<%-- Page Title--%> A Roman Column <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 146 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

March 19, 2004

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Neeman A Sobhan

I am contemptible. I am one of those contentedly under-informed, compulsively apolitical, despicably ignorant individuals who forgets to read the daily newspaper; who, just when the television news comes on with its self-important music, switches to the Discovery or History channel; and who uses the silky pages of news magazines to line her crockery shelves and wrap her evening shoes.

And yet, all the news leaks through. People around me seem to have nothing better to do than read, listen to, watch, discuss, analyse and regurgitate the affairs of the world… as if their opinions, views and rehashing of the news made a difference, nationally or internationally! Who was it that said: "Those who can, do; the rest merely read, write and discuss issues"? Oh! That must have been moi!

Yet, even if I wanted to remain blissfully un-informed about the developments of the political soap operas and worldly melodramas of our times, both national and global, complete with distant wars and local hartals; the promises, betrayals and lies; the murders, suicides, stabbings (metaphoric ones on the back and actual ones on writers); revelations, conspiracies and power-plays; the joys and follies; and the blood, sweat, tears and petrol of public affairs, I would yet be unable to escape the radio-active contamination of news.

So, without any extra effort on my part I get to know about the doings and dealings of the world at large. But I wish I were left alone to pursue my non-involvement in the worldly-political aspects of life. I am listening quietly on my walkman to Ted Hughes recite Donne, when someone unplugs me to say "Did you hear the news...?" I am busy finishing Jhumpa Lahiri's first novel 'Namesake', when the newspaper is thrust at me. "Just read this item. It will make your blood boil." I flick the paper away, to watch the life and times of writer Steinbeck on the Biography channel, when the remote is snatched away because the 'THE WORLD TODAY' is coming on in thirty seconds.

My world today calls out to me and I creep away quietly to my terrace with my laptop to write about this peaceful moment in time, more real, alive and relevant to me, which nourishes my spirit, saturating it with serenity, so that nothing makes my blood boil, and so I can be compassionate towards the people whose lives actually touch mine, though I cannot stop the bloodbaths and chaos elsewhere. I extract the poetry from my limited surroundings and pour it into my prosaic day and make of it a column to hold up the edifice of my small but palpable and palpitating humanity.

I retouch my piece and am ready to send it off, when a well meaning friend drops by and remarks that he would like to see me write more of the analytical op-ed pieces I once used to write. He would like my pen to pour forth articles on socio-cultural issues, or about the political climate of Europe and Italy, or the conditions of the immigrant Bangalis in Rome-- in other words, (though not his words), something more 'serious' than the foibles and fables from my day to day life. I smile my contemptibly contented smile. Can anything be more serious than an individual's life? Can anything be more newsworthy, or reader-worthy?

I also ask this: don't newspaper readers in Dhaka get enough of the dense, op-ed type analytical commentaries? Would another voice in the chorus improve the melody of the spheres? Should writing for a magazine have to be didactic, dry, full of facts and figures, with topics that are consciously improving, to be considered 'serious'?

I know my own life and my world better than I know the world at large, specially the political one. Whatever I say about my personal world is authentic, and every observation is not only original, but even if it isn't consciously serious, is deeply felt. In life as in literature, there is nothing new under the heavens except each human being's version of his experience, his unique journey. And each version is valid and valuable, and being individual, is fresh and new. And isn't that what deems something newsworthy--- that which brings newness to the old, makes it 'news'?

As compelling as politics is to some, so is the claim of everyday life. As long as the language has beauty, style and originality, a wedge of everyday life is a work of artistry. Let such writings flower like exotic blooms within the jungle of write-ups and comments about the gloomy world of political animals. Birth, love, death; relationships and alienations; coping, laughing, crying and being, these are the palettes of the most evocative paintings, the nuances of the deepest poetry. This is the harvest of humanity. In the absence of book reading, let writers bring their sensibilities and imaginative flourishes, their linguistic elegance and wit to the world of magazine writing. Everything need not be about politics and current affairs. Everything need not be current and newsworthy; one must also make time for the timeless by reading literary pieces which have no specific agenda except to give pleasure and build your reading muscles.

News can be summarized by anyone for you, but no one can summarize a book, a poem, a piece of music or a work of art. You have to experience it yourself. For that, you have to develop the habit and discipline to read--not newspapers and magazines but BOOKS, and not magazine reviews ABOUT the books but the books themselves. So if you cannot be in the political or social arena changing the way the world operates then don't waste more than an hour a day to keep abreast of the news, then forget the World Today, and enter the world of the past, the world of the future, and the world within that you can shape.

And now, shut this magazine (going through this column does not really count for reading) and pick up a book. Read Jhumpa Lahiri's 'Namesake' instead of waiting to read about it in the review of it which I will do soon! And that in turn does not mean I'm turning all 'serious'. I maintain that it is better to write with joy about nothing in particular than pontificate at length about grand issues. If that's news to you, I am vindicated and no longer contemptible.


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