Some light with the gloom

Janice Pariat | Updated on March 13, 2020 Published on March 13, 2020

The world is falling apart, but not everywhere... and not all the time

Ever since the terrifying violence meted out to mostly Muslim inhabitants of north-east Delhi last month, my timeline on Facebook and Instagram has been exploding — in anger, and rightfully so, at the government, the complicit Delhi Police and the blatant Hindutva turn the country’s politics have taken — but, thankfully, also with stories of hope. Both are necessary, but, here, a much-needed toast to the latter.

The first post I saw was by friend Nilanjana Roy. In one part of Delhi, she wrote, a gurudwara opened its doors to Muslims and anyone who needed shelter. In Seelampur, Dalits blocked the roads against mobs, sheltering their Muslim neighbours. “Police and politicians have forgotten their duty, but the people have courage and heart,” Roy wrote.

This opened a floodgate, as stories of kindness and compassion poured in. In Lalita Park and Ramesh Park, Hindus and Sikhs went to each Muslim house and told them that they would be safe. “This is the India we know and love,” posted one Uday Singh Rana. On The Optimist Citizen (TOC) — “India’s first and purely positive newspaper” — we learnt of various acts of hope and unity in the Capital’s violence-torn areas. Residents of Yamuna Vihar formed a human chain to escort schoolchildren safely. Locals in Maujpur took their Muslim neighbours for shelter to a Hanuman Temple. Amidst the wreckage — and there was much to grieve — these were stories that could help toward healing.

Now, apart from subscribing to some online news sites, in a small effort to support independent journalism, I have also subscribed to TOC. Today, their headlines declared: “World’s cheapest water filter at ₹30 can change millions of Indians lives”; “Tested HIV+ve at 15, this woman is helping thousands of HIV+ve women in Rajasthan”. Elsewhere, Bengaluru school students have opened an alternative school for their staff, a former IIT-ian is making toys from waste, and an innovation by a 21-year-old benefits drought-hit farmers in Rajasthan.

Yes, the world is falling apart, but not everywhere, nor all the time. Even though most news channels — whether print, television or online — can make it seem so. Bad news is mostly to their advantage, of course. Certain issues, such as terrorism or a contagious (but not drastically fatal) unknown virus, are more “newsworthy” because they are inherently dramatic and threatening. As political scientist Shana Gadarian wrote in The Washington Post in September 2014: “Media competition means that journalists and editors have incentives to use emotionally powerful visuals and story lines to gain and maintain ever-shrinking news audiences.” A study (as long ago as 1997) by the University of Sussex that investigated the effect of the emotional content of television news programmes on people’s moods found that participants who watched negative bulletins showed increases in stress, anxiety, sadness and also “a significant increase in the tendency to catastrophize a personal worry”.

As British psychologist Dr Graham Davey confirmed for an article by Carolyn Gregorie in TheHuffington Post in March 2015, constantly viewing negative news can have a larger effect on how people interpret and interact with the world. It can, he says, lead to pessimism and world-weariness, where we “perceive the state of the world in an overly negative light — leading us to ignore and overshadow the many things that are working”.

In my quest to try and balance my consumption of news — between the mostly horrific and the good — I find, apart from TOC, a few other sources. What comes up first is the Good News Network, a website with an archive of 21,000 positive news stories from around the globe. “Good news is not in short supply; the broadcasting of it is,” the site says. Given that the first piece is on Bill Gates, my suspicions are that it’s slim pickings at the moment, but the feel-good quotient picks up with an article on how endangered languages are being preserved, thanks to language activist Daniel Bögre Udell, co-founder of non-profit Wikitongues. Considering that this is a subject close to my heart, I’m particularly uplifted. Then, run by Emily Coxhead is The Happy News. It is a 32-page publication with a website aesthetic that’s much too twee for me, but “packed with positive stories from around the world”, and released every three months.

I scroll through the candy-coloured illustrations — lots of hearts! — and am pleased to find a story on Jose Alberto Gutierrez of Bogota, Colombia, a trash collector who’s building a free library out of 20,000 books he found in bins. Unless they happen to belong there, I’m thinking, but then I read that it all started when he picked up Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina from a rubbish heap. is much more to my liking. It has no hearts, and is filled with quiet, well-written stories motivated by what they call “constructive journalism” — rigorous and relevant journalism focused on progress, possibility and solutions. The stories hold up to scrutiny — how 3D printing can help tackle homelessness, a “science of happiness” course being introduced at the University of Bristol, how New Zealand will consider climate in all policy decisions. I get myself a cup of tea and settle in. Alongside the gloom, I’d like to subscribe to a little light.

Janice Pariat   -  BUSINESS LINE


Janice Pariat is the author of The Nine-Chambered Heart

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Published on March 13, 2020
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