They are there everywhere. These are either Buddhist Temples or Shinto Shrines. Wonderfully maintained. You never really feel like the tranquillity is disturbed because of the sheer number of visitors. It’s also fascinating how everyone speaks of both religions with the same kind of respect. I hear this is one of the few places in the world where two different religions exist in such harmony.

  6. Luck decided to take an early Christmas vacation on the day we visited the 5th Station at Mt. Fuji hoping to catch a glimpse of that shy, sneaky, gorgeous mountain top. But, as they say, man proposes, God disposes. The Gods decided to shower us with ice-cold rain water, shroud us with fog and clouds so we couldn’t even see what lay 10 feet ahead of us, let alone Mt. Fuji.

  7. Being vegetarian, Japan obviously wasn’t a food paradise. Especially in the beginning when I had no clue as to what I was supposed to do with the stuff on my plate. In fact, on the second day, this was my diet – green tea, green tea ice cream, green tea cake, green tea Kit-Kat and green tea waffles. It did get better towards the end; perhaps I developed a taste for Japanese food.

    Also, twice during the 10-day trip, when it all became a bit too much to handle, I looked (more like hunted) for an Indian restaurant and ate there. One of them turned out to be a sleazy place where people were invited for a “sexy” dance after dinner. But I decided to ignore that as long as they served dal chawal.

  8. Almost every artefact, statue or souvenir that you find in Japan is a tribute to the Samurai era. Except for the Imperial palace and gardens that make for popular tourist spots, I rarely found anything else that is a conscious effort to treasure and remember the Imperial era. I don’t want to comment too much on this. Just that if my observations are in fact correct, the reasons are perhaps obvious.

  9. Almost everyone I came across was wonderfully kind and polite. Every taxi driver, people on the streets we asked for help with directions, store managers, just about everyone. On our third day, we lost our way to the hotel and my cellphone also ran out of battery. We knew the hotel was just around the corner, but didn’t know which way to go. When we asked for directions from this old man near a bus stop, he decided to walk all the way up to the hotel with us because he was unable to explain directions in English. He walked for 20 minutes with us, till we finally got into the hotel.

  10. I was in Japan. So I HAD to buy kitty cat merchandise. I bought a cat bag and a cat wallet and cat napkins and Hello Kitty diaries and pens.

  11. The only person we personally knew in Japan was one of my mother’s students (Batch of 1995!). We met up with him and his family (he is married to a Japanese and they now have a lovely little boy!) and listened to their rather filmy love story. It seems just the ceremonial formalities managed to shake up both the Ministry of External Affairs in India and Japanese officials! Their son (who is the sweetest child I have met in my life. Really) didn’t care that I didn’t know Japanese but was happy that I recognised Pikachu.

    Mom’s student couldn’t believe that I am no more a 5 year old. He said he was just used to playing with me and putting me to sleep on his lap. SO MUCH NOSTALGIA! My memories are not all vivid but I do remember him picking me up from school and playing Snakes & Ladders with him.

  12. We visited the Toyota Museum. It was like Mom’s Disneyland. She enjoyed the many rides and drove a state of art hybrid car. We also saw this super sexy and very real cross between a motorbike and a car. It is AWESOME.

  13. It takes in Indian to truly understand the importance of cleanliness in public toilets. I have travelled to quite a few places across Europe, Asia and North America, and never have I come across a place where the washrooms are this clean and well equipped. Not just that – you can warm the toilet seats (which is amazing when it’s so cold outside), adjust the temperature of the water jets and they never seem to run out of toilet rolls. There are also separate buttons for Flush and “Flushing Sound” and I am confounded with respect to the latter. Does anyone know what purpose that serves?

So basically Japan was wonderful and the fall was so pretty that I forgot all about not being able to see cherry blossoms. People are wonderful and warm. And it seems the seafood there is spectacular, if anyone is interested. Especially oysters.  Go visit Japan, people!

Here are a few pics:

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On Maggi: (Once) The Love of my Life

The Indian Media got really lucky in the past few months. There was real news to report and they didn’t have to create headlines out of new film releases.

  1. Salman Khan almost went to jail.
  2. A woman – rich and drunk and on the wheel – rammed her Audi into a cab, killing two people. Now there is a whole article about her crying in the lockup all night. Also, moral lessons about how women drinking is most immoral.
  3. The cherished love of most stomachs and tongues of India – Maggi Noodles – was found to be unfit for consumption (not unlike most of the other food we Indians enjoy – including but not limited to water) and consequently banned in several states.

The hysteria around the whole Maggi incident was slightly unreal. We rarely see authorities acting this strongly against anything that is bad for the public. In fact, we rarely see authorities acting in the first place. [But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. We have lately been setting records for the number of things a country can ban.] And to be honest, it makes me guffaw when Indian authorities talk about quality standards.

Normally, when regulatory watchdogs find potentially dangerous elements in food items, you would expect them to order the defective items off the shelves, charge penalty and ensure corrective action. Total ban on Maggi across states and the strong action against Nestle (and the celebrities who endorsed Maggi, including those who did that more than 10 years back) just seems weird coming from a country whose ministers recently claimed that tobacco has absolutely nothing to do with cancer.

I am not saying there should be no action. I am aware that MNCs are known to compromise on quality and standards in their operations in developing countries and that Maggi would score worse on nutritional value than I did in high school Physics – but I cannot help but notice that this is yet another incident which throws light on the double standards of Indian regulatory authorities.

Firstly, here is a list of things that are probably as dangerous, if not more, than Maggi –

  1. Cigarettes. It is one thing to be enticed by the money dangled as bait by tobacco companies. But to go on record claiming that tobacco has nothing to do with cancer is ridiculous. We are prompt in banning Maggi, but continue to delay mandating larger pictorial warnings on cigarette packs.
  2. Contaminated water. A huge section of our population has little or no access to potable water. And we have all fallen sick more often after eating the roadside paani puri than we did on gobbling a double pack of Maggi all by ourselves. And there are barely any regulations for hygiene standards and quality of water that is used in hotels and restaurants across the country, let alone street vendors.
  3. Last year our Health Minister thought loyalty would stop the spread of AIDS and syphilis and prevent unwanted pregnancies. Condoms are pointless, it seems.
  4. Dirty toilets. And the lack of sanitation facilities. Open defecation is cause of millions of infections and diseases. I have myself suffered a severe case of UTI after using a public urinal.
  5. A government sponsored mid day meal, so contaminated with pesticides that it managed to kill over 20 children.
  6. A superman-cum-doctor who managed over 70 tubectomy surgeries in just 4-6 hours and ended up killing over 10 women.
  7. The air in our national capital. Enough said.

I understand these are all separate cases that come under different jurisdictions and regulatory authorities. But the point remains that I don’t remember any of these incidences being followed up by action as strict and prompt as in the case of Maggi noodles.

That aside, this FDA that has suddenly reared its head sprouting rules and regulations – where the hell has it been all these years? Never before has there been such strict scrutiny of food items in our markets. Not the fruits and vegetables laced with pesticides, not when Diwali sweets and milk are found to be adulterated, not when a whole range of other processed foods contained every harmful product one can think of, including preservatives, sub-standard artificial colours and growth hormones fed to cattle and other livestock. Moreover, large food companies and FMCGs wield a huge amount of influence on the BIS. As a result, they are able to somehow do everything they want and still conform to the vaguely defined norms.

And I am not against strict orders – but thoughtless reactions to these incidences by our authorities will probably do us more harm than good. Nestle is too big a company to suffer anything that would affect it in the long run as a result of this fiasco. India, on the other hand, has a lot to lose.

  1. The ban affects several workers and farmers who make up the supply chain for Maggi. This spice company had to sack 300 employees – because half of its revenue came from supplying spices to Nestle and now that is done with. There were farmers contracted by this company to grow spices. There have been talks to cancel these contracts in case Nestle’s units there are shut down. Several flourmills may also have to shut down. Nestle was sourcing most of its ingredients locally. Did the authorities take a minute to think about that before they decided to impose a countrywide ban? And what about the many workers employed at Nestle units across India?
  1. There are probably thousands of Maggi stalls across the country. Where does this ban leave their owners? Most stories will probably go unreported. But a permanent ban on Maggi noodles is sure to land a lot of people in a financial crunch. They can switch to other brands of instant noodles but if there are others like me, then Maggi will effectively remain irreplaceable.

I wonder how Indian companies would fair had authorities in other countries reacted the way we did now, every time their authorities found our food products to be substandard. Products manufactured by Haldiram’s and even Britannia have often been blocked by the US FDA because of quality issues. They rejected consignments but there was no ban or orders to get these products off the shelves.

What are our regulators trying to prove? Is there some ulterior motive in all this that we are unable to see? Why push the whole matter so far that it starts to look orchestrated?

Action is warranted, not some thoughtless reaction. As the writer in this article aptly describes, “Nothing shows up India as a semi-literate banana republic than this manufactured mischief…Whipping up a nationwide hysteria smacks of regulatory terrorism rather than serious action. “