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Far from the madding crowd: The great escape into literature

When the world gets too much to bear, it’s time to retreat to your ‘happy place’, writes Seema Goswami

brunch Updated: Nov 19, 2016 20:33 IST
Seema Goswami
Donald Trump

Seeking solace in a book: There is nothing like comfort reading to make you feel better about yourself and the state of the world(SHUTTERSTOCK)

Yes, I know exactly how you feel. It seems like the world has gone to hell in a handbasket. And you don’t know how you’re going to get through the next month, the next year, let alone the rest of your life.

You’ve spent days trying to live off the loose change you’ve scrounged from around the house. Or you spent endless hours queuing at the bank or at an ATM to get access to your own money. Donald Trump (Donald Trump!) is the new President of the United States. Leonard Cohen died. The list of misfortunes and tragedies seems endless.

So how do we survive in this world, which has begun to seem like such a nasty, brutish place?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I try and do so by going to my ‘happy place’. Which is often not a place at all but a state of mind I achieve by doing what pleases me best.

Here are just some of the things I have been doing over the last week or so to achieve ‘happy place’ status.

* If you can’t stand the heat, get back into the kitchen: There is something therapeutic about stirring a pot of rice on the stove to make a comforting risotto for dinner. Or carefully measuring out the ingredients of a gooey chocolate cake and concentrating on getting the mixture just right. Or even using the first methi of the season to make theplas for breakfast. If all this seems like too much work to you, then crack open a few eggs, add a dash of double cream, salt, pepper, herbs, and stir slowly over very low heat. Pile the mixture on to hot, buttered toast. The world’s troubles will recede with every mouthful.

* Get lost in the pages of an old book: There is nothing like comfort reading to make you feel better about yourself and the state of the world. And when the horrors of the world threaten to overwhelm, I retreat to the books of my childhood. I just finished re-reading Black Beauty, a birthday present from a young friend who knows me too well. And now I have started on Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series, in the hope that the adventures of Darrell Rivers and gang will keep me from obsessing over President Trump (yes, yes, I know he’s not my President, but that doesn’t make it any easier). Word of caution: may be a good idea to stay away from the Harry Potter series. All those Voldemort references might come crashing back.

* Out of the mouths of babes: Spend time with children. Read them stories. Listen to what they got up to in school. Ask them to tell you the latest jokes they heard in class. Get them to share their worries and fears; if nothing else, that will put your worries and fears in perspective. If you don’t have any kids of your own, don’t worry. This is an emergency and you are allowed to borrow them from friends and family. There is nothing like listening to the inconsequential chatter that emerges from children to make you forget the cares of the grown-up universe. (Note: if there are no children handy, just head for the nearest park and watch the kids at play. Their screams and shouts of pleasure will make you feel better about the state of the world.)

* Schedule a digital detox: If you can’t stay offline during the day because of the nature of your work, that’s fine. But once you get home, put away the smartphone and tune out the constant chatter of the outside world. Don’t peek in to review your friends’ status updates on Facebook. Don’t keep trawling twitter to see (and outrage about) what’s happening in the world. Don’t even check Instagram to see those carefully-filtered images of perfectly-curated lives. Let the outside world fade away while you listen to music, read a book, or just talk to your loved ones.

* Watch re-runs of your favourite feel-good TV shows: My own go-to show when depressed is Friends, which I have now seen so many times that I know entire episodes by heart. Modern Family, with its blended families and cute kids, serves as another emotional retreat. And of late, I have taken to binge-watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix as well, while sneaking in a few episodes of Will and Grace. There is certain comfort in retreating to a parallel universe where nothing really bad happens, and there are no nasty surprises because you know exactly what’s coming next.

Well, that’s just a small sample of the many things I did to try and stay sane while the world seemed to run mad. But if none of them work for you, then you could always go to your actual ‘happy place’ and recover your equilibrium. Walk down the flower-edged paths of your favourite park. Take a day trip to the beach with a picnic basket of your favourite treats. Or retreat to the mountains for a weekend of quiet and calm.

And take comfort in the thought that whatever happens, the sun will rise again tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that. It may seem like the world has ended, but you will soon discover that the reports of its demise were vastly exaggerated.

From HT Brunch, November 20, 2016

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