SHRAVAN AND ANANYA'S
Between the Notes
On Butter and Protests
I’m going to start this article off by telling you a story about a man who single handedly redefined what music was to an entire generation: pianist Herbie Hancock (AAAAAAAAAA. Oh my god. If it wasn’t clear, I’ve been waiting for a long time to write about him). Once you’re done fangirling or fanboying over him as I have many a time, let’s get back to the story.
It was the 1970s, and music was booming. Herbie, however, was in a musical trench. Like many others, he struggled to come up with anything new and influential, and he felt like he’d hit a dead end. He kept playing the same phrases, and what he was doing started to feel like a caricature of what he used to be doing. That’s when second jazz legend Miles Davis came up to him and told him, “Don’t play the butter notes.” Whatever ‘butter notes’ meant, Herbie took it to heart because it’s Miles freakin’ Davis saying it. That advice somehow changed his life, and the trajectory of jazz music forever.
It’s thought that Miles Davis didn’t say ‘butter’ that day, but rather, ‘bottom’ - he was telling Herbie not to play the root notes of chords as they were too repetitive and clichéd. Herbie, having possibly misheard, was confused for a while. He eventually gathered that Miles might have meant that he shouldn’t play notes that were commonly played, the metaphorical butter being a common ingredient in recipes. So, he ignored conventional ways - he played more unique and inventive solos that weren’t theoretically “right” using a smaller choice of notes. And that was fresh. It was a little odd, but it worked, and it got Herbie out of his rut.
I think about this story a lot. Hidden in its irony is an idea that’s so often misunderstood - sometimes, to get things right, to make a difference, to escape mundanity, we need to shift our perceptions, push our limits, and break free of the rules we impose on ourselves.
One example of that philosophy that immediately comes to mind is this lovely column at Riot itself. OG Between the Notes™ readers may remember that this column was meant to be entirely about the arts and their impact on society. Ananya and I originally wrote about that, but we slowly digressed. We felt like our theme turned into a restriction. We found ourselves, just as Herbie Hancock did, in a rut.
So, around the New Year, we changed things. We got on a Google Meet call, and we decided that we didn’t want to just write about art; we wanted to really express ourselves. And as 2022 began, so did a new era for Between the Notes - we began writing about our passions, our opinions, and our takes on so much more than just art. And now, I can confidently say that we feel freer and can write in a way that’s more authentic to our real selves.
That lesson, however, has applications far beyond the decisions we make for ourselves.
As I write this article, the Supreme Court of the United States has revoked the judgement made in Roe versus Wade, now blocking many American women from access to safe abortions. In India, the police, supported by the BJP, have arrested a prominent Muslim combatant of fake news and Hindu supremacy without reason. Ukrainian civilians and soldiers have continued to die everyday fighting off the Russian invasion. The world is a breeding ground for injustice.
The way our generation fights that injustice has, for a while now, been nonviolent and peaceful. We focus on awareness; on making sure people know what problems exist. We focus on ideology; on trying to help people think a certain way. As the world has become more dependent on social media, we’ve acquired a new, softer method of peaceful protest that focuses on awareness and ideology. But just like playing the same things was tiring Herbie Hancock, just like writing about the same thing was restricting me and Ananya, the repeated cycle of peaceful protest is harming activism.
By turning protest into something we can put up on Instagram stories, type out on Carrds, and upload to Change.org, we’re drawing passion away from topics we’re meant to care about. We’re drawing the “act” away from activism, and we’re not making a change. So, like Herbie and Between the Notes did, our society needs to change things. We need to stop protesting in ways that are counterproductive - we need to start rioting (yes, that was intended) and graffitiing, screaming and shouting.
Activism is meant to make people uncomfortable, to make people reevaluate their opinions, and to make people see the consequences of unfair and discriminatory practices. It’s meant to make two US Supreme Court justices who have sexual assault allegations against them see firsthand what the material consequences of endangering women are. It’s meant to confront Hindu politicians with the consequences of unfairly arresting Mohammed Zubair. It’s meant to make Russian politicians and military strategists stand face-to-face with the hate that they create in ignoring a neighbour country’s sovereignty.
Strength comes in numbers, and as the people, we have the numbers. We’re the majority. We have the ability to create real consequences for the decisions that people in positions of power make. And we can’t call ourselves activists unless we do that.
Let’s shake things up. Let’s push our limits. Let’s fight fire with fire.
Let’s not play the butter notes.
Frequency- 64 Hertz of Wishful Thinking
Disclaimer: Let it be known that I am writing this through a heavy dosage of paracetamol and phlegm - you’ll have to bear with me on this one.
When I am sick, as I evidently am quite often, there’s always a sign I was going to wake up the next morning with a fever of 101º. Every time I’m sick, I have the same dream on a continuous loop. My REM apparently despises me, because it is always the most mundane of things playing over and over again. Once, it was me not being able to catch the Chennai Express; I would get on the platform at least a thousand times, only to miss the train every instance. I will try not to make any half-baked analogies about my mind resembling a broken record, but sometimes, on these Crocin-induced nights, it truly feels that way. Every dream is a semi-frequent rinse and repeat of the last; periodic, recurrent visions like a cosmic joke from the Gods above. It’s a loop that I am stuck in, a cycle of replicas that I cannot break.
As cosmic as it may seem, frequency in the things we see (even though the circumstances are, well, circumstantial) is a surprisingly common phenomenon. The Baader-Meinhof syndrome, or ‘frequency illusion’, is a ‘cognitive bias by which a recently learned word, concept, etc. suddenly seems to appear with improbable frequency’. According to Macquarie University, there’s two facets to this: one, our perception of frequency, and two, the belief that this shouldn’t be very frequent. Our brains are hardwired to recognize things for the sake of survival, to discern dangerous from safe and good from bad. We seek what we already know as well, just for the comfort in knowing what lies ahead.
Until a few years ago, I thought this complex was me having Eleven from Stranger Things powers (turns out, I unfortunately do not have the ability to flip over cars and destroy Demogorgons). I would hear an arbitrary song or word, and for the next few days, it would follow me everywhere. But I now understand it was no coincidence, but a trick of the mind, a subconscious way my brain wants me to identify and recognize certain things. To see a sign.
Since I did promise an Olivia Rodrigo reference in the synopsis and I am a woman who keeps her word (I hope), I see an interesting observation of this in her song Driver’s License. “Red lights, stop signs, I still see your face in the white cars, front yards” is exactly what I was talking about - something keeps coming back to you as a recurring thought or memory. It’s a sign her brain is giving her, quite literally, about her own heartbreak.
This is just my own conjecture and not scientifically proven in the least, but maybe, just maybe, your brain wants you to see the signs. The red flags, the greens; the opportunity that you’ve crossed your fingers for silently, the shooting star that you hoped to catch in the clear sky. If you’re seeing it so often, give it a thought.
I’ll make it easier for you. You can still cross your fingers and watch out for a shooting star, but let this article be your sign, and let yourself see the signs.
Frequency is nothing if you don’t stop to hear it.
Coldplay (and the importance of being lame)
Coldplay is undoubtedly one of the least Cool bands I’ve ever come across. They admittedly have little sense of style or swagger. Simply put, they’re lame as hell. And that’s why they’re one of my favourite bands of all time.
CHAPTER 1: To be free like everyone else
A lot of the time, we put the art we consume into categorical boxes, and there’s no better example of that than rock music. Rock’s supposed to be Cool & punk; noisy & nihilistic; angsty & furious; and so on. Don’t get me wrong, I love all those things - those who spoke to me during Revolution Radio’s release would agree - but categorising art like this only creates more problems. The music that falls under these boundaries is considered “authentic”, but music that doesn’t is “unCool” and “too pop.” The result of that? Every mainstream rock song is just grown men yelling for 4-5 minutes straight (as though male rage desperately needed another outlet through which to manifest) because that’s what we consider Cool.
I didn’t think much of that standard until I discovered Coldplay. I’d heard their names since forever, but I never paid attention to them. But when a song of theirs, Arabesque, showed up on a Spotify playlist I was listening to, I had to hear more.
I listened to Fix You, a song about recovering from grief; to Yellow, a song about being in love; to Adventure of a Lifetime, a song about living life to the fullest; to Everyday Life, a song about how we’re not alone. I’d never heard a rock band actually preach hope. With the love, the unity, and the optimism that they encouraged, I figured there’s no way anyone could hate them, right?
Wrong. The second I looked them up, I saw the following comments - “too sad”, “too slow”, “too emotional”, and “the aural equivalent of a chick flick” (in case you needed more evidence that rock music standards are overtly misogynistic). That’s when a sudden realisation hit me:
We think positivity is lame. We think our simple, undramatized emotions, that reflect us at our most unfiltered and authentic, are lame. We think being ourselves is lame.
CHAPTER 2: In a world of fright, how do I get it right?
Here’s a hot take: the world’s not that easy to live in. It’s getting more complicated by the second, and so are we. We’ve started having more feelings, and we’re not able to understand a lot of them. We’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time (wait, wrong artist). We’re understanding how clueless we all are. Amidst all the chaos, we’ve put our complexities under a microscope; specifically, the ones we can never really say are positive: emptiness, tantalism, hopelessness, et cetera. We use language to feel negativity, and art to perpetrate it.
It’s not wrong to be feeling these things, and it’s the exact opposite of wrong to be talking about them. In many ways, art is meant to try to examine those feelings, to provide that respite. But the more we let negativity dominate the narrative, the more we let negativity dominate our own narratives, the more we sideline and devalue “easy” feelings like excitement, safety, and joy, the less we feel truly like ourselves. This culture of putting artistic negativity up on a pedestal hasn’t just made it harder for listeners to experience those simple emotions, it’s proclaimed the artists who talk about them to be lame.
That’s why I find Coldplay to be so refreshing. It’s not their music, it’s not their style, it’s their image, it’s their subject matter. They break that chain of cynicism to make me smile a little bit. They’re lame, and they take pride in it.
CHAPTER 3: I am riding on my rocketship and I’m champion of the world
I haven’t told Ananya this, but there’s a sentence in an article of hers that I can’t stop thinking about: “You don’t always need your heart to be broken to create something beautiful.” That line’s been ringing through my head since I started writing this article.
Art is inherently a human thing. We’ve built it and modified it so that it works for us. We’ve put our most vulnerable stories out there all in the pursuit of creating meaningful art, and we can’t shy away from using it to yell about politics, heartbreak, and nihilism. But we can’t be afraid of using it to feel the simple things we need to feel. Brightness. Hope. Love. Pride. Surprise. Unity. Wonder. This article is about Coldplay, but it’s also about so much more. It’s about letting the world tell you everything might just be fine without any shame. It’s about taking time to let your positive emotions sink in.
It’s about finding your own Coldplay. It can be a band or artist, but it can also be a friend. It can be an Instagram account. It can be a little voice in your head. But ultimately, it’s what empowers you to look beyond the wave of danger, of hatred, of futility, and find even a drop of belief. Belief in yourself, belief in the world, and most importantly, belief in being lame as hell.
This is a playlist full of songs that, in my head, epitomise why Coldplay is so important. I hope that in listening to it, you’ll feel the same things that I felt. I hope you’ll be motivated to withstand the wave.
Paywall Problems: How Art Became About the Loot
Guys, we get it. We know you’re all dying for more Between The Notes collab articles. And as much as we’d like to make your biggest dream come true, article writing is just incredibly difficult. Two hours out of our semi-busy schedules once every two weeks, doing something we love, helped by our wonderful editors, design team, and each other (aw)?
That’s just unfathomably unreasonable.
This isn’t helped by the fact that every time we try to do research for our academically rigorous articles about scholarly concepts such as Mark Zuckerburg’s bowl cut, MasterChef Australia, and the online multiplayer social deduction video game Among Us, we’re stopped from gaining limitless amounts of knowledge by these inconvenient, sussy barriers known as paywalls.
Not only do these paywalls stop us from producing the most glamorous writing you’ve ever seen, they’re part of a larger culture that seeks to put a value on one of the most invaluable things ever: art.
I, Shravan, have been a fan of music for as long as I can remember. I've been through all the phases: the emo phase, the boy band phase, the EDM phase, but most notably, the 1800s phase, where I couldn't get enough of Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies. During that time, I saw a lot of admittedly stupid but harmless pretentiousness at the hands of classical music nerds (read: the previous sentence). But there's another facet to the development of music that a lot of us choose to ignore.
Classical music was high art. It was made for the rich Western nobility; for those who could afford an education luxurious enough to understand music theory, but not the masses. A lot of times, it wasn't meant to be good; it was meant to be exquisite and off-limits. It's what made music valuable. In a world that's developed so much since then, though, music has changed. It's accessible and real. It doesn't have its roots in some inaccessible harmonic theory that colonialists made to appease kings. But there's still those that revere it as the purest form of music; the most "musical" form of music, even. There's still those that think pop is too basic, too formulaic, too simple. There's those that think rap isn't music. That isn't some kind of objectivity. It's classism, and it's everywhere.
While Shravan developed the insane ability to jam out to Tchaikovsky, I (Ananya) flit from one hobby to another constantly. The only one that really stuck was Bharatnatyam - which is ironic since now I can only confidently do Fortnite dances. For a classical dance such as this one, maintaining tradition was of the utmost importance; everything from the emotion to the costumes was pre-mandated. And so, every time we put up a show, we would have to trudge to the costume rental places and buy authentic jewellery, dresses, makeup, and the whole nine yards. Growing up, I also had a short stint with ballet. My pirouettes were not the best, but the sparkly pink dresses were incentive enough. However, for more advanced dancers, pointe shoes cost upwards of $120, and they need to be replaced almost every 5 days, along with expensive training, physiotherapy, lavish costumes - basically, highway robbery but if the thief wore a tutu while ripping you off.
What I observed was that certain forms of dance, usually the ones like ballet and Bharatnatyam that cost a lot of money to practice, are deemed ‘sophisticated’ and worth someone’s time, as opposed to those forms which are more accessible to people - like hiphop. According to society, a pas de bourré was more technical and required more talent than a pop-and-lock; like Shravan said about classical music, it was blatantly classist and antiblack as well.
Another example of the monetization of art is NFTs. We'll admit it - the first time we heard about it was its honorary mention on Spotify Wrapped, but other than being a marketing ploy for a multinational corporation, NFTs have been a major topic of conversation recently. According to Forbes, a non-fungible token is a "digital asset of real-world objects like art, music, in-game items and videos". The point of NFTs is for people to be able to own certain artwork in any form, and for sellers to be able to sell their content without having to pay royalties to third-party merchants like YouTube on advertisements.
Not only is an NFT a way to support the artists you like, but owning one also simply gives you the ability to say you own an NFT - a sign of wealth or credibility. Although anyone can look at NFTs, it's not the same as owning one. Even if it doesn't prohibit people from enjoying art for free, the idea that it is a sign of social status creates an economic and social hierarchy in the viewing and enjoying of art.
Let’s be real. As long as capitalism reigns, this isn't a mindset that's going to leave us. Here's the thing, though - it's getting better. The world's realised that art doesn't have to be a tool for the entertainment of the elite, it can be a way to uplift people and tell the stories that so desperately need to be told. One of my (Shravan’s) favourite bands is The Casteless Collective, a Tamil band that uses a blend of rap, rock, and Tamil folk music, to vocally oppose the injustices of the class system and advocate for equal treatment of Dalits, women, and religious minorities. Lately, I (Ananya) have come across several dance tutorials on social media platforms like Tiktok and Instagram that make classical dance easier on people, both technically and financially. These tutorials are free for anyone to watch, and especially in India, it has cultivated a wonderful kathak and krumping culture alike.
Art's becoming what it's always had the potential to be: transformative, fresh, and important. And we believe that its beauty should be accessible to all - regardless of their socioeconomic background. Art is meant to be a social force that brings us together, not another tool of capitalism that pulls us apart.
That being said, the two of us are proud to announce that Between The Notes has been acquired by Elon Musk Twitter (for the exact amount of money it takes to solve global starvation) and is now going to be under a paywall! The best of journalism, only for a small sum of...
*PAY TO READ MORE*
The Bell Jar: Misery in Art, Put Under Glass
tw// mention of mental illness, slight mention of self harm
I find that my co-columnist Shravan really enjoys playing games with our audience. Out of mild entertainment and for the sake of my curiosity, let’s play one that I’ve devised right now; the rules are quite simple. Simply open your Google Keep, Notes app, or any other means of journaling you use on your devices. How many drafts of melancholic poems do you have typed up right now?
When I was younger, I wrote poems about the most absurd things. Frogs adorned by top hats were my specialty, and I wrote incessantly about sparkled boots like they were going out of fashion (and they were. My first experience with untimely demises). The art that I consumed revolved around fantasies and fiction which, unsurprisingly, were targeted at the age demographic I was - ditzy six year olds, with far too many opinions about what their ideal palaces looked like. With nary a care for the fine line between inspiration and downright plagiarism, my writing reflected those fairytales. However, as I grew up, my style evolved ever so slightly; although I would still love to write about forest animals, I also write about my feelings and the like.
With the 20 issues that we have written, I feel like we have built an audience of at least 5 people - to those of you reading this, you are one of them. I trust you with my deepest secrets. And so, with a heavy heart, I must inform you:
My short-lived poetry career is coming to an end.
And this decision has not been made simply because my poetry is comically disastrous, but because I have no inspiration to write anything. Very sadly, there is nothing tumultuous going on in my life - no muse shaped from mental anguish, no turmoil to dissect with words. Although I hardly believe that agony is the sole reason we write, I found that every poem I attempted to write had some element of angst; even if there was no reason for it to possess any. I didn’t know how to write without sounding derivative of every heartbreaking song I had ever listened to. Often, it was implied that to be good at art, you had to be willing to cut your ear off, or in the very least, some unfathomable devastation. The very idea of art, at least in Greek mythology, was believed to be developed by something along those lines:
According to Aristophanes, ancient philosopher of the gods, Zeus had created people with two heads, four legs, and four arms. They were of 3 sexes - the children of the earth, who were fully female; the children of the sun, who were fully male; and finally, the children of the moon, who were half female and half male. The contentment they felt made the God of lightning furious, and so, he split the people into two and scattered them through the earth. They were destined to scour the earth, searching for their split half - their twin flame. However, there was one more sex that the hopeful forget to mention: the children of the dirt.
The children of the dirt were never given two bodies, and they were never split - they remained assembled in one piece, but that also meant they never had any soulmate. To cope, they came up with art as a method of relieving misery.
And it’s safe to say that this idea of our self-expression always reflecting our pain remained. Now, this is not to say that it isn’t a good way of helping us understand our harsh realities; however, in the last few periods of art, we see that not only is mental illness considered an important part of someone’s craft, but the mark of a “true” maker as well. The “tortured artist” trope floats in and out of pop culture, perhaps its most popular examples being people such as Hemingway and Van Gogh. More recently as well, artists such as Olivia Rodrigo and Taylor Swift have also talked about how their music is considered as “coming from a place of devastation” and that when life is happier, they are scared they will lose inspiration - and ultimately, recognition.
But this idea is very dangerous. Art does not always come from suffering, and not only does this narrative require creatives to produce a certain type of content, but also defines them by their neurodivergence - putting them in inescapable traps. Society romanticizes their mental illnesses, not giving them the proper help they need in the hopes of exploiting another “mad” artist’s story and works. In reality, the treatment of artists is what hurts them the most - the dismissal of their cries for help. It also does not help that this perpetuates the idea that people with mental illnesses always make grand art to cope. The world then feels they are entitled to vulnerable work from neurodivergent people, when they either don’t want to share that part of their lives or have different coping mechanisms.
Art is a space for us to reflect on our complex emotions- that could be misery and our darkest moments, and that misery relates with countless and acknowledges so many people undergoing hard times. However, that does not mean that art always requires big, dark, feelings.
You don’t always need your heart to be broken to create something beautiful.
You just need it to be recalcitrant.
A Trillion Little Moments
Let’s bring back a Between The Notes recurring segment everyone knows and loves: game night, or for my dangerously sleep-deprived Gs, game midnight! Today’s game is called “How Many Photos Do We Take?”, and here’s how to play. Without using Google (or for the six of you out there using Bing, Bing), you need to tell me how many pictures you think are taken per year.
If you’re thinking somewhere in the realm of millions, think higher - much higher. If you’re heading towards the billions, go even higher. As you head towards an answer in the trillions, I, as the gamemaster, will step in to tell you that you’re empirically right! It’s around 1.72 trillion.
That’s a massive figure, but after doing a little research, I wasn’t all that surprised by it. Given that sources say anywhere from 2 to 7 billion people in the world own phones, it really just means that on average, we take around 180 to 640 photos a year, and that’s much more feasible. I have friends that could handle that much in just one (1) good outfit day.
What I was more interested in was why we even take photos in the first place. Not just photos, though - videos, diaries, Instagram feeds, Polaroids, everything. Why do we keep a record of the key moments in our daily lives?
The way I used to see it was that our memories were handled by some perfect system in our heads. We live through days, months, and years of interactions, moments, and events. Some of them stay in our head as clear as crystal, some of them are there but mildly fuzzy, and we completely forget the rest.
As we grow and develop as people, we start to adopt new perspectives on the experiences we’ve lived through. We retrospect, we push things out, and we stay awake until ungodly hours (another shoutout to my besties without rest-ies) thinking of all we’ve done throughout our lives. It’s only natural that the memories that remain are the ones that survive those retrospections (AKA, the ones worth remembering), and the memories that we forget are the ones that didn’t matter that much anyway. It’s the way in which we think about our past that determines what we remember and what we forget.
I was rummaging around my cupboard in excruciating detail a few months ago, trying to find a book. While I was doing that, I ended up finding a small envelope with two photos inside it; they were class photos from 7th and 8th grade. It’s barely been 4 years, but I could feel something build up in me as I scanned the photo from left to right, recalling everyone’s name after years of not seeing any of them. It was a simple enough occasion, but it helped me understand that I was wrong.
Memories aren’t just memories, they’re things that happened in our lives. Every single decision we made, every single step we took, and every single thing we did is fossilised in our brain as a recollection of the past. But memories shouldn’t be ways of looking back at our lives with rose-coloured glasses, they should be ways of understanding what we did, and how it made us who we are today. Every single one of the trillion little moments we’ve lived through has informed the way we think, talk, react, and act.
The things we forget aren’t the things that aren’t worth remembering, because everything’s worth remembering. They’re just the things that our brain decides to toss under a table somewhere with no real reason. Making records of our daily lives doesn’t interfere with some otherwise perfect system, it helps it work better. It gives us a tiny scale that helps us reach under that table and find something that makes us who we are. It lets us better understand how we’ve grown as people and where we’re headed next.
Like many other people in 2021, I created a Spotify playlist for every month of the year and added to each one the songs that I fell in love with that month. In a pandemic where time’s moved so slowly, I often listen to the songs I loved in January 2021 to transport myself back to that time. It brings back equal amounts of the good (getting to spend a lot of time with people that mattered to me) and the bad (nearly dying before my Hindi boards). Looking back at who we used to be in the past is hard, but there’s something strangely serene about understanding yourself.
That’s why we take photos, or videos, or write diaries, or Polaroids. To understand who we used to be, good and bad. To understand what life used to be, good and bad.
Life wasn’t simpler in the past than it is now. It wasn’t more sensible then. It wasn’t prettier then. Life was as complicated, stupid, and ugly as it’s always been, and we can’t use our memories as a way to pretend it was all okay.
But through all the complexity, stupidity, and ugliness, life was ours. Life is ours.
The Simple Art of Saving
For the most part, I am a person who holds onto things.
Call me a saver (although the more appropriate term would probably be ‘hoarder’), because I’ve always found it difficult to part with things that hold any fraction of sentimental value to me. Be it silly things, like a jar of dangerously crusty slime from one of my haphazardly-conducted science ‘experiments’ as a child, or more important things like people that raised and (metaphorically) rose with me, I’ve never really been able to let go of them without obscene amounts of internal battle.
I’ve come to discover that I’m not alone here - it’s something that runs in my family. I distinctly remember going to the homes of my grandparents and marvelling at the numerous rows of dolls that they had collected throughout the years. In their cupboards, China dolls replaced China plates. Matryoshka, Channapatna, and other varieties that I can’t bring myself to pronounce filled them up till they were on the verge of bursting. At their age, they had no use for those dolls; but despite that, and everybody telling them to throw them away, figurines pervaded their cabinets.
Research suggests that “those with compulsive hoarding have at least one first-degree relative with hoarding problems, suggesting that hoarding is hereditary.” Although I don’t have extensive knowledge about verifying scientific inferences, I could clearly verify this in a heartbeat.
The Japanese, as they often do, have given an exquisitely poetic name to describe another type of hoarding that my family is familiar with. Tsundoku, as it is often called, derives from two words - tsunde-oku (to let things pile up), and dokusho (to read books).
Evidently, there hasn’t been a single person who has been able to describe my dad as accurately as the people of the 17th century.
It’s always been a thing - every time anyone ever came home, the first remark they made would be about the amount of books there were, shoved into every nook and cranny available. Cartons overflowed with books, spilling out of the little boxes and onto the floors of the storage room, car trunk, and other little empty spots that we converted into depositories. My mother would beg us to give them away, find different homes for them - we would convince her that we would read them all, crack open the spines of every book inconspicuously hidden around the house. The tipping point, quite literally, came when I was about 12 years old - a bookshelf had given way in my room in the dead of night and the whole thing had come crashing down. Be it fate, or God not wanting another blow to my significantly small brain, I had not been sleeping there at the time. The next day, my mum clucked her disapproval and told us they had to go. She hated to say she had told us so (false; she revelled in it), but there was simply no space for us to keep them anymore and we had to get rid of them.
We never ended up giving them away. Just found different places for them.
I don’t mean to make this all profound and metaphorical (I totally do), but I think tsundoku is more than just hoarding. Not knowing what you might invariably miss out on if you let go of books you haven’t read yet is unsettling. And I think that logic applies to other things too - we’re afraid of letting go of people just because we haven't made all the memories we think we could have, given the right circumstances. Giving up on a skill is hard, because what if we haven’t exploited our abilities to the fullest and left the land of opportunities barren?
It’s impossible to do everything, to see everything, to read everything.
At fifteen, I don’t know when you should let go of complicated things like relationships and jobs. However, when it comes to books, I’d say hold onto them. Realistically (and much to my poor mother’s dismay), we were never going to read all of those books - but knowing that we could return to them whenever gave us more solace than some cubic metres of free space would.
Things that give you happiness tend to quietly make themselves known in your life. What was wrong with saving that, regardless of the clutter?
Maybe in time, you’ll find your own place for them as well.
Highlighting the Narrative
I’ll be the first one to say it: I thoroughly despise highlighters.
Before you make a face at your laptop screen (or any screen, for that matter- don’t let me be the judge of which device you choose to bask in glorious writing right here at Riot!), let me make my case here: Highlighters have been sent down to Earth to make magnificently clumsy students, such as myself, feel bad about themselves. I cannot express in words how many times I’ve been on the verge of tears because of my poor highlighting abilities; every time an attempt is made to highlight in straight, neat lines, the baleful device goes off by an inch, giving colour to every piece of text other than the one I meant to (I tried to highlight Dune too, but quite literally nothing will be able to give it the color it lacks. But I digress). However hard I try, the highlight is always at an angle much different than 180°, and it is either too thick or barely visible (much like the representation of highlighter-haters in mainstream media). Frustration seeps into my skin at the tips of my fingers, along with the chemically-imparted neon colours of said stationery.
Another reason for my very valid mistrust of highlighters is one that is deep-rooted. A memory that I have carried around for years through the Indian schooling system. A phrase, so commonly used, that it brings almost an instant reflex action in me to take out my pencil case and start underlining :
“This part is important for the exams, highlight it”.
While this may seem like merely a good suggestion from my nothing-but-kind and well-meaning teachers, it never fails to amuse (and simultaneously, baffle) me how certain information or certain pieces of knowledge are more worthy of testing students on- inherently, making them more valuable than others. I don't love the ICSE education system- this isn't new information at all. And one of the biggest problems I have with it it is that we are made to learn certain topics that are ‘sureshot’ questions from the boards, deemed far more important, and word-vomit them, purging the remainder from our memory. Just recently, it had been announced that the CBSE board had decided to remove topics such as ‘Democratic Rights’ and ‘Secularism’ from their syllabus. It’s rather frightening, honestly- children are expected to learn about ‘Liberté, Égalité, et Freternité’ while learning about the French Revolution, but we fail to teach them about how the same principles are being taken away from them in their own country in the present time.
A recent conversation I had really illuminated how what is highlighted in textbooks changes with the political party in power- much like how beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, the parts of history highlighted through time differ with the opinions of the people wielding power, mostly to fit their (for lack of a better phrase) ulterior political motives. Taking the Babri Masjid incident as an example, the movement for the building of an Ayodhya temple was not spur-of-the-moment, but cultivated by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an RSS arm that was subsequently adopted by BJP during the Palampur session in 1980. It is an example of how, through education by different political parties, consensus can transform a lot. To stay on theme, the keywords that I, as your metaphorical teacher, will give you here are: ‘political agenda’, ‘narratives’, and ‘indoctrination’.
And that’s the thing: the keywords in your textbooks will change with the different governments that come into power. All you have to do is highlight your experiences.
Let the highlighting be as messy and convoluted as your history.
You make the keywords.
Doomscrolling Through the Universe
In astronomy, there exists the concept of a solar wind - a collection of plasma that the Sun’s outermost layer of the Sun’s atmosphere emits. The solar wind shoots out towards the solar system and creates a dust-filled bubble called the heliosphere.
There’s also a vast area of particles between different stars in our galaxy called the interstellar medium. To the solar wind, this interstellar medium is an obstruction that it needs to clear out to expand the heliosphere. To that end, these two entities are in an eternal fight for control of the solar system.
Keep in mind what I’ve told you in the previous two paragraphs - it’s important.
So far, the 2020s has been a decade of many things - economic recession, political turmoil, climate change, and of course, the unstoppable, ravaging virus that continues to pose a threat to all of humanity: The Rock’s debut rap record. The Internet routinely shoves these things into our faces, and we play along. We read tweet after tweet and article after article about how everything sucks and it’s our fault.
In fact, the phenomenon of scrolling through negative news for too long got so popular that people gave it a name: “doomscrolling.” It traps us in a nihilistic echo chamber and drills into our heads the idea that humanity is, for lack of a better word, doomed. And maybe, in some masochistic way, we find it all kind of exciting.
I’m not kidding when I say that - psychological studies confirm that a lot of us have what’s called a negativity bias. We tend to seek out bad news, sometimes because we want information, sometimes because we want to feel something, but always at the cost of our mental health.
There are two sides of our brains. One of them wants to relax, browse the vexillology subreddit, and listen to the latest Coldplay album forever (okay, maybe this is just my brain). The other side wants to stock up on all the negative information it can about the world. Recently, my latter half’s been dominating (with no help from media sensationalism, might I add), and it’s bad.
The first side isn’t all that much better, though. We can’t just mute the voices of the oppressed while living in comfort. We can’t live as though bad things aren’t happening around us. It’s our moral obligation to realize that sometimes, the world truly is a dark place. It’s our moral obligation to pay attention and educate ourselves (and it would be beneficial if it was not about Tomdaya or the symbolism in the Bhutanese flag).
That means we’ve got a tough challenge to deal with. Do we keep absorbing information at the expense of our own sanity, or do we let loose and chill out at the expense of others? Which side of the brain do we pay attention to?
Remember that space stuff I mentioned at the start of the article? Well, there’s one thing I forgot to mention there.
Closer to the Sun, the solar wind has enough pressure to fight back the weaker interstellar medium and enlarge the heliosphere. Farther away, the interstellar medium is stronger, meaning it’s able to hold its own and stop the circulation of lower-pressure solar wind near it.
Somewhere in between, though, lies a place called the heliopause - an equilibrium region where the solar wind and interstellar system are equally strong. In the heliopause, neither entity can win, so they don’t really fight each other; they just exist in perfect harmony.
Find the place of mind wherein the two sides of your brain exist in perfect harmony.
Find your own heliopause.
On Romcoms and Love Songs
Every year, the world dedicates one day to the pretty romantic notion of love. It’s a day for people to spend time not only on, but also with their significant others. It’s a day that grants people a chance to unabashedly and openly embrace each other. It’s a day for couples to jampack their infinite and unrelenting love for each other into their Instagram stories, Spotify playlists, over-commercialized cards, matching lockets, and TikTok dance duets. It’s a day where people make each other cards, poems, notes, songs, twelve-part orchestral movements, NFTs, what have you.
Some of us don’t have that kind of first-hand experience with romance (and if it wasn’t clear from the first paragraph, I’m one of them). All of us, however, have some appreciation for, and understanding of, romantic love - not by virtue of our feelings or relationship statuses (stati?), but by the Hilbert’s hotel of romantic content that pops up in almost everything we watch, listen to, and center objectionable fanfiction around. In a dedicated session to think about this content, I came up with a few things that changed the way I personally saw romantic love.
The first love story I encountered was Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Imperfect as it may be, it’s something that defined romantic love for a lot of Indian kids. The train scene at the end may well be the most popular scene in the entirety of Bollywood, and for good reason. To many, Simran running to board the train with Raj is a moment characteristic of the ability of young love to lay waste to traditional, old-fashioned values. It showed us that romantic love is progressive and powerful in its conception.
That message has been well-affirmed by the thousands of thousands of love songs written since then. From Queen’s “Somebody to Love” to Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” to Doja Cat’s “Say So”, music has always been a tool to celebrate romantic love, passion, and togetherness. Although more realistic and autobiographical, the songs don’t by any means lose the magic that the movies brought out, and stay firmly of the opinion that romance is something that’s inherently beautiful, overwhelming, and all-consuming.
To those individuals actively pursuing romance, these movies and songs are the blueprint. Some dream of chasing after their significant other on a train, being with their lover for 4000 Jeremy Bearimys, or reuniting in the rain after a fight. Some can relate to Louis and Ella when they ask their partner to dream a little dream of them. Some can identify with Shakespeare when he says that his partner’s eternal summer shall not fade, nor lose possession of that fair they ow’st, and that they shan’t ever wander’st in death’s shade.
I believe, though, that this stuff means so much more to those who aren’t as enchanted by relationships, Valentine’s Day, or those cute little couple lockets.
We live in a world where romance is, for lack of a better word, pummeled through our heads. We prioritize romance as a crucial part of our lives, and treat it as something of a necessity for happiness and satisfaction. As such, we make clear distinctions between those who like those priorities and those who don’t; those who wish to have romance and those who don’t really care about it; the romance-seeking and the romance-averse.
Sometimes, the more romance-averse of us feel as though we’re left behind - that we’re somehow wrong for not caring about this incredibly important aspect of our lives. Whether it’s that we feel we aren’t mature enough yet to be in a romantic relationship, that we prefer platonic love, or that we don’t experience romance the same way the romance-seeking do, we’re often out of the conversation. To make up for it, we live our artificial romances through the media.
We learn about romance not through our experiences but through romcoms and love songs. We attempt to contribute to the conversation not with our own stories but rather, those of Jim and Pam. We engage with our romance-seeking friends not with anecdotes but with comparisons to Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow.” It’s a way to feel like we’re part of a larger romantic community without breaking our own personal boundaries and limits. It’s a way to feel as though we belong in a world that isn’t exactly supportive of that.
I’m not here to proclaim that as a good or bad thing, partially because I don’t want to demean romantic love on Valentine’s Day. I do think, though, that we need to realize the feelings of our romance-averse friends who feel like they’re lacking in their desire to be whole. In our journey to accept and be aware of how diverse and expansive romance is, we can’t leave behind those who don’t feel as strongly connected to it.
Love is in the air, but not everyone feels the need to take a breath.
- Shravan and Ananya
Our Country's Constitution - Our Column's Commentary
According to Wikipedia, a constitution is a comprehensive document that contains “an aggregate of fundamental principles that constitute the legal basis of a political entity and commonly determine how that entity is to be governed”. B. R. Ambedkar’s Constitution of India does much of the same - it provides a framework of rules and regulations that the citizens of India are required to follow. We, ironically enough, will be breaking these rules several times over the course of this article.
In our defense, the Government started it.
While the actual book has an interesting premise - laws, regulations, and the several ways the government can legitimize censorship, there are a few contradictory statements in the Constitution that, for the sake of not being arrested, we choose to simply look at as ‘silly little plot holes’. For example, Article 19, also known as the Right To Freedom, states that ‘all the citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression’. However, as we write this article, we are also worrying about being booked for sedition - something that would not be very Right-To-Freedom-Of-Expression of the government.
Also, considering the fact that Section 377 existed as a legitimate law in our country up until 2018, a mere 3 years ago, we do not think it would be too far-fetched to say that all the citizens of India are not exactly treated equally under the law, as suggested by Article 14. The editor, in our opinion, should have taken one last look at it - you know, to make sure people weren’t accidentally getting oppressed.
One more place where the Indian Constitution falls short is the storyline. Don't get us wrong, it has its moments - the preamble's an amazing opening chapter that immediately pulls you in, the section about educational rights was utterly fabulous, and we loved the part that said wealth shouldn't be concentrated in the hands of a few. Alas, if only the Ambanis agreed. We do think, however, that after a certain point, the writers bit off more than they could chew (which is surprising, given Indians' affinity towards paan). Most sections go on too long and lose focus, clouding the main themes and ideas. Eventually, the plot gets too convoluted for any reader to understand.
Another critique that we have is that the Drafting Committee (a fancy word for ‘ghostwriters’) of the Constitution were predominantly male and Hindu. For a country that is home to people across the gender and religious spectrum, this set of writers clearly did not reflect that. While one may argue that it was so that the entire thing could have a uniform tone (the tone being ‘a little patriarchal’), we think that a little bit of versatility in style and opinion wouldn’t have hurt. It would have been a much better read, in our opinion, if there was a little bit of flavour in their writing - something, perhaps, other than saffron.
Finally, they say that to write a lot, one must first read a lot. Drawing inspiration from the vast world of literature out there is a great way to write. Unfortunately enough, however, the Constituent Assembly must've read a tad bit too much, because the Constitution reeks of plagiarism. Upon reading the first few articles, it's immediately apparent that the text is incredibly derivative of the works of Thomas Jefferson and Walter Bagehot (authors of the US and British Constitutions, respectively).
The concept of the legal system was pretty much taken from Britain. The ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity were taken from France. The concept of impeachment was taken from the USA, the country that literally failed to impeach its most recent bigot of a President twice. We'd be lying if we said these countries didn't steal more from Indians (prestige, shelter, freedom, a working economy, culture, human rights, the Kohinoor, etc.), but the lack of original content makes for a book that's not only intellectually dishonest, but also a disservice to the Indian people.
Overall, we feel that while some elements of the Constitution are effective and poignant, the book as a whole is a pretty skippable and slow read. While we do think that it’d make a great addition to the Government of India’s Bookstagram, we also believe that we, as a country, would be better off dedicating a day to How I Taught My Grandmother To Read instead - for it’s the epitome of Indian values that reflects the fabric of our nation, better than the Constitution could.
Out with the New, In with the Old
As with all good Between the Notes articles, I will start with an unnecessary anecdote.
As 2021 closed its doors on us (quite unceremoniously, might I add) and I grappled with the fact that we were another year away from 2019, the usual end-of-year posts popped up on my Instagram feed, all more or less either recapping the highlights of their year, setting goals or hoping the next year would be kinder to us all. One such post I came across was a Twitter thread- and it essentially talked about all the statistics that different companies had revealed about their customers in that particular year. Alongside Spotify, Google (and I’m sure other companies that have an excessive amount of our data too), had also released some of the most searched topics in the last year.
Most of those top-searched topics made sense to me - ‘climate change’ was definitely understandable, ‘how to start a business’ sounded more than okay, and honestly, it would surprise me more if ‘mittens’, searched most after Bernie Sanders’ infamous inauguration meme, didn’t make it to the list. However, one of the searches caught my eye:
@shityoushouldcareabout on Instagram
‘Y2k’, for anyone who doesn’t know, is an abbreviation for the phrase ‘Year 2000’ and essentially describes the entire culture of the beginning of the millennium - Nokia phones, Hollaback Girl, and lastly, the hideous fashion (an excess of leather cap things, if you ask me - it was B-A-N-A-N-A-S). In the last year or so, especially, I’d also seen this sort of ‘vintage’ fashion crop up here and there; it was the new fad. I mean, I’d seen this before- this affinity towards things that was of a previous time, especially the 80s and the 90s, and I would be lying if I said I hadn’t indulged in it too! Did I have a playlist of only Beatles songs because I thought it was old-timey? Yes. Had I previously saved videos of 'vintage' clothing that I hoped to recreate? Definitely. Would I consider selling my soul to have even a fleeting moment with young Joseph Gordon-Levitt?
Now, I'm not saying that the entirety of our generation does things considered to be another generation's only because they want to feel like they were born in the wrong century - you could simply argue that we simply wanted to be around when Britney was actually free (technically she is also free at this point in time, but for the sake of the picture I’m trying to paint, let’s just pretend she isn’t). However, it's not the easiest to ignore: a lot of us do feel the need for a sense of nostalgia, even if we weren't even born then - much less have the ability to even comprehend what it was. But why? Do we just simply feel like we need to stand out in a world where everything seems the same?
Depressingly enough, a little bit. Along with the fact that in a decade that has started off rather sadly, it helps to imagine as though you belong to another time, sometimes standing out in certain ways makes you feel like you are not just another brick in the wall (and no, that was not me trying to reference Pink Floyd to reiterate my point). Experiencing life on different planes when the ground you’re standing on didn't give out so often is a way to cope - that's exactly what escapism is.
And hey, maybe the grass is greener on the other side.
Or maybe that's just the climate change.
The Heart, the Soul and the Funny Bone
A neutron walks into a bar and asks the bartender how much a beer costs.
Since I was 11, I’ve made it something of an involuntary personal mission to be as funny as I possibly can, always. That means my subconscious is always a little like Rumpelstiltskin, except instead of spinning straw into gold, I spin a normal conversation into a semi-tolerable pun that often gets me either punched or booed.
For a long time, I just accepted that fact - I never really gave this need to be entertaining a second thought. As is the case for most of us, though, the pandemic coerced me into a crippling old bout of self-critique; and upon questioning this incredibly fundamental tenet of my personality, I did what my generation does best when having existential crises: literally nothing. I ignored it and instead listened to an indie artist sing about how empty they feel without their ex (or their dog, I don’t have the best memory).
Weirdly enough, that didn’t seem to work, so I decided I’d genuinely think about it - why do I feel the need to be funny?
Well, one pretty simple reason is that I want to make friends. People like funny people, right? That’s why we enjoy stand-up comedians, sitcoms, and watching world leaders talk about COVID. It makes a lot of sense that I’m more likeable when I’m funnier. In that sense, it’s not as much a need to be funny as it is a need to present a likeable version of myself in order to form real connections and relationships. This is, however, a conclusion I didn’t quite like, because I like to think the connections and relationships I’ve already established are built on something more stable, personal, and meaningful than pure comedy.
I then entertained the possibility that being funny made me feel superior to others. If I’m the one people are deriving most joy from, I also have the power to deprive them of that joy. Naturally, all my friend groups grow to live off of my presence and fall apart when I’m not around. I hold in my hand the ability to make and break hundreds of friendships and make my way to world domination, and I can do it all in a single snap, just because I made a couple of jokes. Again, this isn’t a theory I favour all that much, mostly because it paints me as an emotionally manipulative supervillain, but also because it’s possibly the lamest form of leverage.
It was at this point that I came to the rationale that I was most satisfied with - and it just so happens to be an incredibly selfish rationale.
I have considerable difficulty with conventional displays of love. I’m terrible with compliments, I find it hard to directly tell people I love them, and almost all forms of physical affection make me feel like I’m the filling in a human sandwich. What comes easiest to me is just making the people around me laugh. It’s a way for me to make sure they’re happy, even if it’s only for a few seconds. Maybe my need to be entertaining is just my need to show affection for my loved ones and show them that I care for them.
Humour is to me what words and the human touch are to most people - a love language. In many ways, saying “Knock knock!” in anticipation of a “Who’s there?” is very much my way of holding my friends and family in the tightest, warmest hug known to mankind and letting them know that they’re incredibly important to me.
“For you,” says the bartender, “no charge.”
Deities and Dichotomies
This article takes a fairly sharp detour. Beware.
The beginning of Riot was a flurry, with everyone scrambling to turn in the final versions of their articles, apprehensive about what the response would be; our lovely editors, kindly reminding everyone to join countless meetings; our designers, making Instagram posts at an abnormal rate - essentially, the works.
One of these days, our (exceedingly patient, might I add) designer asks me for quite an undemanding task. I was to write a short bio, along with my name and a picture of myself. easy enough, right? I obsessed over the short paragraph that would be up on the website, and the picture I would use; after all, this was what strangers would see. Although I changed it quite a few times, they graciously accepted each version, and offer to put up the final one at the last minute.
There was one thing I did not hesitate over though - My name. And it’s odd - technically, it wasn’t even my full, real name.
While this newfound information might be nothing short of confusing to you, the people close to me know that I have always had a long, long name: quite a mouthful. My last name happens to be Ahmed, which has always left people dumbfounded - Ananya happens to be a Hindu name, and my middle name Aaliya, belonged to no religion, with the exception, of course, being Bollywood.
The name that I had chosen to go along with the photo of myself was Ananya Aaliya. That, as you now know, isn’t my entire name, but I went with it. To be honest, I had been doing it for a long time. In the first grade, I would simply say that I had only a first name and a middle name, knowing fully well it wasn’t the truth. When people assumed that I was Hindu, I did not correct them, because to me, it seemed like it would be far too confusing to explain my very intricate heritage to them, and that the possibility of me being interfaith was far too complicated for anyone to comprehend.
Being a girl with a Hindu mother and Muslim father, my very existence seemed like an enigma to some of the people that I came across. The two communities that seemed to be each other’s bitter rivals, adversaries, threatening to tear the country apart over their difference - how was it possible that I was both of them together?
And naturally, as I do with other areas of my life (such as math. I despise math), I simply ignored the entire thing. I continued telling people that I did not have a third name, and if they knew I did and asked about it, I would shrug and tell them it was far too long to explain. Often, though, I wondered about it myself. What did it mean, in this country and era, to be interfaith? To me, it meant that I had people questioning the validity of my existence constantly. Are you a terrorist by any chance? Do you side with the tyrants? Every time I was asked jokingly if I was Pakistani or Indian, I would laugh it off, secretly seething inside. Was it inherently wrong to be two things simultaneously?
As much as I'd love to say that, in the end, I completely came into my own skin, that wasn't entirely true. But I was changing - I developed my own opinions, and realized that there was nothing that stopped me from being a blend of different things. I refused to think of my two identities as if they were mutually exclusive.
Dichotomies are a one-or-another thing.
I am not.
- Ananya and Shravan
Fantastic Fears and How To Fix Them
‘Tis the season to be spooky.
Halloween is a festival that celebrates, above all else, fear (and at times, Kaccha Mango Bites). While these fears may range from trivial matters like belly buttons, to more pressing issues like noses, the most extreme cases are given a special name - “phobias”.
A phobia can be defined as an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. And while that may be “scientifically accurate” and “rigorously proven”, we’re choosing to go another route. So, for the remainder of this Halloween special, we’ll be defining a phobia as a sussy little distaste towards something, someone, or even everything (see: panphobia) that one can relentlessly ridicule. Given that the two of us also possess a distaste for certain “sussy” things (like each other), we’ve taken it upon ourselves to do exactly what our definition states and make fun of each other’s phobias:
Ananya’s 1st Phobia: Mark Zuckerberg’s bowl cut
We're starting off with what is arguably one of the scariest things, possibly ever - Mark Zuckerberg's haircut. That, with all due respect, is one face I would not want in my book. When Ananya told me about this fear of hers, I tried to determine why exactly his hair was in this condition. Was his hair, like much of Facebook's revenue, lost to Twitter? Was he inspired by the countless minion memes on his website? We'll never know.
As much as I'd like to make fun of it, Zuckerbergbowlcutphobia is an incredibly understandable phenomenon. To Ananya, and all of you who share this fear, I'd like to give you one piece of advice - just imagine he’s Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. And remember: this too shall pass.
Ananya’s 2nd Phobia: Crushing debt
Secondly, the fear of crushing debt, or "debtphobia", as it's called by one source that really wants me to believe it's a real thing. I'd readily note the fact that the British will always, always (according to Shashi Tharoor, at least) owe more debt than you. I’d also readily make fun of the fact that Ananya could always seek out a job as a Timotheé Chalamet subreddit moderator if she was running out of cash, but instead, I’ve decided to offer up some advice.
It's okay to be in debt. It may be emotionally overwhelming, and it may seem like a lot, but if you're careful, you can get through it. Most importantly, remember that working with a reputable debt consolidation provider who can counsel you on how to avoid bankruptcy or debt settlement is fiscally feasible and may just be the advantageous. Above all, remember that this too shall pass.
Shravan’s 1st Phobia: Mayonnaise
While nothing on this planet would give me more unadulterated joy than to simply say that this fear was (verbatim) ‘a little sus’, Shravan’s true horror, aptly called ‘mayophobia’, is one that I deem very valid after my extensive research.
Scientifically speaking, psychology states that humans dislike ‘slimy’ or ‘sticky’ food, such as mayonnaise and its likes, because it reminds them of rotten things that made them ill. However, I have a theory that everyone who has ever disliked this certain condiment was probably fed a poorly-made McDonald’s burger that became soggy due to an excess of odd-tasting mayonnaise at one point in their lives; the sacrilege that was caused to such a wondrous invention, all those years ago, had been burned into their brains, and they unfortunately never recovered.
Although I have no real way of relieving these people (including my co-columnist) of all the trauma they had undergone at the hands of multinational fast food corporations, I would like to remind them that they will probably never be force-fed mayonnaise filled burgers by their parents ever again. And if they are not able to ‘digest’ this information (pun fully intended), they must simply tell themselves this: that this too shall pass.
Shravan’s 2nd Phobia: Disappointing those around him
While I did understand where Shravan was coming from, there were some questions that still persisted. First, let’s take a look at the fear - ‘Disappointingpeoplephobia’ is a relatively usual fear among kids our age. Granted, we suffered a more chronic version of it, there were also a few advantages of this fear. For example, if someone were to ever gift us a bottle of mayonnaise on any customary occasion, we would be able to accept it gracefully, so as to come off as ‘polite’ (although, in hindsight, this seems like it would not be quite a pleasant ordeal for Shravan. Oh well).
And while I could also shed light on the irony of this fear, given that disappointing people is all he’s ever done by choosing to be a Devi and Paxton shipper, I would rather try to be of help and give all of you a piece of valuable advice - simply do not disappoint people. If you do, it’s hard to say they’ll ever forgive you, and if it’ll truly pass, but for the sake of uniformity in this article, let’s say it will.
As obvious as it may seem, fears are scary. Sometimes, they scare us. But every once in a while, it’s probably a good idea to laugh at yourself and your fears, and ask your dearest friends (or in our case, your most detested adversaries) to take a jab at the things that haunt you at night. It can help you deal with your phobias, and simultaneously help you form meaningful connections with others who share those phobias. Because, at the end of the day, there’s one common fear that unites us all:
The fear of a disappointed Mark Zuckerberg starting a rival mayonnaise business, leaving you in crushing debt (also known as “capitalism”).
https://phobia.wikia.org/wiki/Phobia_wiki - Phobia Wiki, a tool we used extensively in the creation of this article
Alrighty Aphrodite: Love Languages, Literally
Firstly, I would like to dispel any notion of me being a Laurie and Jo shipper.
Now that we’ve established that, I believe we can start.
To you, this piece of information may be surprising, and, quite frankly, rather useless. However, as an avid reader and professional fangirl, I have watched the movie Little Women more times than I can count. From reading the book as a child, and then continuing to immerse myself in that universe by discovering all its different renditions, it has been a known fact to all around me that, if you mention their names to me, I will go on a spiel of some sort and not stop (is it called ‘inertia of motion’? I’m not sure, physics has never really been my thing). The same goes for a ton of other ‘ships’ (and for anyone above 25 reading this, I am not talking about the ones like Titanic, but more about Jack and Rose), and, from the various number of times I have been called by my friends at unholy hours to discuss some very specific fictional relationships, I know for a fact I do not happen to be the only one.
The thing is, the media we consume plays a big role in how we see the world. And this could be in a lot of ways - if it is projecting onto a certain character, picking up traits and mannerisms from the celebrities we see around us, and more. Furthermore, it builds on our ideals and sometimes, in the most unnoticeable ways, also shows us what our ideal life would look like.
Therefore, when it comes to love, it is quite inevitable that what we look at, what we read about, and what we listen to affects how we emulate it in our own lives. And every so often, I stumble upon a love that isn’t particularly describable - if you ask me to delineate it, chances are you won’t be getting an answer any time soon.
It’s almost as if there aren’t any words.
Although the above sentence may have been a very poor attempt at me trying to tie my article together, it is also a way of telling you that the ancient Greeks knew what was, metaphorically, ‘up’. According to some of the classical works of Plato and Aristotle, there were about seven types of love that existed - and each had a different word dedicated entirely to it. It also just so happens that a majority of the content we consume fits into these 7 types of love, and while I don’t think these old Greek philosophers would appreciate me correlating what must have taken them years to think about to Percabeth, it had to be done.
As I said before, the likes of Grecian philosophers believed that love mainly came in seven forms - Eros, Ludus, Philia, Storge, Philautia, Pragma, and finally, Agápe. While to us, these words may sound as if they were from another language (spoiler alert, they are), our minds come across these types of love more often than we realise.
For instance: Usually described as a passionate love, Eros is the connection between amorous partners, an appreciation for one’s physical beauty (while Shravan and Brishti argue that a perfect example would be Paxton and Devi, I’d argue otherwise- Ben and Devi fit the description better). And then there’s Storge, a strong familial love, present in all the sitcoms we see of storybook families persevering through thick and thin.
The point I’m trying to make here is this: love and ardency are messy and complicated, both on and offscreen. Sometimes, these words intersect and overlap, the letters constantly rearranging among themselves. Often, over time, one of them morphs into another, and sparks love that we never thought we were capable of - and, occasionally, you can’t put it in words.
But when you can, why not? When in Greece, right? :D
Among Us and the Working Class
Alright, you’ve read the title of this article, so I should probably put out a disclaimer before I move on - this article is NOT about the popular social deduction game Among Us. I heavily reference the social deduction game Among Us in the article, but it is NOT the focal point of the article. Please do not send me any messages regarding the online multiplayer social deduction video game Among Us, because I am NOT writing about it.
Now that I’ve clarified that, I’d like to start this article with a fun fact about Among Us. On the 28th of May, 2021, an eBay user found a chicken nugget in their McDonald’s BTS meal that looked a lot like an Among Us crewmate, and decided to sell it for the modest price of 99 cents. It turned out, though, that another user valued and offered to buy this suspicious chicken nugget at a slightly higher price; 14,968 dollars more, to be more specific. Once this user placed their offer (sabotaged O2, if you will), all hell broke loose. A bidding war began, and people put forward more and more money to buy this nugget until one person outmatched everyone else with a bid of 100,000 dollars. They had, quite literally, achieved a winner winner chicken dinner.
This is admittedly a story I will never stop laughing at, but there’s something deeper I want to take from it. Why did people bid ludicrous amounts of money to buy a simple chicken nugget? They could’ve just laughed at it and moved on, but there was something that didn’t allow them to accept the fact that there’s a chicken nugget Among Us and they didn’t own it. What was that motivation?
The answer to that question comes in the form of another story, and this one isn’t about video games. In 1913, Russian Tsar Nicholas II decided that he’d give his mother a present, like the good son that he was. He commissioned a famous jeweller, Peter Carl Fabergé, to design and build an egg for her. Today, this egg is one of 57 Fabergé eggs that haven’t been lost or destroyed, making it arguably one of the rarest and most exquisite goods today. Naturally, it’s valued at around 9.6 million dollars.
That’s what our society does - we assign value to things based on how rare they are. Things like the Fabergé egg and the Among Us nugget are valuable because they’re unique. One of a kind. The odd one out. The imposter, if you will. And when it comes to chicken nuggets, that makes for a pretty oddball, but overall light-hearted, story. From the perspective of economics, though, the idea that something becomes less valuable when more of it exists is a mindset that’s extremely normalized and borderline problematic.
We’ve taken an old-fashioned, inhuman ideal of value and used it to value humans, and the ideal I speak of here is exactly what I was leading up to with the fancy egg and the chicken nugget: we think a skill is more valuable when fewer people have it. There’s only 1.2 million doctors in India, but there’s probably 100 times as many people who can, say, fill your car with petrol at a gas station, or wipe your table at a local restaurant once you’ve eaten. So, the jobs of car refueling and table wiping are more “replaceable” and less valuable.
Naturally, you might be a little confused because what I’m saying seems to be countering basic economic theory (the most perfect, flawless, and accurate theory even constructed, by the way). Let me explain with an example, though - imagine that you’re going to a restaurant. Nothing too high-end, but it’s supposedly got great food. You go there with an empty stomach, looking forward to a pleasant dining experience. Arriving at the restaurant, you sit at a table to see that there’s food stains all over it. A glass of water’s upturned, there’s a crumpled-up tissue on a plate, and it smells terrible. The water’s spilled onto the plate, and it’s mixing with some curry. There’s an extremely soggy chapati that a child probably forgot to eat, and it looks disgusting.
I’ll stop ruining your appetite, but I think you’ve got my point - the work done by cleaning staff in this restaurant is just as important as the work done by a software engineer. It’s not just that, though - blue-collar workers are also people. They lead their own lives, and they deserve to lead them the same way as everyone else: with autonomy, and with choices. Behind the service lies a person, and it doesn’t matter how many such people exist, they all deserve to live. Any opposition to this argument boils down to something along the lines of “well, do they deserve to live, though?”
Give domestic workers tips. Give your waiters tips. Give cleaning crews tips. Make happy the people that make you happy. No one’s above anyone else, and no one deserves any less. If you’re an adult, keep in mind that the people around you contribute heavily to your life, and the fact that there’s more of them doesn’t take away from their efforts. If you’re a teenager, use the power of pestering™ to force your parents to do that. If you’ve been keeping up with this rant (this vent, even), then I hope you’ve understood one thing: demeaning blue-collar workers? That’s kinda sus.
A Tale of Vexillology, Harmony, and Fluidity
I’d like to ask you something that’s relatively abstract - what does the colour red mean to you? What does it remind you of, and what does it represent in your life?
That’s a pretty loaded question to begin an article with, and it’s also not one that’s easy to answer. Lots of things in our lives are red in colour. Red could mean an infinite number of things. It’s an ambiguous colour, so you might be pretty confused. Don’t sweat it, though! I had just as much trouble answering that question when I first came across it too. It isn’t just you and me, though; the flags of various countries make it apparent that the world hasn’t really been able to answer that question either.
I’ve never really been a fan of visual art. Be it painting, digital art, or photography, I just wasn’t very excited by it. In fact, I was and very much still am the kid that instantly resorts to stick figures when asked to draw humans. One part of visual art that’s always piqued my interest, though, is vexillology: the study of flags, their design, and their meaning.
According to the government of Trinidad and Tobago, the red in their flag is “most expressive of [their] country”, and it’s meant to represent one of the four elements: fire (no, Ishana isn’t ghostwriting this). With that piece of information alone, we’d likely be led to believe that red is a symbol of fire. Not so fast, though! We have a contender - the tiny Caribbean region of Grenada. Apparently, the red in the Grenadian flag is meant to represent courage and bravery. That isn’t exactly the same as “fire”.
It’s not just Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada, though! We have a ho(i)st of country flags that see the colour red differently. In the Zimbabwean flag, the colour red symbolizes aspirations and hopes, while in Kenya’s and Iran’s flags, it stands for the blood shed by martyrs. In Spain, it represents bullfighting, and in Japan, it represents the Sun. And of course, in the king of all things red, the Soviet flag, red is a symbol of revolution.
You might be confused (vexed, even) as to why I’m saying all of this, so let me clear it up a little. Flags teach us an important lesson about colours and how they can work differently in different places, but they also tell us why that is. It’s each country’s experience that shapes what its flag means. The Soviet red, for example, wouldn’t mean what it does if not for its violent history, struggles, and sacrifices. This is something that’s incredibly important to my initial question: we all see red in terms of the experiences we’ve had, and what we’ve gone through determines what it means to us.
In stark contrast to my stance on visual art, I’m a huge fan of music. I love playing it, making it, listening to it, everything. So, naturally, I’ve come across the transcendental phenomenon of this Earth, known otherwise as Jacob Collier. While most would describe him as a Grammy-winning producer and expert in harmony, I’d say he’s more or less a modern-day musical revolutionary. I’d stumbled upon a live masterclass he did in Paris, and he made a casual remark that I found really interesting - “Every note works with every chord”.
Wait, what? How? How could every note work with every chord? In music theory lessons, we’re taught that there are some groupings of notes that we should avoid because they sound terrible, and now Jacob Collier’s telling me that’s just a load of, as the British would say, poppycock. To his credit, though, what he proceeded to say changed the way I looked at harmony forever.
The fundamental idea he brought up was that it doesn’t matter whether the notes are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for each other - what matters is where the notes are going. I can play any wonky, weird combination of notes I want, and as long as each note is in the right context, and I take each note somewhere, I’ve made it work. To better illustrate what I mean, here’s me playing a super weird chord, and then me making it work
As with vexillology, harmony also teaches us something interesting. A note doesn’t always mean the same thing, and it doesn’t always have the same purpose. It doesn’t always give off the same vibe, it depends entirely on the context it’s placed in and where it’s going. This is also vital to my question about red: it could, at different points in time, mean different things to us. It depends on the framework within which we’re experiencing it.
I’ve spent a little over a week writing this article, and over that time period, I’ve come up with tens of things the colour red could mean to me. When I started, the colour red was a little CD marker I had on my table. To me, it meant permanence. A few days into the article, I was watching the Jacob Collier masterclass again, so red was the YouTube logo. Then, it stood for unbridled enthusiasm, as is the case with most things related to Jacob Collier. Right now, it’s past midnight and I’m on the verge of falling asleep, so red reminds me of my bedsheet. It represents peace and bliss.
That’s the most important thing, maybe ever. Fluidity. Anything in our lives that means something to us only means that because of our personal history with it, and the context in which we’re sensing it. Everything that brings us joy does so because we have happy emotions tied to it, and everything that brings us sadness does so because we see it in a grim context. Our lives are by-products of our unique, inconstant, and meaningful experiences, and that’s something we need to celebrate.
The world around us is no less fluid than the water we drink, the sweat we brush away, or the blood in our veins. Which, by the way, also happens to be red.
The Jacob Collier Masterclass (well worth watching if you've got 26 minutes to spare) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLJVvjqMjbo
Parfait Panic: My Issue with Social Media and Difficult Desserts
A fourteen-year-old procrastinator. A red couch. A demonic television set (apparently it also provides Netflix now), whose only goal is to suck people into trashy-show vortices.
Two sentences in, and the situation already sounds like a recipe for disaster.
As I sit on the sofa, the clock showing half-past 3 on its threatening arms, my darling mother walks up to me, clearly perturbed by how my body could possibly contort itself like that- I think she’s half-convinced I did not come out of her, but instead fell ungracefully from a spaceship, like the one in Krrish 2 (actually scratch that, fully convinced now). Limbs and all, I give her a wan smile, and then, my eyes drift back to the TV. “What on earth are you doing?”, she questions, her eyes flashing with both concern and bemusement. “Watching Masterchef. Why?” I ask, mumbling incoherently. Mumma, slowly chuckling, asks me the following question, and consequently destroys my entire perception of social media and convinces me to give up every form of digital entertainment.
(Well, not really. That would be way unrealistic).
“Why are you watching Australian children make parfaits? Aren’t you ever going to make one yourself?” No, I probably wasn’t. In fact, I barely knew what a parfait was. However, I was going to continue watching the show, because that would mean I get to watch kids half my age worrying about if their desserts would set in time. And that, to me, was far more interesting than worrying about Geometry theorems and if I was going to pass ninth-grade math with marks that wouldn’t make me want to cry an entire isosceles triangle-shaped river.
However, that did get me thinking: Why do we spend so much time consuming content that barely serves a purpose for us? Instead of using it for worthwhile things that will stimulate us intellectually, we watch Buzzfeed employees eat the entire menu of McDonald’s - something that gives us no knowledge other than useless advice like “do not order the number six with cheese”.
This little phenomenon has a name for it: Mindless scrolling. As much as I hate to admit it, my mother was right. Our generation has practically grown up with the technology that we continuously see evolving, much like our own selves. We carry our phones with us everywhere we go, and in case of the pandemic, we lounge around in our beds and watch 15 hours of Tiktok.
According to research, the behaviour that is associated with the need to constantly stay connected is explained by the concept of the Fear of Missing Out. It is defined as “pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”. This tendency of ours causes us to be on our phones 24/7, even if there is not necessarily a reason for us to do so. The action of refreshing our feeds and instantly receiving new content triggers the release of dopamine, a chemical in our brains that is released “after pleasure and reward-seeking behaviours”. These dopamine hits keep us wanting more, and because refreshing our feeds is so easy and accessible, we continue doing it.
We know why we constantly scroll. We know how it affects us negatively. But the real question is this- how do we stop?
Sometimes it takes the most minimal effort to escape the four walls of your room, and the fourteen-inch screen you have trapped yourself in voluntarily. Go read. Try to play that song you’ve been practising on the guitar. Attempt to ride the scooter that your parents gave you on your eleventh birthday, and subsequently scrape your shin while you curse the gods above for giving those things metal edges.
I’m going to learn how to make that parfait.
Of India, by an Indian, for Indians
I have a lot of things to say about India that would be considered, for lack of a better word, unkind. Actually, scrap that, there is a better word: sedition. And while I’d love to write an article regarding all those things, I’m pretty worried for my well being and the well being of those around me. So I decided that for Independence Day (well, a week after Independence Day, but let’s just overlook that for now), I’d come up with a list of small things I like about being an Indian.
Number one: Indian soap operas are the peak of art.
Controversial opinion, right? Well, think about it a little more. TV shows are either supposed to make you laugh, compress tons of action into minutes of content, or make you feel comfortable. The mega-whirring, jarring cuts that depict the same incident (according to authentic studies, this “incident” is an aunty dropping a plate/cup 90% of the time) in different camera angles and different colour schemes have the comedy and action factors locked down! As for the comfort, you can’t deny that there’s some sense of charm and positivity you can derive from watching a grandparent genuinely enjoy soap operas.
Number two: All Indian movies are musicals.
It’s not everyday that you come across a Hollywood movie with authentic music and extravagant dance scenes; in fact, the folks over at America™ dedicate a whole genre to that kind of film. We don’t do that here. Every single box office banger I’ve seen has at least 10 songs on it, at least half of which are certified bangers (and by this, I mean Rowdy Baby specifically). Ponder over that for a minute and tell me that Hollywood movies are “better”.
Number three: We have some beautiful slang.
My house is a place wherein I am regularly called a donkey (endearingly) and told quite often that I have high cholesterol (again, endearingly). Amongst my friend circle, I’ve also been called a cheater-cock, and been told by tens of people that I’m a tubelight. Various teachers have accused me of eating their brains and/or sitting on their heads, neither of which I’ve done even once. Memorizing things became “by-hearting” and “mugging up”, assurances turned into “pakka” and “mother promise”, and Sushant Singh Rajput turned into “an important piece of news”. Wacky, right?
Number four: Auto-rickshaws are inarguably the best mode of transport.
I learnt very recently that auto-rickshaws were just an Indian thing, which absolutely baffled my mind. It’s not very often that I say foreign countries should learn from us, but I have no idea why other countries don’t have autos. They’re economical, quick, and fun to ride. They also have three wheels, and if you’ve read previous articles of mine, you’ll know I like that number a tad bit. Plus, trying to seat myself on one-fourth of the front seat of a share auto so I can travel 2 kilometres for the cost of 5 rupees is a memory that gives me more delight than I can express in words.
Number five: We have the best stand-up comedians.
If you’ve watched Comicstaan, you’re probably gaping at this point in pure disbelief, and I don’t really blame you - that show’s about as funny as your grandmother’s WhatsApp forwards. I am here, however, to tell you that Comicstaan is about as good an indicator of Indian stand-up as India is of democracy, and that the stand-up artists we have are just better than those of any other country. Sure, John Mulaney’s funny or whatever, but I will take to my grave that nothing is funnier than Rahul Subramanian encouraging a crowd of a hundred people to scream like a banshee whenever a DJ asks them to “make some noise.” Also, Kanan Gill.
Number six: Food.
You all saw this coming, and I couldn’t not include it. Indian food is as integral to contemporary Indian culture as misinformation, and we treasure it wholeheartedly. In fact, it’s one of the only things that everyone in our country relates to (that and the aforementioned misinformation) - whether you’re young or old, Hindu or Muslim, North Indian or South Indian, as long as you’re human, you’d find it impossible to deny a nice, crispy dosa. The power of urad dal, am I right?
And there ends the list.
I’ve been trying for a while to justify this article with a central motive, or a central theme to tie this all together with a nice clean bow. But maybe there isn’t one. Maybe it’s fruitless to try and convince you that there’s stuff to cherish about India. Maybe you really just don’t care about soap operas when colonisation ripped us apart and exacerbated discrimination and segregation in our country. Maybe you couldn’t give a shit about auto-rickshaws when our Government is literally systematically tearing apart the pillars that hold our democracy up.
And I don’t blame you. I like to imagine that these little things that I’ve talked about are forces that take a group of diverse people and give us something to be proud of, but I’m probably wrong. They might just be lone threads by which we’re all hanging to forge a sense of belonging amidst the divisive environment we’re in. As we begin to doubt whether the country we’re living in is truly good, it’s easy to say “Of course it is! Where else would you find a Kenny Sebastian?” but it’s harder to scrape past the sensationalism and ask ourselves whether India really is what we think it is.
But hey, most importantly, if you’re a fan of Rahul Subramanian, let’s talk. For the sake of our nation. <3
Three, Threes and Triplets
I’d like to start this article off by making you listen to two familiar audio clips; they’re both around 10-15 seconds long, and I want you to try to identify one pattern that they have in common. You can listen to it a few times to find the similarity (or just because they’re pretty good).
You’ve probably noticed that they’re both iconic modern punk emo anthems, but they also share an interesting rhythmic structure, and it all centers around a number known for being one of the most important numbers - a number that was once considered to be “magical” - the number 3.
Let’s break that down a bit further. The first audio clip is from Juice WRLD’s Lucid Dreams, and the rhythm moves in sets of threes: “I have these / lu-cid dreams / where I can’t / move a thing...” Those 3-syllable phrases provide an incredibly catchy and memorable flow.
The second audio clip is from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and it also utilizes the same triplet (three-note) rhythm. The pianist plays three notes every beat, making the melody line recognizable and easily replicable. It’s simplistic, and yet it catches the listener’s attention.
This “rule of three” is much more general than we think. The number three is embedded into the fabric of art. Be it music, literature, or architecture, our mind derives some specific, indescribable pleasure from the number 3, multiples of threes, or divisions of threes.
Think about it: a story has three parts: a beginning, middle, and an end. Most songs center around a verse-chorus-bridge form, and classical music often relied on exposition, restatement, and development. Even photography follows the rule of thirds to determine image composition.
People have provided tons of theories as to why this phenomenon exists - some of them are philosophical, some of them are psychological, and some of them are spiritual. Their one uniting factor, though, is that I was too lazy to read about them. Also, I have a better hypothesis.
Throughout history, humanity was ruled by binaries. We loved talking about things in terms of pairs. For every thing or person, there existed its partner - David and Goliath, patricians and plebeians, the USA and the USSR. These pairs seemed to satisfy us quite a bit back then.
As time went on, though, disillusionment with these binaries only rose. The importance placed on the number 2 led to social and political power structures (bourgeoisie and proletariat) and limited our freedom of expression (the gender binary). Plus, we just started to get bored.
Some of us thought, “Well, if these binaries blow so hard, why don’t we just, like, stop categorizing things?” And in a more political and social context, that’s an appropriate solution! When it comes to the arts, though, it isn’t as easy as that - we can’t just remove things.
People, being the ever-intuitive geniuses that we are, decided that we’d solve our twos problem by just adding one more thing to the mix. Tired of two-act plays? Add a third! Tired of two-note rhythms? Add a triplet instead! Is bread and butter too monotonous? Add a bar of soap!
The importance of 3 is, oddly enough, best demonstrated by the show “Never Have I Ever,” and the love triangle existing within it. Our protagonist Devi is, at different times (mostly), romantically involved with her academic rival, Ben, and her friend and Hot Guy™, Paxton.
While Ananya and I may argue a lot about who’s better for Devi (she’s on Team Ben for some reason? It’s honestly a miracle that this column still exists), I think we’d both agree that that’s what makes it entertaining. Without three people, the story just becomes formulaic and boring.
That’s why I think humans love the number 3 so much - it subverts so many of the tropes and ideas we’ve built around pairs by doing something as simple as adding one more element. In a world filled with monotony, it manages to be fresh, and it manages to keep things interesting.
For a while, at least. With the way the world is progressing right now, I think I know exactly how this is going to play out. We’ve started to use 3 so much that it is, unfortunately, turning into the new 2. I predict that by 2035 we’ll grow tired of it, and we’ll turn to the number 4 for innovation.
All rom-coms will inarguably be filled with love trapeziums (trapezia?), we’ll add a fourth primary colour, and we’ll start wearing four-piece suits. But for me, the best part is that we’ll finally come to the long overdue realization that string quartets were centuries ahead of their time.
We probably won’t care about the number 3 at that point, so I like to savour our time with the number while it lasts. Every once in a while, I like to play a little game with my own squishy head motor that I call a brain by looking around me and making a mental list of all the triplets I see.
So if you’re ever feeling bored, I’d suggest you do the same. In fact, you can start right here! I’ve made sure to smear this article with threes just for your reading pleasure. You might even come across some things I didn’t intend to do - after all, the number 3 is everywhere. <3
Off the Rack, In the Heap: Are Our Clothes Destroying the Planet
Here’s the thing: Fast fashion kinda, sorta, most definitely, sucks.
We write a lot about capitalism and the evils it bears on our column here (I promise it is only Shravan. What do you mean I do too? I most definitely do not have a copy of The Communist Manifesto lying on my desk, waiting to be read right after I finish listening to the NPR podcast about Karl Marx. That’s not me). A system (i.e., the free-market) that is this entrenched in the society we live in is bound to affect our lives in every sector, and one of them just so happens to be a popular, yet very brushed-under-the-carpet part of our lives: Fashion.
It doesn’t matter what level of literacy you are in terms of fashion: Whether you have an entire vision board dedicated to the clothes you want to buy next season (and watch Bestdressed. If you do, I am begging you to befriend me), or you reluctantly tag along with your mother to the mall at the end of every year because your ‘old clothes look very faded’, we all contribute to fast fashion in some way or the other. In some way or the other, we contribute to several global issues that plague society as we know it today: child labour, pollution and contamination, exploitation. The thing is, it’s hard not to, right?
According to a 2019 report that investigated working conditions in the sector, India’s garment makers directly employ about 12.9 million people in factories and millions more outside, including their own homes. Sadly, a vast majority of these workers (some also happen to be children) are employed in sweatshops, and the conditions that they have to work in are beyond appalling. With meagre wages and barely any benefits, they live very hard lives.
Big corporations, such as H&M and Shein have been called out repeatedly for not only using unethical practices in their stores, but also stealing designs from several small businesses. And, as everyone may know, fashion is one of the biggest contributors to landfills and the average consumer throws away 60 percent of their clothes within one year. The hellish cherry on top is that there is absolutely no difference between the Zara shirt you’d buy and one from any other store- they are made at the same place and with the same materials!
After listening to all of this statistical jargon, trying to completely avoid big brands sounds great on paper, but in reality, it’s probably not fully feasible. A lot of people counterpoint that there’s nothing we can do about it; where else can you buy from?
Because I just simply love arguing with people, here’s my counter-counterpoint (is that a word?) to that- Thrift Stores! There are so many small businesses, particularly on Instagram, that sell clothes owned by real people, and also ones that are sourced locally. The pieces that they sell are, more often than not, much more in-trend than fast fashion brands, as the people that them are younger and more aware of their customer’s wants (Also, our whitewashed selves also love the idea of doing as the American Youtubers do, and hence, we love the idea of thrifting. Whether that’s a good thing or bad, I’ll leave for you to decide).
Even if we don’t have the means to support these businesses, the least we can do is try to recycle the clothes we presently own. With the internet at our disposal, we can find a gazillion ways to upcycle them from videos online, and they’re all relatively easy! Whether you are a sporadic Mister Maker watcher or Mister Maker himself, all of the transformations are straightforward and easy to follow.
Although it’s much easier said than done, there are a million and one ways we can all do the bare minimum, and that is changing our lifestyle on an individual level, even if it is just by a little. All we can do is encourage people to buy sustainably, and remind them that Goddess Ashley is watching over them (in a non-threatening, but encouraging-us-to-do-the-right-thing way, of course). :D
Minimalism: Capitalism-stein's Monster
I love to start my articles off by asking readers a question, but this time I’ll make it a bit more interactive and begin with a game. Today’s game is called “How Many Things Do I Have?”, and as you may guess, it’s pretty self-explanatory. To play the game, all you need to do is try to come up with an arbitrary estimate for the number of items that are currently in your house (an item is counted as just anything that’s physically perceptible). Seems simple enough, right?
Maybe you’re thinking a few hundred, maybe even a thousand. Some of you might even think of higher four-digit figures. It’s at this point in the game when I, as the host, step in to tell you that you’re probably wrong. By quite a bit.
The number of things in an average Indian household is approximately 30,000! And depending on geographical location, the estimates can get as high as 300,000. So chances are, your answer lies somewhere in that range. And that’s... a lot.
And you’ve probably experienced the results of this abundance of items before! At times, it’s scarily palpable that you have too many things, and the things you own define you. Especially in an environment where a large part of your merit is judged by your flagrant displays of affluence, it’s only natural to sense that the artifacts you’re meant to own own you instead. That beckons the question: How do you detach your self-worth from the size of your material possessions?
The philosophy of simple living, or minimalism as it’s more famously known, offers perhaps the simplest answer to that question: just get rid of your things. Stop buying things unless you absolutely need to. Satisfy yourself with what you have instead of seeking out more.
Minimalism immediately offers some obvious benefits: you save money, you do your bit for the environment, and become more self-sufficient; maybe you become happier too. But I’d like to go beyond a surface-level exploration of minimalism, and recognize how it interacts with my arch-nemesis, capitalism (as you’ve probably ascertained from my previous articles).
You’ve probably heard of Frankenstein - scientist man creates powerful creature that becomes too powerful and winds up working against him; scientist man then dies as a result, prompting creature to avow death.
That’s how I envision the relationship between capitalism and minimalism. Capitalism birthed minimalism, and minimalism, as an alternative to capitalism, now has the power to weaken it. The second part of that sentence seems logical enough - capitalist economics is motivated by consumer expenditure, and buying less could, on a large scale, erode a free market.
The first part might be a bit confusing though. Minimalism seems like quite the contrarian to the principles of capitalism; it results in a lack of consumer ownership, uncompetitive markets, and low private profits. So how does capitalism cause minimalism? I’ll try to explain this with an analogy.
Going on a diet is different from not being able to afford food. While both options involve you eating less, going on a diet is a choice - you have the option to eat more, you just choose not to. Meanwhile, not being able to afford food isn’t a choice; it’s forced upon you.
In the same way that you need to have enough money to afford non-dietary food to be able to choose a diet, you need to have the option to not be a minimalist to choose minimalism.
Because that’s what minimalism and capitalism are: two intertwined pathways into two vastly different worlds. The option to live a non-minimalist, wealthy lifestyle is what makes it impressive to opt for minimalism instead; the lavish life that capitalism promises allows for that option. Without capitalism, that choice doesn’t exist, and so, neither does minimalism. When capitalism dies, minimalism goes along with it too.
So no, minimalism isn’t some underground socialist revolution - it’s a very deliberate choice made possible by consumerism - they’re two sides of the same coin. That doesn’t mean minimalism is just for the uber-wealthy, though; it can be an empowering life choice, especially for poorer people who co-opt the ideology.
The whole “conflict” between minimalism and capitalism brings to mind a poem you’ve all heard way too many times: The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood - one road being a materialistic lifestyle, and the other being its minimalist counterpart. They both emerged from capitalism, but they’re both two separate roads altogether.
Everyone living in a capitalist environment has to walk one of those roads, and they have the option to do either one freely. So when the time comes for you to pick (and I’m willing to bet that it will), try not to follow the rich, elitist pricks that choose wealth and possessions. Take the road less traveled by. It probably won’t destroy capitalism, but to you, it’ll make all the difference. <3
(props to those of you that caught the paragraph thing)
A reddit post that explains capitalism and minimalism better than I could: https://www.reddit.com/r/minimalist/comments/7o7hh2/capitalism_and_minimalism
Memes, Politics and the Youth
When you look at this meme, what exactly do you see? Well, you notice a quite strong-looking dog that represents old rap music, and a crying, weak dog that represents its modern counterpart. So, what’s the natural conclusion you draw from this meme? Old rap music is superior to what you hear today.. Now, your brain has already repackaged the content of this meme into the sentence “90s hip-hop is superior to modern hip-hop” and stored it in your memory, and if you’re not too acquainted with rap music, that becomes your opinion on it. It’s that simple.
That same idea can be (and has been) co-opted by various political organizations - imagine an Indian anarchist group got a hold of that meme template, and edited it to make the strong dog represent “absolute human freedom”, and the weak dog represent “the current Indian Government”. Boom! The innocent meme that once contrasted the different eras of rap music is now a piece of anti-establishmentarian propaganda (that’s a big word that I like using, it really just means anti-Government).
There’s a reason political memes are so popular and so influential - they’re simple and funny. They’re a method of communication. They have the capacity to get people to care about things, and formulate opinions, especially young, impressionable people who don’t really have views on complex political topics. And in some ways, that’s great! Encouraging the generation of the future to rise up against a government that mistreats them is incredibly important to the cause of human freedom, and it’s easier to approach adolescents through memes than it is to get them to read 800-word articles (okay yeah, I see the irony here). However, it’s not all good.
Let’s break down a right-wing meme (just for fun, but also to cleverly segue into my next point):
Aside from the fact that this meme is... stupid (naturally, I found it on Twitter), it’s a perfect example of the tactic employed by political parties and organizations, particularly conservative, right-wing ones. You might notice that this meme doesn’t really have any ‘content’, it just makes fun of leftist-progressives. And that’s a punchline! That’s the meme! This meme abuses the fact that memes are simple and funny to deliver a meaningless joke with no reasoning. The question “why are leftist-progressives bad?” isn’t answered at all. However, the worst part is that this kind of meme is actually successful. It can genuinely convince the youth that leftist-progressives aren’t smart without providing any sort of justification as to why that’s so.
That leads us to the main problem with memes having such a political influence: it’s nearly impossible to summarize any political event or personality in one picture, and so it’s inevitable that all political memes will be overly biased or fabricated. In a system where political memes are meant to encourage the youth, they turn into competitive Ad Hominem attacks where the purpose of the meme isn’t to critique or support a policy or idea, but rather to make fun of the opposing ideology. And that’s all fine when memes are just light-hearted Shrek photos about your math homework (I’m 15, I swear), but when it comes to politics, that amount of power is dangerous, especially when it falls into the wrong hands. So, we’re probably better off if we see memes as comedic entertainment rather than extracting some political agenda from them.
However, that isn’t to say comedy shouldn’t be political! Wanting to express political opinions in a humorous or entertaining way is great, and I love doing that myself. Without compromising knowledge for satire, comedy with a social message can be a genuinely good way to recruit young people into politics and activism. And to the reader, I have one final thing to say: the next time you see a political meme, try to refrain from letting that meme formulate your opinion. Do your research responsibly, read unbiased sources, and obtain actual information.
And if that’s too much, just move on to the next meme and have an apolitical laugh. <3
Of Ghosts and Goblins: What Makes Studio Ghibli Magical
I have never watched a single episode of Dragon Ball Z.
As horrifying as that may be to some of you, it is true. As several classmates of mine squabbled over whether L from Death Note was truly a bad person, and drew that one symbol from Naruto, I remained indifferent. Every other day, a friend of mine would grovel at my feet and ask me to watch an anime show that they adored. Although I did try to watch some of the popular ones, such as One Piece, I never became as engrossed as my friends were when it came to anime. However, that steadily turned into obsession as I started watching Ghibli.
It was an ordinary Sunday, not particularly different from the one before. My dad came into my room, asking me if I wanted to watch a movie. Him, being a fanatic of manga and anime shows and whatnot, suggested we watch a Studio Ghibli film. Reluctantly, I said yes, so as to not hurt his feelings (don’t blame me, it was hours of trashy Bollywood movies that led me to lose trust in my parents’ taste). As I sat there, my feet curled up in one-size-too-large socks, I intently watched My Neighbor Totoro, my eyes glued to the computer. And that was how I knew I was going to be enchanted by and hooked forever onto the pure magic that was Ghibli.
An animation studio based in Koganei, Japan, Studio Ghibli is one that has produced various acclaimed movies, such as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. They have been celebrated throughout the world for their beautiful stories and breathtaking art. Directed by Miyazaki Hayao, the art company has received various forms of acclamation, including 5 Academy Award nominations, and even a win. Since its conception in 1985, it has continually stunned everyone, from casual movie enthusiasts to recognised critics. To this day, five of their films are amongst the top 10 highest-grossing anime movies worldwide, an accomplishment that is nearly impossible to achieve.
So, what’s their secret sauce?
Although there are a lot of moving parts here, the main reason as to why their work is so successful is crystal clear: imagination. Hayao, the brains of the enterprise, is somehow simultaneously practical and imaginative, creating an equilibrium that is just right for every piece of art that he makes. His creations are on another level - the intricate worlds he creates become more and more populated with different imaginary characters, and some peculiar people. An interesting thing to note is that he never starts with a storyline of any sort; the pictures he creates slowly weave into one another, and that is how a Studio Ghibli animation is formed.
Although imagination and creativity is one aspect, a lot has to be said about the art style that we continue to see in their movies. Anyone who has watched more than 1 Ghibli movie will admit that there is something about the art style, the watercolours, and the characters that’s distinct and identifiable. Hayao Miyazaki’s art style is unique and recognisable, and it combines both Japanese (anime/manga) and American animation together. Many of his films are diversely stylized, mainly due to the fact that Miyazaki travelled to many different places as a child. Kiki’s Delivery Service, an early work of his, is set in Kokiro, a fictional town that was based upon an exquisite blend of different European cities, such as Stockholm, Lisbon, Paris, and others. The atmosphere, something that is integral to these movies, feeds into the deep worlds and settings that are created in Japanese animation.
Lastly, the characters. While in modern media, we usually see characters as flawless creations of beauty, brains, and perfection, we witness something slightly different in Miyazaki’s works. With a range of different characters and creatures, there is versatility in each film, and different kinds of people are portrayed in different movies. Every character is flawed in some way, whether it is a naive little girl, or a scheming old woman (but she also runs a bathhouse for monsters, which is pretty cool). They have certain traits in their storylines, their mannerisms, and their personalities that we also possess, and we hold on to them, for we see ourselves in the ones we see through a screen. The rich and interesting storylines will make sure you have an emotional attachment to them, and that some form of emotion is invoked in you every time.
All in all, there’s just something about these films. Although we can get into the nitty-gritties and analyze every detail that makes them what they are, it’s really quite simple as to why they capture our hearts. These universes, a tether to our own fairytale-filled childhoods, give us a new creature to love and a new world to escape to, one simple sketch at a time.