Lighthouse No. 30

The Only Lessons I Learnt From Watching The News

Hello there!

Welcome to the 30th edition of ‘The Lighthouse’!

I was excited to read your replies to the previous edition. I knew I’d struck the right chord by sharing the timelapse video of how the Universe may end. It seems to have resonated with many of you and here’s what one of them wrote:

Hi, Prashanth,

Thanks for your continuous efforts on bringing Lighthouse editions every Sunday without a miss.

It seems as if without an edition of Lighthouse, a Sunday will not end :)

Well, that video which you shared on the time-lapse of the Universe is excellent. I’m actually in search of words to describe what I really feel like. Thanks for that.

I spend a lot of time on my terrace with my telescope gazing at the night sky. Have started to take an interest in life on earth and beyond. I must say we are so insignificant in this Universe.

Thought of sharing this link which sheds light on how tiny we are as individuals but are under an illusion that we are the creators. We have stooped down to the extent that we are ready to bury all our relationships and bondings for even a small piece of land. This video has the potential to erase all our egos and show how insignificant we are. I hope you like it.

Size of the Universe

Thoughts like this make me leap with joy and keeps me going one Sunday after another. Thanks a lot!

It has been a long time since I gave up watching or reading the news. I recently came across a long-form post by Mark Manson (Author of Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*CK) on why one should give up on the news. It is one of the links I’ve shared with you today. Read it. Share it. Ditch the news.

As a parallel, I also asked myself what was the most important thing I learnt watching the news. It had nothing to do with news at all. Read on.


The Only Lessons I Learnt Watching The News

Click here if you prefer to read this post on my blog.

Photo by Artur Kornakov on Unsplash

It was early 1993. I have a near-perfect memory of it. It was after my grandmother passed away in December 1992. India had seen one of its worst disturbances in December 1992 in the aftermath of riots. The day my grandmother passed away was also the day when I heard my father narrate another tragic incident. When they arrived at the crematorium to cremate the mortal remains of my grandmother, there was also another gentleman. A gentleman who had brought with him the corpse of his son. Alone.

It is a great tragedy for fathers to bid a final farewell to their children. I feel it is a burden too big to bear. Upon that, when you have to bear it all alone, I cannot fathom the pain the man must have been in. I try to make sense of how that man must have felt; or, did the shock rid him from feeling anything at all? It must have felt like sinking into the deepest depths of the ocean, with arms tied behind the back and heavy weights tied to the feet. It is almost improbable to make it back to the surface. This narrative is seared in my memory as it so happens with the most trying times that one comes across. They scar a person for life. The wound heals, but the memory lingers on.

I was 8 years old then. With the death of my grandmother, I was grappling with a few questions of my own. It was the first time I was old enough to experience and see the death of a family member.

Why does tragedy exist in the world? 

If the endpoint of life itself is death, why exist in the first place? 

The questions would overwhelm me. Variations of these questions plague me even now. I’m still searching for answers.

With these memories and questions fresh in my mind, I was about to witness something else that would have an impact on me for the rest of my life. It had something to do with death too. And, also with life. Because one cannot exist without the other. 

It was an unsaid rule at home that dinner would be had at 8:30 PM, and we would watch the news bulletin while having dinner. It was a 30-minute bulletin. The thirty minutes would mark the end of the news bulletin and also, dinner. For those 30 minutes, the only sound at home was of the newscaster reading the news and the sound of gnawing or drinking a glass of water.

I would wonder how the households of the newscaster would work. Would they be watching the news and eating dinner too without a family member? Wouldn’t it be awkward that they saw one of their family members on television while the rest of them were eating dinner? When would the newsreader have their dinner? What news would they watch while having dinner?

We were so accustomed to hearing the bulletin, that on days when there was a power disruption, something used to be amiss. I couldn’t put the finger on it at that time, but now I realise that it was the power of conditioning that had done us all in. Same goes for social media and news today too, but on a much larger scale.

The news bulletin used to run in two equal sections with a short break. The short break would feature advertisements - to persuade children to force their parents into buying stuff that no one needed. But once, just this once, they aired a clip about an organisation called ‘The Hunger Project’. The organisation worked across the world to eradicate hunger among children. The advertisement showcased untold suffering of children - without food, and drinking water. It was the first time I was exposed to the extreme suffering of children. They looked emaciated. Their ribs were fighting to free themselves from the skin. Their eyes staring into a void - lost. Childhood lost. Why this tragedy? Why an unequal world? What I then saw overwhelmed me, moved me to tears. It tugged at my heart.

Some of these children were the same age as my younger brother of 6 years. It was hard to believe someone of his age was going to die due to lack of food. I wanted to do something to reduce their misery. The impact on me was powerful because I was eating when I saw this footage. Deep down, I wanted to reach out and feed a few morsels to the child on the screen. That meal in front of me was a blessing.

I noted down the address and phone number of the organisation that was shown at the end of the footage. The next day I hesitantly told my parents that I wanted to contribute towards the project. Pocket money was a luxury during those days. A middle-class family had to prioritise needs; not wants. I had saved 50 Rupees, and I wanted to give it all to this cause. My parents were gracious enough to pay for postage as we had to send this as money order and it would entail extra cost. A few days later, I received a letter from the Hunger Project thanking me for my contribution. I felt overjoyed seeing this.

Fast forward to two and a half decades.

Weddings are huge in India. And at the end of this celebration is a feast celebrating the Union not of two people, but of two dynasties. Every time I sit down to have a meal, I see many people have extra servings of everything that is on offer. Then they leave a lot of stuff remaining on the plate at the end. Meanwhile, I’m constantly reminding my daughter to only accept that which she wants to eat. That she should not waste food. Every time we visit a restaurant, we order less so we don’t have to waste food. Or if there is an excess, we get it packed as a takeaway. Every time I was full during lunch, I’d bring my leftover meal back home and have it in the evening instead of a snack. 

I could not waste food. I would not waste food. There was someone who was going hungry, and I had absolutely no right to waste food. Wasting food meant I was stealing someone else’s right to it.

I learned another lesson that day - to respect food. Every meal is a privilege. It isn’t something that one can take for granted. And so, I’ve never complained about a meal. I can count with the fingers of my hand, the number of times I’ve wasted food in the ensuing 27 years.

I realised that one advertisement, that one shot of a hungry child on the screen had left a lasting impact on me. It would remain with me for the rest of my life. We moved over half a dozen homes since I saw the advertisement. Somewhere along, I lost the letter, but not the lessons.

These were the only lessons I learnt from watching the news.

Otherwise, news is mostly nuisance.


Here’s some interesting stuff I came across this week:

  • Think like a bronze medalist, not silver by Derek Sivers: Ever since the pandemic broke out in March/ April, there have been lockdowns of some sort or the other, and a large part of Europe is under lockdown once again. Amidst this, I have seen numerous families lose loved ones; businesses fail, and a lot of suffering. If I have learnt an important thing, it is this - Do not lament about the things that you do not have; instead, be grateful for the things that you do. If your needs are met in this time of crisis, it is a great sign. If your wants aren’t met, you can let them be for a while. In this context, I came across this beautiful piece by Sivers. It talks about thinking with a bronze medalist mentality instead of a silver medalist mentality. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece, and I’m pretty sure you will too.

  • On Self-Respect by Joan Didion: “…people with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes. They know the price of things…people with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of moral nerve; they display what was once called character, a quality which, although approved in the abstract, sometimes loses ground to other, more instantly negotiable virtues…character—the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life—is the source from which self-respect springs…”

  • 38 Wonderful Words With No English Equivalent: My favourite word from this list: Ya’arburnee (Arabic) - This word is the hopeful declaration that you will die before someone you love deeply, because you cannot stand to live without them. Literally, may you bury me.

  • I Have A Few Questions by Morgan Housel: All the time I ask myself this one question - What is it that seems very evident today that will make us feel ashamed after say 5 decades, or perhaps a century? It is easy to comment on slavery being a cruel practice; but ask the people who lived at that time, whether they believed this to be true? In hindsight, we can paint things in black and white, but the present is mostly shades of grey. And the only way you can make sense of these shades of grey is by asking questions. Here are a few questions that might inspire you to ask a few questions too.

  • Why You Should Quit The News by Mark Manson: “Instead of feeling out of the loop, I’ve begun to feel like the only one in the loop. Instead of my friends explaining the world to me, I often find myself in the position of talking them off the ledge, explaining that no, this isn’t new or unique; yes, these things happen all the time; no, we’re not going to war; yes, it sucks—but we’ve survived worse. Somehow, despite not reading dozens of op-ed screeds or watching hours of talking heads bobble about the crisis du jour, I’ve found myself more informed. Calmer. More level-headed… than almost anyone I know.”


Here’s a thought I’m ruminating on:

Till next weekend, take care.

Cheers!

Prashanth


If you would love to discuss anything I’ve written about and shared, please reach out to me by replying to this email or sending a direct message on Twitter 🐦 @iam__prashanth. The tribe there is over 1600 members and continues to grow.

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