Random Thoughts of a Troubled Mind

How much of news is too much news? When does reporting become sensationalism? Are we even aware when we exaggerate to create sensations that we have crossed the boundary between realistic reporting and reporting in bad taste? These are some of the questions that have been bothering me lately. The Aarushi murder case media hoopla came as the last straw.

I have been going

through work hell currently. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. But it has become too much of a good thing, right now. I have to meet too many deadlines every week and have too little time to do justice to the projects. I go to work much earlier than before and come back home much later. I have started resenting my kitchen duties, which I used to love before. My personal life has gone for a toss and my body craves its regular sleeping hours. In the office sometimes I realize with a start that I have been holding my breath for a long time. Then I remind myself that ‘this too shall pass’ and take deep breaths to calm myself down. The situation has perhaps made me high strung and over-sensitive. As an offshoot of that I find myself losing my objectivity and equanimity over a seemingly harmless piece of morning newspaper.
{xtypo_quote_right}know what advice I would have given to a fellow colleague if she had posed this question to me. I would have said, ‘Take life with a pinch of salt and let nothing disturb your inner fountain of joy and optimism.'{/xtypo_quote_right}

I grew up with my grandfather drilling into my brother and me that every responsible citizen and would-be-citizen of the country starts reading a newspaper from the first page and works up to the last. To make his point he used to give us dictations from the English daily, and slowly reading the morning newspaper minutely became a part of our morning ritual. And now I have begun to doubt whether this is a good habit. Almost like if you someday discover that brushing your teeth in the morning is a bad habit and you have to kick it.

I cringe while retrieving the newspaper from the front door. In this world of infotainment we are bombarded with more and more information. Some are relevant to us…but most aren’t. I open the newspaper and read about global tragedies and violence, accidents and brutality. Rising prices and inflation, stocks falling steadily, crops failing, unchecked mob fury, lynching, plane crashes, political killing, honour killing, chain snatching, lesbians committing suicide jointly in their bid to be together – if it’s grim enough it is covered to the last gory detail. The newspapers seem to have adopted the philosophy of ‘the gorier the better’. I have to scan the newspaper to find some piece of good news to counter act the onslaught of grimness. Whatever peace of mind I had attained with a good night’s sleep flees, another dreary day looms large in my horizon.

My eyes glaze over the grim analyses of health threats under the lifestyle columns. I will give you an example. Two days back there was an article about how cancers in my city have increased by twenty times. Every other day there are articles on obesity, diabetes and heart attacks. Then one article calmly claimed that if any one of your family has had a kidney transplant, you are a budding candidate for dialysis and you must immediately get yourself checked. By the time I finish reading through the host of symptoms for the various ailments I am quite convinced that I am showing early symptoms of all the threats! I agree that these articles are beneficial for spreading awareness. But every family has some combination of genetic trends. Shouldn’t the family physician be informing a person of the precautions that he/she needs to take after a thorough examination? Little learning from the newspapers can have dangerous consequences such as popping unnecessary multi-vitamin tablets, apart from the emotional turmoil.

Now India is a democratic country and we all have a right to information. But sensationalism from across the globe is surely a misuse of this right. The newspapers seem to play on the readers’ innermost fears to keep them hooked to more information. My grandmother used to say, ‘no news is always good news’. Of course she lived in a world that had not yet been invaded by e-mails and cell phones. She used to be happy if she received a fortnightly letter from her children.

I tried to follow the philosophy of ‘what you don’t know cannot harm you’ for a while. I boycotted the morning newspaper, avoided listening to the news channels. Even when I did open the morning newspaper I reverted back to my childhood habit of heading straight to the comics section of the newspaper, followed by the horoscope section. I also kept up with the filmy gossip section. But my cocooned state obviously did not last long. Within a week I was even more disoriented than before. I was sadly out of touch with strikes and bandhs and price hikes and market trends. I became uncharacteristically silent in all current affair debates in the office canteen. So again I was at a disadvantage.

Are instances of global violence increasing? Or is it because now every local newspaper aims to cover global news? And by news I mean mostly bad news. After all every newspaper has to maintain and increase its circulation. Tragedy sells because it invokes fear in the readers. He/she could have been found in a similar circumstance. But it also gives a relief. That though he/she could easily have been involved in the situation, he/she escaped. News of normalcy or small acts of goodness are not worthy of being chronicled perhaps. They will hardly create a sensation. For example, who will be interested to know that you got into an auto, the auto driver was a really nice man, he didn’t over charge you, there was no traffic jam and you reached your destination in time?

I know what advice I would have given to a fellow colleague if she had posed this question to me. I would have said, ‘Take life with a pinch of salt and let nothing disturb your inner fountain of joy and optimism.’ But that is easier said than done when you are already stressed, and the ground level of your inner-optimism well is a bit low, I think it is very important to remember that the world is still mostly good. That is why bad news make headlines. They are the exceptions rather than the norm and like Paramahamsa we have to separate the essence from the chaff. With this new-found optimism I plan to open the newspaper tomorrow.

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