Sunday, April 12, 2020

Social Distancing with my Newspaper

I open the door. A shaft of sunlight falls on the doormat. It’s not there. Along with freedom, this lockdown has taken away my daily newspaper. If there is anything I miss after my house help, it’s my newspaper. 
The farewell was long coming. And yet I postponed it by self containment. The romance began with four in 2010 – Times of India, The Hindustan Times, Mail Today and Mint but petered down to just one. The Times of India. The curve had flattened. 
I know, I know. I have often demeaned it by calling it ‘Toilet Paper’ but my daily newspaper was like my morning tea. A habit. Routine. 

So, my Resident Welfare Association has advised social distancing from newspapers. It can be a possible source of infection, the circular said. Thank you Jinping for taking away the zing from my life. No dhoklas for you next time you swing on the Sabarmati riverfront. All you get is bat soup.

Growing up, reading a newspaper was an undeclared norm in middle class homes with any pretense to education. Parents took pride in the number of newspaper subscriptions that landed on their doorstep. In many ways, reading a newspaper was also the first step towards winning a quiz competition and eventually cracking a competitive exam. It also spoke about the respect of knowledge and love for languages. Publications like the Illustrated Weekly, Saptahik Hindustan, Outlook, Newsweek and Readers Digest were symbols of literary reassurance that covered everyday aspects of our lives. 

Old habits die hard. Eager to pass on the tradition, I used to place the newspaper on my son’s study table every morning. After all it’s our job as parents to pass on the enthusiasm we had for things we treasured. Despite the gentle nudges, the young man quarantined the newspaper. He preferred reading news on his phone and used the newspaper to swat flies. 

So yes, mornings are not the same anymore. The key here is not about news accessibility. Given my social media addiction, I have enough information on my plate to make me anxious and angry. By the time I get to read printed news, it is already chewed and regurgitated on television and twitter. Moreover, printed news is late and has no sense of drama or outrage. The op-eds can be sanctimonious and boring. Glued to gadgets, it is not difficult to understand why the young find the newspaper unpalatable. In an age of crisp podcasts, the idea that some gatekeeper of information will serve his gently cooked wisdom on paper does not resonate with this generation. 

Like watches and music systems, even as newspapers continued to lose their sheen my relationship with them blossomed. Being a writer of some lowly denomination, my newspaper was much more than badge of knowledge. It was my teacher. Newspaper taught me how to write. For someone who had not studied English as a language beyond class twelve, articles by Indrazit Hazra, Bikram Vohra, Bachi Kakaria and Amulya Gopalakrishnan came into existence not only as opinions but as lessons in the art of writing - lessons to be chronicled and re-read. As I excavate cuttings of my favourite columns, it feels like discovering a mini treasure. My literary hotspot. Most of them are parched yellow cuttings assembled over decades to be mulled over at leisure. 

Hopefully, as and when life limps back to normal, newspapers will resuscitate back to life like Wuhan. But in a world increasingly mediated by technology - a world where we will wash everything we touch, reading the paper with gloves is not an idea that excites me at all. 
If anything, this pandemic has underlined the impermanence of most things, what’s a newspaper? 

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