Saturday, January 3, 2015

Flawed Stories, Fallen Idols and Coming of Age

There was a time when I was in love with newspapers. I loved reading newspapers, as many as I could get my hands on, reading everything I could, even if I was repeating a story from another newspaper. I'd love to tell you that this was about trying to see a story from every possible angle and get the richness of five viewpoints in my little pre-teenage to teenaged head, but the honest truth is that I just got drawn to them automatically. There was a point when we used to get six newspapers at home. Except for the Hindi newspaper, I used to read all the other newspapers cover to cover. Of course, I couldn't read all of them altogether at once. So that's where I developed that habit of screening and making mental notes on signals that each piece sent up. To this day the habit helps me get through articles without actually reading them. It also helps understand article and story structures in intimate ways.

Anyhow, digressions aside, newspapers were my windows to the world. That was till I grew sick of them. Again, I'd love to tell you that there was a rational process to it, but the truth is that I had had enough.

Stories are never made in a linear fashion. Never, ever, in the way newspaper articles or books or history texts make them out to be. Causality is never unmuddled and highly debatable. Grey is the colour history texts need to be written in. Black should be reserved only for tombstones, which have an obligation to present only one version of the story. Newspapers, ironically, with the colour they add superficially, tend to take everything more towards black and white. Consider the story of Tesla, for instance. The most popular version of the story is that Elon Musk was the one who had the greatest role in getting the company to where it is. The truth is probably more debatable. Here is that story, or atleast the best version I know of it. Another case in point is the story of Twitter.

These are more popular stories that I've picked up to highlight a point. Imagine stories which don't have stakeholders willing to get things right at the source because it is expensive, difficult to understand and just not in tune with the news cycle format or the simple linearity that books and texts are faultily designed to follow.

A result of all of this has been a slow and disappointing realization - my version of the world is flawed by my standards. Deeply flawed. The idolization and adulation I have for certain people is based on such linear, uncomplicated stories which might be written by not-so-thorough writers. It's almost like I'm collecting filtered water at the end of the tap, with full trust that everyone along the way has done the best job to keep it drinkable and that my act only adds to its quality, while the truth might be that the source itself is highly contaminated, to say nothing of what else might have happened along the way.

Maybe this is what they refer to as "growing up" or "coming of age". Thankfully, it also comes with a realization that trust can rarely be unconditional. In a sense, it is a beginning of a new kind of way to understand the world, where the storytellers are subject to as rigorous an examination as the story itself. It's a little more difficult - newspapers, books, people, everything and everyone has to be critically seen in that light. With people, it becomes more muddled - when an act is committed, it has consequences. The idea is to backtrack and assign trust based on intentionality.

So how does it work in the real world? Friends don't get it. Partners go bonkers with the fastidiousness and obsession with trivial details. But it helps calm that thing inside which is always pushing me to do the right thing, whatever it is at that point in time, to the best of my understanding. Of course, it might be wrong later. But everything I'd do will be praised or criticised, and with me at the helm, there will be extreme reactions. The only thing that'd help me get closure on anything is the knowledge that at the time the act was committed, I did the right thing.

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