Comment, Satire, Student Life

College Diaries #1: Essay writing

Mission: To write an essay on (insert elaborate topic of desperation/ choice here) by (deadline inflicted on innocent students by sadistic professor(s)).

What the ideal student does:

1)Spends some time analyzing the essay prompt after which (s)he creates a draft outlining the initial ideas buzzing around the organ where the little gray cells reside.

2) Makes a plan of action which illustrates how much work needs to be done each day, in order to finish the essay two days before the deadline. Proof reading is important after all.

3) Visits professors’ office hours and inundates the TA’s  inbox with inquisitive emails.

4)Does research- lots of it- and is friends with The Library and its formidable guardian, The Librarian.

5) Avoids using Google Scholar because (s)he knows how to utilize the help of The Library’s cousin, The Online Library.

6) Uses correct grammar and concise language.

7)Monopolizes office hours and TA mailboxes some more.

8) Temporarily feels guilty for this.

9)Delights the folks at the Writing Center with his/her company. Everyone deserves happiness and joy.

10) Proof reads. Multiple times. Three days before The Deadline.

What the rest of us do:

1)Glance at the essay prompt. Then spend twenty minutes of Facebook.

2)Check out the latest from the Trolls on Twitter and a (presumably sensible) few others.

3) Complain about how much university sucks and how the professor is out to “get us”.

4) Worry about what everyone else is doing. Panic calmly.

5) Scare ourselves silly based on what other people say they are doing on social media.

6) Try an ask a somewhat intelligent question in course groups on aforementioned social media.

7) Get coffee at (insert name of cheap caffeine supplier). When feeling Rich (or Foolish), visit Starbucks.

8)  Panic frantically (two days before the deadline) when we realize we have no content to write an little time to think.

9) Start writing. Share tips on Facebook for “struggling students” while having absolutely no idea about how to proceed ourselves. Who said groping in the dark was worthless?

10) Start considering the merits of the Late Penalty. Pull one (of many) All Night-er.

Student Life

That time of year

I haven’t written anything new in the last month and a half, partly because I was writing for the two organizations that I am a part of: college and The Varsity. Essays and mid-terms have taken up much of my time; when those don’t occupy my attention the rest of my life does. The story that I have been working on for The Varsity is intended for this year’s winter magazine and explore censorship in Canada. I do hope that those who follow this blog (thank you!) and others who stumble across it will glance at it when I post the link.

I had some time to reflect on what (and how) I write and I realized a few things:

  1. This blog has a grand total of….. 8 followers. One of them is my father and he is biologically obligated to read the stuff I write – starting with my discovery of the magical alphabet.
  2. Writing needs to be personal; we should do it for ourselves and derive inspiration from things around us. It does not need to be, and should not be, about the emotional value of one’s wedding sari or the time the goldfish died. Nobody cares.
  3. Being funny is hard and exhausting. Writing funny is even worse
  4. Self-promotion can occasionally seem desperate. After discovering 8 followers, I know it is. I’m fairly certain that the bundled-up, tired looking person sitting across me on the TTC did not care about the twenty posts I wrote, but they’re Canadian so they feigned interest anyway.
  5. But we (read: I) still do it because good (read: fairly remunerated) journalism is nearly extinct. Responsible journalism seems to be dying too, but that unfortunate story needs to be told elsewhere.
  6. Everybody cannot write; I work as an editor at a newspaper so I know.
  7. Caring about what others think, kills a writer; in the Age of the Troll this is no joke. But we still do, because nobody likes to be told that their work is shit.
  8. The more politically aware you become, the harder it is to be (and write) humour because what if that joke was inappropriate/ racist/ sexist/ not-applicable-to-the-entire-targeted-group.
  9. Fact checking is essential, unless you enjoy looking like a fool. Reading a book about grammar is wise, but most people aren’t. Editing is important and a good editor is priceless.
  10. Knowledge of social media is a must for every serious 21st century writer.
  11. Every time you share a blog post on social media, your heart beats a little faster and your brain screams out in defiance at the inevitable commentary.                            Every. Single. Time
Comment, Popular Culture

Same play by ColdPlay?

I think that it can be safely stated that popular band Coldplay, fronted by singer Chris Martin, did not intend to offend India by their new music video ‘Hymn for the weekend’. Rather – and this may be evident in the title of their new, controversial album ‘A head full of dreams’– they seemed inspired by the pace, complexity and the ambition of a young nation burdened by a colonial past. What is deeply flawed is the execution of the music video, which portrayed an exaggerated, uni-dimensional fantasy of the subcontinent. As I recall, Mr. Martin, the festival of Holi is usually enjoyed once a year and involves more water, less dry colour, noise, community and a slice of hooliganism instead of the slow motion, running-through-the-streets version you may have witnessed.

The errors I saw were amusing and unbelievable, but not offensive. After watching Academy Award winner Slumdog Millionaire (the last major Hollywood creation that offended delicate Indian sensibilities) and a host of documentaries on the region and its colourful diversity it is hard to be offended by the only way that the West seems to be able to picture and connect with the subcontinent. Furthermore, as Rashmee Kumar from The Guardian newspaper points out, Coldplay is not only a band to capitalize on the recent fads of bindis, yoga and (god help me) butter chicken. Movies like Eat, Pray, Love propagate the myth of an India where spirituality (not religion) reigns supreme and other music videos, such as Major Lazer’s Lean On, reinforce well-established stereotypes – the colourful clothes, the camels, the elephants and the “exotic” looking people.

Note 1: Most people in India lead busy/ interesting/ difficult/ comfortable/ insert-any-other-state-of-being-lives and do not have the time, funds and (most importantly) inclination to dress up like walking circus tents every day. Also, the same “exotic” skin often gets people carded, hassled at airports and viewed with suspicion.

The expected and the unexpected

Apart from the children from the slums playing Holi, the peacock in the ruins, the multi-coloured temple, the aforementioned sadhus, an “ethnic” Sonam Kapoor and Beyoncé playing the role of a Bollywood actress called ‘Rani’ – all of which were predictably exhausting – I found the use of the Hindi script intriguing. The fact that Beyonce, a black woman, played a mainstream Bollywood actress in an industry where fair skin is (always) in was absolutely hysterical. The word ‘Coldplay’ is written in the devnagri script which is a smart, subtle way of alerting non-English speakers to the band’s existence. The lyrics and melody of the song itself are fairly catchy, but both lose to the elaborate, trying-very-hard-to-be- ” Indian” cinematography. The fact that Chris & Co. flew down to India and made the effort to shoot their video there, not use props, CGI or the infamous brown face, is commendable.

The portrayal in the video clarify how the overwhelmed white tourist must feel on a visit to India, but the presence of a minor, but recognized, celebrity like Sonam Kapoor makes me wonder if this is how Indian people view themselves. Or do we just enjoy presenting ourselves as chai drinking, colourful people incapable of anything vaguely normal. There have been some memorable instances, in my short life so far, where I have heard or seen Indian people (ethnically or otherwise) try and explain Indian-ness to foreigners and most of the time it sounded like they were reinforcing pre-existing ideas to gain favour with the former colonizers. Did Kapoor also think it fit to happily play a stereotypical version of the “traditional Indian woman” in this video, while she tries to defy the same idea through other “modern Indian woman” portrayals like those in Aisha and Khoobsurat? Like India, perhaps the fashionista has her own bewildering, contradictions? The point is that, much like the successful colonization of the subcontinent, there was Indian complicity in the creation of this video and my question to the same team is simple- what were you thinking?

Note 2: Sonam Kapoor’s involvement proves that you don’t have to be white, or any other kind of foreigner, to engage in stereotypical, biased thinking about India.

The Indian actions, sorry, reactions:

I feel compelled to include this section, because the reactions I’ve seen across the internet from Indian people range from outraged to unfettered joy at a new East-West collaboration. The cynical part of my mind wonders if we would have the happy same reaction to an Indo-African collaboration on culture, but words on that need to be expressed elsewhere. The point is that we’re 1.2 billion people on the subcontinent alone, 198 million of who have access to the internet and this controversial piece of art. According to an article in Forbes magazine, only 30% of Indians speak English, presumably fluently enough to acknowledge the existence of western media and, by extension, Coldplay. There are myriad reactions, each defined by their own unique circumstances (social, economic, educational, racial), therefore it may be wise to refrain from using the term “All Indians are (insert adjective or expletive here)”. Some of us may be offended, while others are ecstatic.

This is the end:

India is a socially conservative country and in many parts you will see women wearing (much) less gaudy versions of the attire donned by Kapoor and Beyoncé and the poverty, the caste based discrimination and terrible traffic all exist. It’s not a bed of Bollywood-scented roses. There are also a growing number of corporate boardrooms and start-up offices where they are abandoning the same. I would argue that Indians have never been more fascinated by the West, and all that it represents, and have never made a more concerted attempt to incorporate, at least in part, western culture into their lives- why it can’t be better road etiquette remains a mystery. It is ironic, therefore, that the bands like Coldplay choose to represent the India they have always known at a time like this. Do the universe a favour, regardless of ethnicity or nationality, and stop trying to compartmentalize civilization.

Image (Coldplay poster) courtsey: superbowlcommercials.tv

Comment

New year’s day

Dear tolerant, long-suffering reader,

Thank you for (hopefully) reading, following and sharing this blog over the last year. When I become a journalist for The Economist – or another equally epic institution – your brave endurance will be duly noted and shared with the world. In keeping with the spirit of the new year, and in admiration for all those who make resolutions, I’m going to abandon my habit of writing political commentary and attempt to explore other areas of the Noble Art. This is obviously a great sacrifice, especially in light of an increasing number of Trump cards strewn across the globe which are so very tempting to trash. My next piece of wisdom is a series of movie reviews.

Watch this space for more.

Comment, Student Life

Advocating the Detox

There’s an unintentionally funny, tiresome practice ‘trending’ on campus- students are often found completely engrossed in the events unfolding on the screens of their phones and laptops. So essential is this daily practice to their mental and physical well-being that they often ignore anyone who tries to engage them in conversation ­, at best, or listen with their ears closed, at worst.  The few people strong enough to resist the seductive screen stand out in the silent crowd gathered outside lecture halls and classrooms across campus. The pattern of behaviour is so ingrained that it seems futile to challenge, yet there are a number of reasons why doing so is crucial. The most obvious, but regularly forgotten, reason is that an individual should control the technology he uses- not the other way round. For the purpose of this article, the purpose of using technology is to use any instrument or practice that makes accomplishing a goal easier. In the case of social media — for instance, Facebook boasts that it enable users to “connect with friends and the world around you” — the result contrary to its purpose is achieved. And this why taking a break from social media and the screen is relevant to optimizing your university experience.

Production time

Count and record the number of times you check social media over the course of the week, and notice when and where you did it. I recorded about five times a day, usually when I was travelling alone on the TTC or when I was bored in class and needed a shot of adrenaline to stay awake. When I briefly disabled my account — as I (try to) practice what I preach— I realized that a massive amount of effort was required to pay attention to the details around me. Facebook allowed me to access a world away from me, providing me with an escape from the world around me. This had translated into a reduced span of attention that I could successfully exercise in the classroom. Across the world similar symptoms have been observed and the phenomenon has been described as “shocking” because, like me, other students seem unable to absorb the content taught “no matter how riveting the lesson.” Apart from disengaging students with academia in the lecture halls, Facebook and other kinds of social media also provide a constantly available distraction when students are studying independently. Quickly logging in and ‘stalking’ other people, checking the news or updating your own profile routinely diminishes students’ productivity levels due to the large number of minutes wasted.

Maintaining the façade

Before digging into a gorgeously plated meal, almost everyone snaps a photograph of the dish and immediately posts it on Instagram. And if you’re really clever and keen, you can ‘share’ the image on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr. If you’re away from friends and family and cannot control the urge to spread the joy, you can send them the image on WhatsApp or WeChat, along with an implied message of ‘Look what you’re missing’. By the time the festivities are over, the food is cold. When somebody does the same to you, it is likely that you experience a feeling of sadness or inadequacy. The reverse may well be true: what you ‘view’ of other people’s lives, particularly if they are miserable students whining about the hopelessness of college life, you may build up a misplaced overconfidence in your own abilities. Projecting constantly happy versions of ourselves is an inescapable part of maintaining an online presence– after all who would ‘share’ their darkest moments with a bunch of strangers. The point is that apart from greatly compromising the spontaneity of life, and thereby making it a lot less enjoyable, maintaining an image is a high pressure job. The New York Times magazine defines it as “keeping it all up can feel like working as an unpaid intern for a Z-list celebrity known as Oneself.”  In an academic environment as demanding and competitive as the one at UofT, we must ask ourselves if the effort involved is worth the result.

The case for continuous connectivity

There are a number of valid reasons why many of you will turn the page and move onto greener pastures. Now, more than ever before, it is easier to study in groups. Simply create a group on Facebook or create a Google doc and you’re good to go. Most students are part of online course unions and course groups. There is a plethora of advice available from upper years and if your peers are so inclined, the glorious potential of shared notes. It’s a great tool to supplement class attendance and self-study. Secondly, most of student social life is connected to their online presence. A friend, who goes home every weekend, recently commented that he does not miss much on campus because he is in touch with both his friends and the occasionally alive campus life at St. George. As I discovered in my brief, sans Facebook sabbatical, one can and will likely experience feelings of isolation once off Facebook due to loss of knowledge. To keep up with events, you will have to visit campus club offices, read the sparsely decorated soft boards, contact your College Registrar or Programme Coordinator ( if you’re at UofT) and —heaven forbid — actually speak to people you meet outside class. Your well trained fingers will itch to type in the domain name for Twitter and the Instagram icon on your phone screen will look even more inviting. Thirdly, if most of your socializing happens via Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp it will seem — at least for the first couple of days — that most of your friends dropped off the face of the earth. And finally, the scariest part is that since it is unlikely that everyone in your life will concurrently abstain from social media you will feel disoriented and confused about how to proceed because everyone around you is part of a world you chose to abandon. Think Neo vomiting after he leaves The Matrix for the first time.

The aftermath

I have the following advice for anybody, should they accept this mission, braving this dark path

  1. Try to stay the course for one week. On the seventh day decide whether or not to log back in.
  2. Write a diary recording your experience. If all else fails, you can recall, at a later stage in your life, and laugh about that crazy thing you did a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
  3. Make it known to your friends, family and acquaintances when you’re logging off your social media and when you decide to begin using it again.
  4. Set a given time for your period of abstinence from social media. Evaluate your feelings on a weekly basis. It helps build the discipline and allows you to regain control over your technology. Alternatively, it helps to regulate the time you spend on your social media accounts when they are alive.
  5. Fill up the time you usually spend on Facebook with other real-time activities like going to the gym, reading or exploring the city. That way the temptation to log back on is limited.

Concluding disclosure:

I use Facebook to promote this blog, but have deactivated my account so that I am not tempted to share this and future posts there to boost readership. Watch this space to see how I hold up.