*Insert cliched New Years’ caption*

I make new years’ resolution(s) because it gives me an excuse to make the first page my yearly planner look really important and motivating.

I use a planner rather obsessively, at least until about October. That’s when I start to feel like I’ve been wasting time all this while and the year just needs to end ASAP. By the end of November I am already looking for a planner for the next year.

It’s not entirely bad — there are some achievements to be proud of every year. But it’s always the likes “exercise regularly” and “stay positive” that have remained unrealised for many years now.

Staying positive is hardest — because I am that neurotic idiot who worries about not having to worry. Anxiety is a reflex and trying to curb that very tiring.

In honour of my pretty planners, I shall list my resolutions for 2017 here. That way I can at least pretend to be less cynical and more hopeful about actually following them through. I have also decided to have more “Don’t’s” on the list – because abstinence is sometimes just as important as action.

  1. Drink more than 2 litres of water a day
  2. Do not buy any perfumes in 2017 (Dad, ignore this one. I will accept perfumes as presents, okay?)
  3. Build enough stamina to run 20 minutes without reaching for an inhaler.
  4. Read at least 5 non-fiction books
  5. Perfect the art of painting the nails on your right hand without making a mess. (Cannot afford to paint my nails like a 5 year old any more)

 

5 is a good number so I will stop there.

#1 requires constant awareness and tracking
#2 is about self control. Doable.
#3 is most ambitious. But needs to be done – this demands self motivation and perseverance. Easier said than done but maybe if I take this up and a challenge more than a resolution, it will help me push harder ?
#4 requires commitment. This one is the easier to achieve.
#5 Good lord. Herculean task, this one. Bless me, Gods.

You may all be forced to put up with progress reports on these “goals” on this blog throughout the year. Bear with me? Oh you could also share your goals. Then we could mutually bully each other into working on them.

Happy New Year, guys! I hope you all have a fabulous year ahead J

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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? 🙂

 

Some introspection as a consumer of news media

We all know what happened in Paris last week. It was all over the news, and there is not a detail that the media hasn’t told us about. My Twitter feed is constantly telling me about the progress on that matter. Each of us felt for and prayed for Paris and its people. My country, unique as always, decided to show solidary by lighting up its jewel with the Dutch flag instead of the French.

 

Where and how did I learn about what happened in Paris? To be honest, my twitter feed. That’s where I read most news because –

 

  1. It’s convenient to follow
  2. I get everything right from New York Times to Bombay Times on a single screen
  3. It’s on my cellphone, and
  4. I cannot stand most Indian news channels. I learn little and end up with a migraine.

 

Something else happened last week, something just as terrible and just as huge in magnitude. Double suicide bombings in Beirut claimed dozens of lives. This too, was perpetrated by the ISIS.

 

Where did I learn about this one? Again, from my Twitter feed. But, this time is was different. Unlike the news from Paris, I learnt about Beirut not from news media feeds, but from multiple retweets from several random handles that alleged that while the world wept for Paris, Beirut bled forgotten and ignored.

 

Facebook too, was full of such enraged posts. We all hate the media for its insensitivity and bias. And this was yet another incident where it failed. I found myself bobbing my head in agreement with many of these posts.

 

But then journalists began to pick up their pens (laptops?) to show us the mirror. Soon, these posts were all over my Twitter and Facebook feed. They make you take a step back, stop pointing fingers, and introspect for a minute.

 

Let me talk about myself here. As I said before, most of the news I read is through Twitter. Lets just say social media. What is social media? Who creates content in social media? In the first instance, it may come from figures of authority or importance, regardless of the genre. But its readership is often determined by the readers – through shares, retweets, replies, etc. Readers get to decide what gets read and how much.

 

As it turns out, the media did cover Beirut extensively. It also covered Baghdad and Abuja. We, as readers, somehow managed to ensure that everyone knew about Paris and few about the others.

 

This article from The Guardian explains it succinctly – “Social media and, more crucially, the ability of new organisations to gauge which stories get the most hits, attention and circulation, mean that we are now as guilty of determining the agenda as editors are, if not more. There is something sanctimonious, maybe even hypocritical, about placing the onus purely on the media – they are often only reflecting back our chatter and activity back at us.”

 

However, because the media has left me rather cynical – I ask myself – while all this is true, and while I share the responsibility here, should I believe all that is said in these articles? Or is this yet another skillful move by the media to manipulate us?

 

Let us assume, in this case, that we as consumers of news are almost entirely responsible for ignoring Beirut and the Middle East in general. Why did this happen? That article from The Guardian attempts to explain this by acknowledging the “simple limitations of what we can care about, its proximity to home…”

 

There is also the element of attention. We are all so accustomed to hearing about violence in the Middle East that it has almost become “normal”. But in Paris, on the other hand – the land of art and culture and fine wine – violence is an aberration. It catches the eye and we give it some time.

 

But this is not an isolated incidence. I remember there were many who complained about the lack of coverage of the suicide bombing in Nigeria because everybody was solely focused on the shootings at the office of Charlie Hebdo. That attack in Nigeria involved a 10 year old child used as a suicide bomber. Boko Haram had also killed over 2000 civilians in Baga just a few days before that.

 

Perhaps even this can be attributed to the apathetic attitude of readers towards Africa and our interest in France. The West because they can relate to it, the East because we are enchanted by all things white and beautiful.

 

But this whole phenomenon isn’t just related to who we care about and who we don’t. This also has to do with what we care about. And what the world cares about.

 

For instance, the greatest environmental disaster of this century has happened. The scale is massive, it is terrifying, and as one journalist describes, it is an eco-apocalypse. Entire cities are in flames, natural resources are depleting and species are vanishing at an unthinkable rate. And this is no tiny island no one has heard of. It’s Indonesia.

 

I did some checking. Turns out, except some reports from New York Times, The Guardian (the most extensive), CNBC, Bloomberg, BBC and few others, this event has received little to no media coverage. Indian media has absolutely nothing to say about it, and we are in the same continent. So the whole theory about the limitation of proximity doesn’t apply here.

 

Tsunami, earthquakes, volcanoes – things that one can blame the almighty for – we are ready to take notice. Whatever we are responsible for, we’d rather turn a blind eye. The forest fire in Indonesia is almost entirely because of uncontrolled and injudicious deforestation. Our own handiwork.

 

And lets face it – who has time to care about a forest fire in some Asian country when you have things like the capital markets and terrorism for worry about? Even the media decided that this event didn’t feature in the list of anybody’s priorities.

 

Clearly, the blame game isn’t going to help anyone. I wonder if this is inevitable, or if there is a way we can consciously inquire and read about all the things that matter and that should matter, and not just the ones that we just “happen” to come across. And this is while I turn a blind eye to the existence of paid news.

 

But, I will also acknowledge that the temporary guilt tripping of both sides has pushed me to check my own actions – look around, reflect on my own reading habits and decide to make some changes. Media has its issues, there is no denying that. But I am first going to make the most responsible use of what it has to offer that is of significance before I complain about its inadequacies.

 

PS – I know I was supposed to put up posts from 2nd Nov, but I went on a holiday and came back this Monday. More on that in the next post 😉

On Compulsive Book-Buying

I like books. Not just the book as in the thing you read; I also enjoy books as physical entities. I like holding them and smelling them and looking at them. It’s erotic.

Books can be unbelievably pretty. Anyone with a similar passionate love for books will understand. Ebooks are great for reading and it’s fantastic that you don’t have to look for physical space to store them. But they are not – BOOKS. Physical books – with the cover and the paper and the print – they are irreplaceable. At least to me.

I am often accused of having unhealthy emotional attachments to material objects. Usually it has more to do with the memories it [the object] holds than the monetary value. This holds especially true for books. I like owning them, possessing them – just holding them allows me to relive all of the memories and joys I enjoyed while I was reading them. It’s nostalgic and wonderful and very often a turn-on.

When I was little, I would ask my parents to buy me books, and they would. As I was aware that I was making them spend, I used to be careful and thrifty. When I discovered this adult thing called salary, it blew my mind. I could buy books and not feel guilty. I could choose exactly how much to spend on them. Be responsible for a few months and then go nuts every once in a while.

Few months back, I quit my job. I wanted to do “what I enjoyed.” Unfortunately, what I enjoy only allows you to buy peanuts. Because, when you’re paid peanuts, you can only afford peanuts. The job is actually pretty good, except now it isn’t salary but savings that I need to dip into in order to purchase books.That hurts. Salary is good – there is movement – inflow and outflow. With savings, it’s only outflow. For a painfully frugal [except in book-buying] person like me – this situation is terrible. It really is.

So I have ditched bookstores and resorted to discount-hunting on Amazon. [Only options as there are no good libraries around] Bookstores are now solely for window shopping. But God, I love e-retail. And this cut-throat competition between Snapdeal and Flipkart and Amazon. The discounts are awesome. But the biggest perk is this – Amazon allows you access to various editions of books that are otherwise not available in bookstores in India.

A lot of the editions available in India, especially those of classics, are pretty awful. Tiny print, super-thin paper, poor binding, often full of typos. I hate Rupa Publications with a vengeance. I bought a whole lot of “Rupa Classics” in college because they were reasonably priced. Now I am in the process of slowly buying other editions of all those books. Because Rupa cannot publish anything that doesn’t have a whole lot of typing errors.

Thank God for Penguin. They offer some good editions in India as well. But I’ve lived in UK for more than a year and I also know what we DON’T get here.

Coming back to the point, Amazon (India) allows you access to better (and prettier!) editions, often at discounted rates. It makes me want to spend more than I would otherwise, but I have been trying to exercise self-control and rational thinking. [I don’t mention Flipkart because with respect to books, Flipkart prices are nowhere near as competitive as Amazon India.  Also, Flipkart just entered this agreement, so I officially hate them]

Any way, in my quest for the aforementioned self-control, this compulsive book buyer has decided to make a list of reasons she shouldn’t (and should!) buy books. Because this compulsive book-buyer is also a compulsive-list-maker.

I shall start with why it okay to keep buying books –

  1. I saved well when I was earning, i.e, I have the resources to buy books.
  2. I still have some space to store new books
  3. I read a quite a lot, so they aren’t really show pieces
  4. I am buying them on discount

Why I shouldn’t keep buying books –

  1. It gives me real heartache and pain to see only “debits” in my account statement
  2. I already own a lot of books that are still on my To-Be-Read list. Must get to them first.
  3. I don’t have much of an income at this point. [More heartache. And to think I made my choice to avoid further heartache! Although,to be perfectly honest, I’d still pick my current heartache over the earlier shitty-job heartache]
  4. I can’t think of a Number 4. Does that mean I can continue to buy books?

Book buying is no sin. But I’m guessing over-indulgence is not a good thing. Perhaps a little self-control might prove to be better than a nagging sense of guilt and fear of monthly account statements. I am already scared of heights and bees and holes. I don’t need one more thing to dread.

I bought 4 books in March. Let me see if I can hold back till mid-June before I buy another one.

PS – One of the books I bought this month was the Penguin Threads edition of Jane Austen’ Emma and it is by far one of the most beautiful books on my shelf! Take a look:

That stuff isn’t print guys, the whole thing is actually threaded! 

On living with PCOS

I am not going to talk about the technical details of PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome). A friend of mine once described it as the “21st century’s gift to womankind.” I think that is the best definition out there. In short, it’s a condition which affects women for no good reason, is usually exacerbated by stress and leads to insulin resistance, which in turn can cause annoying, embarrassing and agonizing issues like weight gain, trouble losing weight, irregular periods, early onset diabetes (Type 2), fertility issues, facial hair etc. It’s what some would call a pain in the ass.

The doctors have a sophisticated way of consoling the PCOS gang of women. They’ll typically say things like –

  1. There’s no treatment, but it can be managed
  2. Exercise regularly and manage your diet. That’ll solve most of it.
  3. Stay away from all things white – white rice, white bread, sugar. (White men are okay. It is a truth universally acknowledged that nothing and no-one in this universe has anything against white men)
  4. Lose weight

For women who have PCOS, losing weight far more difficult than it is for others. (Unless they have other gifts, such as thyroid issues which make things much worse) You can work out for months and still lose no more than a kilo. One slice of buttered bread may be enough to ruin weeks of workout. And if you’re prone to stress or anxiety, then your everyday life is like mountaineering.

It’s okay. Shit happens. Everyone is dealing with problems of their own and PCOS is one that’s becoming more and more common on the list of problems for young women.

Now here’s the issue(s) –

  1. It’s difficult to talk about. When you say you have PCOS you are also admitting to potentially serious fertility issues, perennial problems with weight and the need for an upper lip wax every now and then.
  2. It’s not life threatening, so people don’t take it very seriously
  3. “Stress” is invisible. When there is no “physical” cause, the problem is easily attributed to some wrong action (or inaction) on the patient’s end. That increases stress. Stress worsens the problem. Vicious cycle.
  4. Stress is also perceived as relative. A teenage girl’s boyfriend problems may be seen as less important than say a major career issue that troubled an elder woman. But to that girl, her problem is just as real and grave. And the stress will mess with her hormones just as it does for the other woman.
  5. Fat girls are almost never offered the benefit of doubt. They have a personal journey to cover in coming to terms with body image, but society will mostly not give them a chance. This may even be okay for slightly older women to deal with, but makes things especially hard for teenaged girls battling PCOS.

I hate thinking about my teens. It wasn’t fun, and I didn’t look forward to my days. It was less because of my weight and more because I felt that I was somehow responsible for my misery. That perhaps I ate like a pig and sat around like a rhino.

I cannot believe I put myself through that.

I’m over that. It is thanks to my family and some wonderful friends and a great deal of selective reading on the internet. One of the first posts of Humans Of New York I noticed was the portrait of this brave young lady and her online movement for body acceptance. Here is the link to her story.

The struggle is different for each individual and the solutions will depend on that. But I do believe the first step is acceptance. Of many things –

  1. Accepting the problem
  2. Knowing that it isn’t your fault, no matter what your parents or the bullies in school say
  3. It isn’t a problem with a permanent solution. You’ll have to live with it and deal with it on a daily basis
  4. You will have to exercise even if you much prefer staying in bed and reading all day. And sugar is the hot-but-bad guy. One night stands ONLY. Nothing long term.
  5. PCOS isnot the end of the world.
  6. It doesn’t have anything to do with your worth as a person or your happiness.

Also – if a man can’t deal with the occasional bit of hair on your chin, he can go to hell. In sickness and in health, right ?

The very last thing I wish to do on this blog is preach. But this subject is just something I feel very strongly about, and I’ve realized it’s pointless waiting for acceptance from the outside. The only way is for it to come from within. It makes you not give a damn about what others think. That’s an awesome feeling.

I still care about what others think. Of course I do. We all do. I just don’t care what they think of how I look or weigh.(Well, at least most of the time) I love myself enough to say no to sugar not because it will make me fat, but because I want to live a full life without diabetes for as long as possible. (Again, most of the time. There are days when I just sulk. Or gobble a brownie and THEN sulk.)

No one deserves to have PCOS. And no one should have to feel ashamed about having it.

Hashtag PCOS. Because I am that well versed with Twitter.

PS – Just to clarify, I have nothing against “healthy” habits. I do think there has to be a positive motivation behind it, not self loathing and peer pressure.

PPS – I really do love lists

On reading lists and women writers

I signed up for the Book Riot Read Harder challenge this year. There were several factors that interested me –

1. Reading diversely could prove to be an enriching experience
2. There’s a very good chance I discover some great books/authors I may not have known otherwise
3. I get to make lists. I love making lists.
4. I can browse the internet for hours in the name of research without feeling guilty about it.

I made a list. I spent hours reading and thinking about which book makes it to the list and which doesn’t. Choosing between few options sometimes led me to a near-existential crisis. Because lists are important.

I stuck with the list for a good two months before ditching it. I might still read most of the books on the list this year, but I realised I don’t quite like having a restricted set of book I NEED to read in a particular frame of time. I usually pick books depending on my mood. I also like a variety in genres because I am easily bored.

A compulsive book buyer, I have a good number of books I own that I am yet to read. Then we have ebooks and recurring festive discounts on Amazon and that list just keeps getting longer.

I’ve decided to not beat myself up over ditching the BR list. For something that requires discipline, charting out a plan, having a to-do list and logging progress is useful. But for something like reading, which I do purely for pleasure and what I gain out of it is just incidental – I don’t want to turn than into a serious chore.

But – the one thing I may consciously try to do is read more female authors. I read Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret near the end of last year. Started this year with Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. Because I didn’t quite enjoy that one, I decided to experiment and went with Little Hands Clapping by Dan Rhodes, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Easily the weirdest, wackiest book I have read in my life. Rhodes is totally the Roald Dahl of this age.

Now I’m almost done with The Martian by Andy Weir. I have my eyes on Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi for my next read. It is the first graphic novel I’ll be reading in physical form since I read V for Vendetta several years ago. Maybe I’ll try and do at least one female author for every two male authors that I read. That shouldn’t be difficult or restricting, right ?

I read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own many years ago in college. It made a lasting impact on me, and I often find my thoughts wandering back to it. I wonder how many splendid women writers humanity has missed out on because those women never had the same opportunities as men? Even today, why is the female voice still struggling to be heard in the literary world? Even Joanne Rowling was made to publish her book in the name of J.K. Rowling because her publishers believed the book wouldn’t sell as many copies if people knew it was written by a female author. Never mind the mindblowing story and the artistic finesse.

I’m not in a place to change the world but I can be stubborn in mine and insist on reading the works of these wonderful ladies, well known or lesser known.

Clearly, I have managed to stray from where I started. Let me round up –

1. I love lists.
2. TBR lists are good, but not a short list for a specified period of time. At least not for me. Ruins the fun.
3. Must read more female authors
4. Virginia Woolf was a rockstar