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? 🙂

 

The rich kid in class

I was discussing this with a friend a few days back. The conversation keeps playing in my head and many passive memories (ones I’d rather forget, actually) keep coming to the fore. So I shall write. Maybe then I can close the chapter once and for all? Or at least bury a grudge.

 

I attended a Public School.  In Public School standards, I was the “rich kid” in class. We weren’t really rich, of course. But we had a car and that meant I was rich. It didn’t matter that the car was bought by dipping into years of savings because two of the three members in our family were asthmatic. That my dad still used the train to travel to the other end of the city while my mother and I used the car within a 5 mile radius because we couldn’t walk without wheezing.

 

I was almost always in this ambivalent limbo – where at home I was trained in the importance of being thrifty and in school I was somehow the brat who got dropped to school in a car and who’s mother travelled to the US on business every few months. It didn’t help that I did well in exams.

 

So I did everything I could to blend in with everyone – which meant I took every means necessary to hide any signs of “affluence”. I saved my favourite pens for homework and used the cheaper ones at school. I hid the pencil box mom bought me from the States under my desk so no one would see it and tease me about it. I even made sure my father dropped me to school much earlier than required so no one would see me get off the car. I pretended to enjoy standing in the sun even if the dust meant I’d spend the night scratching the rashes senseless. I took buses even when I had the pocket money to hire a rickshaw.

 

In short, I truly believed money was something one needed to feel guilty about. I hated money and everything to do with it. My tuition teacher, who also happened to be a classmate’s mother, often remarked that I would never see the “real world” because I was privileged. It made me sad. I wanted to see what the glory of this “real world” was all about. Money was the absolute worst. It seems every time I did badly in exams, it had to with the fact that money makes you take things easy. Surprisingly, even when I scored well, it could be attributed to wealth because I had access to everything. At the time I wondered how the hours I spent practising math had anything to do with my parents’ income.

 

By the end of school, I was convinced one didn’t need money, and one definitely shouldn’t want money. At a time when my choices should ideally have been informed by interests and priorities, I was mostly driven by guilt and the desperate need to be liked. Thankfully, I don’t regret the choices I made – because had I not made them, I would never have met the people who taught me that I did not have to be ashamed of who I was or where I came from as long as I knew how to respect others. Another reason I don’t have regrets is because it ensured I didn’t make a choice motivated solely by economic prospects. (Though it would have saved me a lot of trouble had I given it at least some consideration)

 

It was only once college ended and I actually got to the “real world” my friend’s mother had warned me about that I was forced to acknowledge the hard truth – that I actually desired money. Not in the sense that all I need in life is money or that wealth is my sole purpose in life. I just realised I wanted to earn a decent living and enjoy a comfortable life. Comfortable – I will admit – in the standards that my parents set for me.

 

Even then, for the longest time, I wondered if my career choices should be informed by these new discoveries about myself – because I couldn’t shed the feeling of overwhelming guilt every time I considered the monetary returns. Shouldn’t I be thinking of more important things first – like society, humanity, people, country?

 

It took many years, some failures and some introspection to realise something that should have been obvious right from the beginning –  Yes, I want to earn well. Yes, I want to provide for myself and my family. Yes, I want to have the luxury to spend if I want to without having to worry about affording dinner. If I ever have a child, I want to be able to provide him/her the best of everything. An education in a private school, to begin with. And no – this is not something to be ashamed of. This isn’t even shallow. I have some priorities in life and this is one of them. It isn’t a terrible thing. No it isn’t. This desire isn’t at the cost of everything else but it is a desire.

 

This doesn’t make me less of a person, less of a patriot (my country is doing everything in it’s power to shake this though), less of a woman, or less of a citizen. I follow the law, I vote, I never spit or litter on the roads, I volunteer for social efforts, I pay my taxes, and I try to be a responsible citizen the best I can. I try my best to be kind to others. For me that is enough.

 

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.