This is the story of my newspaper reading habit and how it has evolved over the years. We have been told right from our childhood years by our parents and our teachers that we should be reading newspapers daily. There used to be (and probably there still is) a compelling propaganda around reading newspapers that most times parents and at times interviewers used the question “Have you read today’s newspaper?” to instil a sense of shame in us for not having done so. And even when you have read the sports page in its entirety, it doesn’t count should you even attempt to respond to this question. To be considered eligible to pass the judging threshold for that question, you would have to have read the main page news. If you were a person who has read the editorial articles, it was more like a mark of respect. More like you are then considered as one of those pseudo intellectuals.
With the benefit of hindsight and all those years of having gone through all those reading (and not reading) newspapers, I now only hold the opinion that its only upto the individual and his preferences as to what he reads. If you are a person who enjoys reading only sports pages, read only the sports page by all means and take the liberty to just chuck all other pages; guilt free!
Most of the educated world is addicted to their newspapers. To the extent that it’s like a habitual practice for a large majority of them to read it first thing in the morning. For some, its akin to that “sutta” that they need to be able to take care of their morning bowel business. Wars are sometimes fought over as to who gets access to the newspaper first and which sections that too. True to the tradition of most Indian families, the senior most member in the family is entitled to the first use and priority access to that day’s newspaper. Others like me in my younger days used to hang around patiently till our time came. The analogy that comes to my mind is that of others in the herd who wait to have a go at the prey after the King lion is done with his feast. The analogy makes even more sense now that I’m recall now that the younger ones are who gets sent to fetch the papers on most occasions. Ofcourse to be just handed over to The One, while stealing our guilty pleasures of quickly glancing the headlines and the sports pages between the time of picking up the paper to it being handed over.
At times, in an act of generosity by The One, you are offered pieces of bounty ie one page or sheet of the newspaper while you stay waiting. Mostly once because they have read through that section or basically because they have no interest in that section. My grandfather used to hand over one sheet at a time after he had read through the sections. Now that I mentioned it, it reminds me of the analogy of the dog that sits salivating next to our table while we are having food. Hmm!
So coming back to the story. Like most people, there was this time that I started reading newspapers primarily because of the cartoons and the children’s supplement. Gradually there came this phase of my life in which I was crazy about cricket (again, like most people) and I could read up all that is written in the newspaper and still crave for more. Heck, I even used to maintain a diary which had cricket scores of all matches copied from the newspapers. Now these are the days in which you start hearing an “assareeri” from behind you (it used to be dad mostly and mom occasionally). “As sports page mathram allathe, vere enthenkilum okke onnu vayikkada” (translates to, please do read something other than just the sports page)
Then there was this time when I started developing a taste for reading the main news. This happened somewhere in engineering third year and I believe one of the triggering factors was some war that was happening if I recall well. Im sure that the joblessness of hostel and engineering days also contributed to the development of this habit – internet and mobile phones were not popular and I didn’t have a computer in my room either. Over the course of the year, I was getting bored of the headline news and saw myself moving to the editorial articles to satiate my need for more dope. It came to a point where my only interest in the newspaper was limited to the editorial sections. I have to confess that this used to be give me a pseudo-intellectual high back in those days. It was more like, “Hey, Ive matured enough to start reading and enjoying editorials”. I have now gotten beyond that feeling or any sense of psedo superiority associated with it.
This phase stayed for a considerable period of time and the newspaper used to be one of the first things that I ensured was taken care of whenever I moved to a new place. All this changed one fine day. I read this brilliant piece of writing and decided to stop reading newspapers one fine day. Just like that. A complete stop!
Tell you what, it turned out that it was way easier than I thought it would be to give up newspapers completely. It all started with reading this one section in a book (Four hour workweek by Tim Ferris) about the concept of “Just in time information v/s Just in case information”. Further reading, research and thinking on the matter have only further reinforced my rationale behind the decision to stop reading newspapers completely. Heck, I even got an ardent journalist to get to appreciate and agree to my point of view. Given that this post is already fairly long, I will consider deliberating on the thoughts that went into making the decision in a later post.
I believe it’s been over a year since I made this switch to no newspapers. And even now, I consider this as one among the best decisions I have made. Today, I consciously avoid any action or temptation on my part to pick up a newspaper or even read from a distance even when a newspaper happens to be in my vicinity. There used to be a time when I used to feel a sense of guilt when someone referred to something that they picked up in the newspaper and I was not aware of it. And today, when someone mentions something and I’m clueless about it, I feel happy inside. Even when they follow up with the question “Did you not read that in the papers?”, I feel a sense of happiness inside me (and not even the faintest sense of guilt) when I can answer that with a “No”. Not as much as to do with my ignorance of the matter. Partly because I could get myself to get over that feeling of guilt, but primarily because those are the moments when I get to realise that I have executed well on my decision!