Reading: A dying hobby

Sitting down with a good book to read was once considered a preferred pastime of children and adults alike. Books mean different things to different people. While to some reading is the greatest form of pleasure, to others it’s nothing short of an agonizing task. The reading habits of adolescents specifically have drastically changed over a period of time.  The reasons to which this change is attributed to are numerous.

Leisure reading by definition is the reading students choose to do on their own, as opposed to reading that is assigned to them. Also referred to as voluntary reading, spare time reading and self-selected reading ,leisure reading involves personal choice, choosing what one wants to read and reading widely from a variety of sources-not just books.

To put it plainly, children and adolescents have seemingly lost interest in reading. The magnificent world of books no longer holds any wonder. Technology could be considered as one of the greatest factors that have led to this decline in interest. An average adolescent today spends most of their time on the internet or watching television. I-pods, I-pads, mobile phones, gaming consoles have gradually replaced books. When a child gets back from school their first instinct is to turn on the TV or access the internet. The distractions are so huge in number that reading gets pushed to the bottom of the ‘to-do’ list.

The education system itself has begun to use the aid of technology to make classrooms more interactive. Tablets and laptops are now frequently used instead of textbooks and notebooks. If reading is not encouraged at the school level itself, how is one supposed to inculcate the habit in children? And if reading is not inculcated at a young age what guarantees that an adolescent will abruptly begin to read? It is important for parents to inspire children to read during their formative years. Developing and sustaining the habit of reading is the key.

It is unfair to label all adolescents as the ‘non-reading’ variety. Many adolescents greatly enjoy reading be it magazines, comics or novels but this breed is slowly declining as technology is overpowering every facet of their lives.

The benefits of reading are known world over.  Numerous studies have shown that students who are exposed to reading before preschool are more likely to do well in all facets of formal education. Reading develops speech skills, logical thinking, enhanced concentration and discipline.

The lack of time is also one reason many adolescents don’t read. Extra homework in addition to schoolwork often burden students and they end up far too tired to engage in leisure reading. What initially may start as an ‘I’ll read tomorrow’ eventually snowballs into something much larger and over a period of time, children completely cease to read.  It is wrong to blame just one agent for this decline. Multiple factors have together led to this impactful change in the reading habits of adolescents.

While there isn’t any one certain way to ensure students of all ages spend more time reading, small steps can be taken to encourage the habit in them right from the time they’re toddlers. Parents could spend more time reading to their children instead of allowing them to play on mobile phones. Teachers in schools should devote a section of their class time asking students to read newspapers so the concept of reading doesn’t gradually become alien to them. Since children, in their formative years, spend most of their time at educational institutions, measures should be taken to create an environment in classrooms that is conducive to reading. These changes need to be brought about at the primary level so children can grow up understanding how essential reading is and learn to cherish it.

Pocket Sexism

I write this piece because of a daily habit that has become part of my life at the hill. Every day, as we step out, among the group of friends I have, my female friends have usually asked me to keep their mobile phones or room keys in the pocket of the pants or shorts I am wearing. It even reached to a point where one day I would not want to walk because of the weight of items in my pocket.

And that is when I think, why is it that women do not have pockets in their clothing? I mean it’s not like I don’t want to help, but how tough can it be to make pockets to keep stuff in. And they do have pockets, but when I mention the same to my friends, they agree that this does exist as a problem. It may be that there are no pockets, or the pockets are too small that it is impossible to even keep a phone inside it for easy use and instead they have to go on a treasure hunt in their bags. However, I casually dismissed the idea thinking it might be quite silly discussing pockets of all things but on a random google search I discovered how big a deal it really is in the fashion world.

Turns out, this problem had recently come to light again as most women protested to the fact that the new iPhone 6 or the recent Samsung Galaxy devices do not fit in their small pockets and are difficult to carry. The talking point which started from whether pockets really are necessary went to the fact that the fashion industry, even today, remains to focus on glamour and quality rather than necessity and use. Camilla Olson, CEO at Savitude, one of the big fashion firms at Palo Alto says, “Fashion looks selectively at who they let in and keeps women at a certain place. It’s not helping women move forward in the workplace.” Olson says that some designers have deemed pockets “too ugly” for clothing, while others simply don’t think women need them. And these decisions, she says, have created a chasm in women’s fashion, and hold women back.
We have plus size clothes, change in modelling habits in terms of size zero models and even the existence of fashion labels selling clothes at common man prices, yet we don’t know why women’s pockets are almost non existent as compared to the men.
It is seen that fast and big fashion labels are not adapting to normal people which may not be the biggest problem of the world but is a minimal problem women have to face at various moments in their daily lives.
History suggests that as the fashion industry developed, the lack of pockets actually led to the invention of satchels and purses which became a necessity in the hands of women as they had no other available option to carry their basics. The domino effect of ‘no pockets’ has led to bags and purses having a huge market in the world over the last few decades as well.
Humans are more often than not superficially and aesthetically driven in terms of appearance and body related items. However, we do see a change in the way perceptions have worked, but if the small little things keep on existing, we may never be able to solve the larger problem. So let’s hope any budding and future fashionistas can help us making one of the biggest changes in the industry, but till then, don’t doubt the fact that your friends are always there for you with their pockets when you need one.

Kursi

Every morning, I wake up to the faded star-shaped stickers staring down at me indifferently from the pale blue ceiling above. My mother hopes that someday those twinkling things will take my mind off the horrid memories of that night but as much as I try to like them, I feel nothing.  Lately, the monotony of darkness has become more comforting because then I can easily slip into nothingness as soon as my eyelids weigh down on my numb eyes.

With months of practice I have mastered the tactic of pulling myself upright into a sitting position all by myself. An anchor point near my waist and a strong determined pull to my shoulders, and there…I’m up.  With the blanket lying crumpled over my still legs, I look up through the web of messy hair to see the one thing that’s always there to greet me with its dull presence – my black wheelchair. A recent addition to my room décor, it has found its permanent spot in the inset of the opposite wall, which was earlier occupied by my football gear before it had to be cleared up after that dreaded fall. Now, as I fixate on the cold metal bars of the chair, I can feel a sting go up my spine, just like the one I felt that night when his cold hand slowly crept around my waist.

It was a usual house party with booze, loud music and lots of intoxicated adults. The smell of alcohol and futile attempts of trying to make conversations over the loud thud of speakers had exhausted me completely. I came out into the corridor and made my way towards a window nearby, desperate to get some fresh air. With only one apartment on that floor, the corridor had no soul in sight. And I was glad there was no one there. I let the wind make a mess of my neatly set hair and for a minute, stopped caring about how I looked. Resting my arm on a high railing, I was staring at the blurry traffic lights in the distance when the touch of a firm hand around on my waist suddenly broke my reverie. I froze to make sense of the unfriendly touch that kept getting bolder as it made its way all over my lower body. Every second that I wasted trying to make sense of what was happening, I was giving him an open invitation to further smother me into his alcohol-stenched embrace. Not being able to take it anymore, I suddenly turned around with all my might and lashed out with my free arms, pushing him away from me as much as I could. What I did not realize was that in the struggle to break free, I had moved to the extreme edge of a staircase behind me.  One slight push was all that was needed to send me down the steep descent. I remember my body rolling down, my head hitting each step in a continuous rhythm.  With every passing moment, the pain in my entire body kept aggravating up to a point that I couldn’t feel my legs anymore. I had no sensation in below my waist.  The quick rollercoaster ride felt like a slow motion through hell, till the excruciating pain in my head drowned me into complete darkness. That was the end of that night’s reality and the beginning of a trail haunting memories.

My morning rituals have undergone a few changes ever since. Everyday, I lift my legs with my hands from under the weight of the blanket and let them fall to the ground. I feel nothing. I try to push myself up to stand on my own, but my feet give way and I fall down onto the edge of my bed. Finally, after all these pointless efforts, I lean forward and ring the bell lying next to my pillow. Like always, my mother comes into the room, flashing a bright smile and wishing me ‘good morning’ in her happy shrill. She pulls the wheelchair next to my bed, helps me up and gently places me into the seat that is still cold from the night.

Freedom of speech and expression

Freedom of speech and expression is not just a modern day practice, but rather a dedication to the martyrs of the then freedom struggle in the country that lost many lives so that this freedom could be achieved. It is a part of Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.  This essence of democracy calls for free debate and discussion to enable citizens understand issues around them.

It is like an encouragement to enable an artist generate a plethora of ideas without fear. It invites performers from their respective domains to bring to the forefront a huge array of perspectives that could serve to change the policies and practices of a country. This could be well seen in films made by filmmakers like Rajkumar Hirani, Prakash Jha, Kamala Hassan and certain others. They have gone by the actual role of their art to not just be one to ideate but also profess an ideology of being anti-establishment so that one side of it does not only receive the selective light, but every side so that it can be seen in totality and developed if seen as faulty.

But questions and faults are not easily digested. Hence, in the recent past, this glorified freedom has taken a back seat. Censorship and politically supportive pieces have become a celebrated priority.  “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear,” said George Orwell.

Hence, irrespective of the content and favouritism, it is a need to shape public opinion in society. There are debates and discussions, documentaries, investigative developmental journalism and citizen journalism that have emerged in the post-modern times so that all views are amassed and presented. The citizens of a country can then take a stance based on it and contribute to effective governing of a country. The right to information, anti-corruption campaigns, gender sensitisation and scams in various areas in society are some talks of the town that emerged in the light of it.

On one hand it is these criticisms that help the politicians to improve their functioning processes and mend the system accordingly; on the other hand it could benefit the political climate as in the case of Donald Trump, who after so much criticism from the media still managed to be elected as the President of USA.  It also helps people improve or sort out the differences of the nation if an individual is given to make a point that could transform into a standpoint in the future.

It also calls for the need of people of a community or culture to examine their practices of a society as seen in works of Perumal Murugan and Salman Rushdie. It also makes people think about the way they actually view society as seen in paintings of MF Hussain. But many times it is the artist that is questioned and not the issue. Only certain people like Khushwant Singh with his then column and Cyrus Broacha- Kunal Vijaykar with their television show through satire have not been victimised for their free expression although they have been criticised quite often for it.

A free mind and world is like an open chamber of new thoughts and ideas. It helps writers, artists, thinkers and decision makers to explore an issue by looking at a canvas of views and take a stance on various issues to facilitate effective functioning. Hence, there is a need for freedom of speech and expression.

Rebranding Doordarshan?

Over the last few days, after Shashi Shekhar Vempati, the newly appointed CEO of Prasar Bharati, announced the plan for changing the Doordarshan logo through a public call for new designs, we have seen on social media a lot of hue and cry. Indian TV viewers became nostalgic about the iconic logo and Twitter exploded with requests for not changing it.  It is doubtful if the requests from Twitteratis will be considered by Prasar Bharati as the whole aim of the logo change exercise is to woo the millennial generation who has no such nostalgic memory of the Doordarshan logo.

The last date for submissions for the new logo design is August 13 and the winner will be awarded paltry prize money of Rs 1 lakh. We are seeing on social media entries from various aspirant designers and according to reports, the number of entries has crossed 2000.

Redesigning of a brand logo is such a complicated exercise,that I have been wondering if a public call for entries and the almost one-liner brief can do justice to DD’s strategic need. The designer of the present logo, Devashis Bhattacharya, then a student of visual communication at the National Institute of Design (NID) who now runs his own design outfit, was quoted by Mid-Day saying: “If Doordarshan wishes to appeal to the young, they will have to look inwards, at the very programming of their content, and not just at logos designed by young professionals.”

An organisation decides to redesign its logo for various reasons; when two companies merge or product line gets extended or when the logo design gets outdated or recharging of public interest is required or negative association with the logo needs to be changed. The first two reasons do not apply in case of Doordarshan. The current logo vaguely resembling yin-yang symbol is far from being outdated. However, there is no doubt that Doordarshan needs to recharge the Indian TV viewer’s’ attention and to erase the strong negative association about the national broadcaster among the Indian youth.  For achieving such communication goals, the first and foremost task is to change the quality of the programme content of Doordarshan followed by changes in its internal structure and culture. A complete new outlook for promoting and marketing Doordarshan is also essential.

The senior IAS officers at the helm of Prasar Bharati and Doordarshan understood the importance of quality content for revamping the channel. In May 2016, Prashar Bharati took a decision to auction primetime slots between 7 and 11pm on the national channel of Doordarshan to private producers. After two failed attempt for auctioning, finally in the third auction held in December 2016 Balaji Telefilms and Saaibaba Telefilms were awarded six primetime slots (three each). The downward sliding of revenue was arrested and in 2016-17 Doordarshan recorded net revenue of Rs 827.51 crore, up from Rs755 crore in 2015-16. As reported by Livemint in an article on August 3, “The broadcaster was hoping to generate Rs100 crore in 2017-18 from the auction—Rs20 crore as the collective bidding price of the slots sold in the auction and Rs80 crore in advertising revenue (from new programming).”

The article above also announced that the Ministry of I&B has taken a decision to review the new content acquisition scheme through auctioning of primetime slots by Doordarshan. The two production houses have been working on youth-oriented shows, family dramas and reality shows expected to be rolled out from July 2017. The promos for the programmes were running on Doordarshan and according to industry sources quite a few episodes have already been canned by both the producers. At this point of time it is completely uncertain if the Ministry would allow Doordarshan to implement the existing policy or what changes it will make in the same. The decision of Ministry of I&B, which came immediately after the appointment of Smriti Irani as the Information and Broadcasting minister following the resignation of Venkaiah Naidu, proves once again the authoritarian hold of our government over the so-called autonomous Prasar Bharati.

An attempt to change the Doordarshan logo without the support of quality content will be a disaster. There are number of case histories of rebranding failures where logo changes could not achieve the desired results. If the Ministry of I&B dictates Doordarshan to go ahead with a logo change without the orchestrated attempt for improving the quality of the content, it will be another addition in the list of rebranding failures.

A letter to the future me…

Dear Future Me,

Hey, you there. You. Yes, you. I am talking to you. I see your masks have become healthier than before. They are beaming with confidence. Exuberating radiance, that you lacked some six years ago. I was passing by your office two days ago, just then I found you hopping out of your car and frantically running towards the gate. You were late may be. Yes, I know some habits die hard.

It seems the masquerade is going on well. By the way, what happened to your plans of leaving civic society and moving to a hill station where nobody knows? Are you still on it? Or, the cosy armchair, the upholstered car seats and beds have made you a slave of the capitalist masters? You knew it from the beginning I guess, that you are a slave of materialistic pursuits and a narcissist massager of your own ego, ready to pounce on anything to salvage your ends. Look, your masks have helped you in this pursuit.

Do, you still cry on your living floor when our parents are out. Oh, I am sorry you moved out to achieve your dreams, leaving them behind. Still, do you cry like a child when your rival channel edges you out on TRPs? Don’t just smirk at me. I am not writing this to haunt you of your hostel days, where you found the bubble burst within just days of initiating your adventure. But with a hope that these words would hold a mirror in front of you reflecting the monster that you are, and your idealized visions that you spun in hour eyes some six years ago.

You always wanted a secluded life, away from the din and bustle of the city. A community where people do not run. A place where people have the time for each other to get down from a bike and talk for five minutes rather than putting up a fake sophisticated “Hii”, with an equally artificial smile. You wanted to know people by chatting with them, may be by sitting under a banyan tree with an earthen cup of tea in your hand and indulging into their deeper recesses of mind, by accessing their myriad of experiences by making them talk about them. Yes, you have been doing the same things just in a very professional way. A pen camera has become your aide, in digging up things secretively and bringing them up to public eye. People trust you easily, therefore they let you in their private spaces and what you do, you make business out of that. You ride your luxury car by decimating people’s trust, their expectations and belief.

You hated to go to parties, remember? You didn’t even attend your freshers, because you thought reading again Kafka’s Metamorphosis is better than immersing oneself in booze and psychedelic lights. Now, it has become customary to attend weekend parties, where you drink up to the neck and dance with other’s wives. But you have been a lecher since school, so it’s nothing new to you. Do you read books, nowadays? Or watch some movies just for the sake of watching it, and not to find out any controversy that can feed you with more viewership? I know you want to throw this letter away, right now and again bury yourself in one of those work files. But, try to finish it. It can act as a photograph of your distant aspirations, as now you don’t look back. Only the next milestone beckons you.

You hated to work at home. Do you take your ppts to your bedroom now, or leave them at your office desk? What about your childhood buddies? Do you remember their birthdays? Care to give them a call once in a while. I know you are in touch with your sound designer friend, that is good. At least you get rid of that mask for some time when you are with him. But what is there behind that mask? Or has the mask itself has become your face? I dread the second possibility, if it is true. I know you will touch your face now to feel the softness of your skin and again be assured that you are not wearing any mask, and the allegation is false, just to pacify yourself that everything is alright.

Get out of that bubble. Burst it down, even if it means to lose your armchair in office, for which you have toiled your brain and brawn, day and night. I know you cried when you did not feature on the best writers podium in your undergraduate days, but you did not lose that sensitivity which edged you from others. That cannot get lost. Remember your favourite that all you need is a bed and four square meals a day. Why do you remain perennially irritated with yourself, and why is that your joys last for only a day, even if that comes from achieving the prestigious award that you craved right from the day you walked into your chamber? Try to stand in front of the mirror once again, just as you used to do when you over-burdened yourself with unnecessary work that did not appeal to your aesthetics and you still had to do because of the tyrannous professor. You refrained from doing them or even if you did, it would lack your hallmark. Question yourself, did you pursue your passion only to be dominated by some stupid numbers. You believed in art for art sake. You did not care if the mass did not like your poetry or thoughts, because you believed that self-enjoyment is the sole purpose of any creative exercise.

Tear down that mask and set free yourself of the inhibitions that shackle you. You are the Rintrah of Blake’s universe who is an eternal rebel shaking fire into the burdened air. Step out of those Alberto Torresi formals and step into those hawais that have gathered the dust of neglect. Live out of that bow, which tries to strangle that vibrant soul and wear an old loose jersey, once your favourite and now lost in one of the lower trays of your wardrobe. Start ransacking the ordinary for, therein lies the extra-ordinary. Everything is not lost, as that child in you comes out everytime Madrid wins a match. Underlying that mask there still remains a caring husband who makes it a point to drop her off to office every morning.

Hope I have been able to cheer you up again and has persuaded you enough to follow your nascent dreams and not the plastic ones manufactured by the proneness to adhere the common wisdom of the world.

Yours lovingly,

Left back self