I’m surprised to learn that it took a survey spanning 52 nations and 25,000 people to establish that owning a car or a TV hikes your risk of getting a heart attack by 27%. This is a prime example of pointless science, since it is generally accepted that owning anything at all is 100% guaranteed to reduce your life span.
The Interheart study calibrates the dangers posed by automobiles, elevators, escalators, TVs and computers, which are designed to make life easier but conspire to promote a sedentary lifestyle, with heart-stopping effects. But the larger reality is that everything we own is designed to irritate us and give us tachycardia.
The car seduces us away from bipedalism towards high-speed fundamentalism, but what I can’t take sitting down is the vast panoply of complications it comes with. There are authorities to satisfy, rules to comply with and if it ever goes wrong, you can’t just get under the hood like your ancestors did. The innards are so complicated that only a company specialist can engage them in battle. And the paperwork that ensues is simply incomprehensible. It’s a package designed to provoke and oppress.
I look about me at my possessions. And the millions of cables, chargers, manuals in five languages and other tackle that they came with. All of them get on my nerves, even the apartment which houses this passel of useless things. You can tell it’s a late 20th century Delhi apartment by the fact that everything is just a little out of true - the doors, the windows, even the walls. This house is working up the courage to turn into an Escher print.
And yet I wouldn’t dream of moving. I fear novelty because it means new things to learn and be irritated by. The layout of a new house, the quirks of a new car, the fiddly little buttons on modern smartphones. I do not intend to reduce my life expectancy by submitting to novelty. I’ll let my present car and TV set adjust my use by date. Maybe, just to defy fate, I’ll switch to a yoga channel and heighten my life expectancy.
Curiously, no one talks of the oldest threat to the active lifestyle — the written word. The word ‘bookish’ seems to have gone out of circulation. It used to describe precisely the person who now sits all day in front of a blaring television set — sedentary, etiolated, enervated and possibly glandular. The only difference is that the person who likes to curl up with a good book is typically skinny, while the couch potato is obese.
Perhaps I’m thinking books because this time next week, thousands of enervated and etiolated humans will jet off to Jaipur for the most happening literary festival east of Suez. But we were talking lifestyle. Curiously, I find that scores of my friends have all the lifestyle diseases you can name but not much of a lifestyle.
Despite what the latest research claims, you don’t need to own much in order to drop dead under the burden of living. Of course, similar research on homelessness would reveal that owning nothing is at least as lethal. Life is its own enemy, that’s all.
( Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine )
The views expressed by the author are personal