One of my favorite questions to come up in conversation is “what’s the one thing you won’t leave home without?” Clearly the answer usually varies, but it’s always tremendously satisfying if there ever is any sort of continuity.
I lived in the Galapagos in 2010-2011, on an Island with one small mostly full of surfers, beach bums, and government employees (Whose behavior would more appropriately put them in one of the first two groups). A hammock was the most popular response I got to this question. Clichéd, yes, but also logical. In a place that averages about a billion degrees centigrade, it’s always sunny, and there’s little to do but surf and sleep, the services a hammock provides are indispensable. Blanket, bed, sun protection, backpack, towel, it pretty much has you covered.
In Africa I was in a village that abutted dense rainforest. There was an average annual rainfall of about 6 meters. Yes, 6M (I measured). There, the jungle reclaims things quickly, so if you want to farm, build a house, or stand in one place for more than a few minutes, you better have a way to keep the vegetation at bay. Therefore, when asked, “what’s the most useful thing you take with you when you leave the house?” the largest response I got was “a machete.” Machetes have gotten a bad reputation, now conjuring images of war and destruction. For the most part nowadays that’s totally off the mark. In rural life, machetes are extremely useful for anything from agriculture to construction. Clearly, it would be a bit more troublesome if this was the answer given in a place like Lagos or Nairobi, but for subsistence farmers and jungle dwellers, a machete is the tool of choice.
In India I’ve only asked a few people this question. With a population of over a billion, I’d probably find more than a few answers. Regardless, of the people I’ve asked no one has refuted the usefulness and all around versatility of a newspaper. I thought it was strange when I first heard this, but since I’ve started to pay more attention I’ve become a complete newspaper convert.
What CAN’T you do with a newspaper? Here are some of the top uses of newspapers (in no particular order) that have been proved by scientists.
1.) READABLE. Yes! In fact, historically speaking, it has one of the main ways to disseminate information. Although nowadays it seems that actually reading the newspaper is probably just a bonus. They make a great interlude from Jewel Quest, Fruit Ninja, or whatever application on your phone is currently making you go cross-eyed.
2.) WEARABLE. Unpredictable weather? Newspaper to the rescue. Whether it’s rain, sun, or biting cold, a newspaper has you covered. Wear it on your head, stuff it in your shoes, or wrap it around yourself as a shirt to keep warm. I haven’t done this personally, but I do have a lot of anecdotal evidence. Be careful though, apparently it works so well that you might find yourself embarrassingly sweating through the sports section.
3.) EDIBLE. Did you know that Newspapers contain 12 essential inks and vital ruffage? Just science, really. No place to cut veggies? Whip out that front page and voila! Cutting board. No plate for that Daal Tadka? Problem solved. I’ve even had vendors remove items from their original packaging and put them in nice little handmade newspaper containers. The only downside to this is that I can now guess the grease content in Masala Munch.
4.) COMFORTABLE. Running out of adjectives here… but never new uses for newspaper!! Through down some NP in the railway station to sit or lie on and it’s like you’re in the Oberoi. Sitting or lying on a sketchy surface is made infinitely better by first laying down some newspaper. This is probably the most important use that I’ve seen, and essential if you’re travelling. I think the floor of some train stations actually degraded years ago, and is now just paper-mached together with old newspapers.
5.) RECYCLEABLE. Our newspaper guy buys back our newspaper for a significant portion of what it cost us to get it delivered. Pretty sweet deal considering they’re delivered to our doorstep daily.
6.) I hear they make tolerable TP? I can’t really imagine that, but it’s the word on the street…
In lieu of sweeping generalizations, I’ll just say that I don’t think I’ve been to a “developing” country that places so much emphasis on news, writing, and media. Is it an indicator of the apparent emphasis on education in an intensely competitive job market? The paradox of a relatively well informed populace still heavily influenced but a seemingly dubious and arcane government? A culture mistakenly labeled as submissive actually housing a huge number of well-informed and strongly opinionated people? I have no idea. It really makes India a fascinating place. The equation knowledge=power comes to mind, but seems to translate in a way that’s far from linear. Literacy is a huge issue for a very large group of Indians, but I find many people’s reverence for the written word commendable if not inspiring. It’s hard to argue the contrary in a country that has one of the last hand-written newspapers in existence. Hopefully, these sources of information that are so surprisingly ubiquitous are making the transition from information exchange to catalyst for meaningful change.