Family first, but can't do without newspapers

This condition is especially exacerbated if there's a wedding in the family.

By Nivriti Butalia

Published: Sun 18 Mar 2018, 7:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 18 Mar 2018, 9:39 PM

There is such a thing as too much family. Leo Tolstoy, of course, said it better. But this isn't about unhappy families or who is alike and similar in which ways. My grouse is more fleeting. It is also easier to fix than deeper fissures that cause families to be unhappy. The grouse is this: when I visit home (Delhi, in my case), and there's so much family around, pleasures like reading the papers take a back seat. It's a small price, but a price nonetheless.
This condition is especially exacerbated if there's a wedding in the family. And so, in the last 10 days, I have barely glanced at the papers. Sure, news alerts reach you. I was marvelling that The Indian Express app was faster than the BBC in informing the world of Stephen Hawking's death. And the phone did light up with the update of Trump and his latest victims; hi and bye to Rex Tillerson and Andrew McCabe. And that Priyanka Chopra was in Dubai and corrected a panelist who called her an American. But apps miss some of the juice. The reports that take up no more than a few inches of space. Newspapers are great for the aside kind of news, the non-breaking reports. When you finally soak them in, after an extended break, you feel a release of joy, like the first sip of sweet coconut water after months of inadvertent deprivation.
This 'no newspaper to pore over' syndrome causes a curious vitamin imbalance, purely mental, with no apparent physical manifestation. It's not like your nails start getting white splotches. But too much inside, family news, the gossip, the updates and too little outside newspaper news make Jill a dull girl.
Between several family members, all in town at the same time, you don't always get a moment to yourself. This is not unusual or new. The other grouse is that plans with friends are forfeited in order to show face to extended sets of family members. Add to that the wedding and you've had it. Bye bye news.
Yesterday, post yet another family dinner, with lots of aunts and uncles sitting around discussing wedding preps, the price of chicken, eggless cake verses eggful cake, Mohammad Shami, Coke Studio singers, and the people responsible for shutting down half of the shops in Delhi, I gleaned from a quick browse of the newspaper that Trump Jr's wife filed for divorce after 12 years and five kids. Didn't get that alert!
I have never been able to understand how people don't read newspapers. When I was little, I used to skip the page one lede, all that political stuff, and jump straight to the local news, the crime of the previous day, the municipality stuff, which water tanker has gone missing where, briefs, the regional news - 'cow falls into manhole, village life halts' sort of news.
In the last few days, I have seen newspapers being used to wrap mud lanterns, and as a base on which to fix a broken set of tiny, sea green Onyx elephants. Super glue was resting on a copy of the day's edition. Obviously I couldn't slide it out and risk further damage to Onyx elis.
With so much family around, newspapers offer an easy respite to that insularity. You need a bit of third person news to feel sane. Bizarre news (that has nothing to do with you) can be a balm. Like this tragic first para of a news item I read yesterday: "A man in his early 20s died when his friend pumped air into his mouth, using a cycle pump in outer Delhi's Nangloi, police said."
However grisly the news, I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss it when I don't get to turn the pages.

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