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The library in your last term

The monotony can be jarring. I think when you are young, you always get the tendency to fidget. Knowing that a large proportion of your life is being decided in the next few years, and that the rest of it is going to be much less exciting (potentially), it does make you itch. Not necessarily for anything in particular, actually quite the opposite. You just don’t want to get settled down too quickly and so you move and flit more in your decision making.

You won’t eat dinner at the same time every day, and you’ll set an alarm but you’re definitely sleeping in most mornings. You can be persuaded to go out and do things that you otherwise wouldn’t even entertain. You are more inclined to travel, because you don’t think you have seen or experienced enough yet. You are constantly reminded that other people ARE, and that you can see it on any social networking app you have on your phone. Photographs, anecdotes, throw backs and videos of the best parts of everything, from nearly 2,000 “friends”. We are all guilty of it.

Every day for the past two-and-a-half years, you have been told that the world of work (and inevitably routine) is very far away. Every essay can be done half an hour before the deadline and you can balance your time by making 60 per cent of your lectures and 100 per cent of everything else you would much rather be doing. You can pretty much do what you want, eat what you feel like and wake up (and nap) whenever you feel it is necessary.

Oh, but then the real world hits you. The prospect of getting a decent degree looms and you make your way to the library. You remember that you need to have breakfast in the morning and make time to pack a lunch. It becomes clear that pasta is going to be a bigger part of your weekly shop than alcohol for the foreseeable future. You have a bed time, because you have to get up early and do work. Reading is a thing, and you haven’t done enough of it. Graduation is just around the corner, and whether you have a job or not, you have to leave the idea of being a student behind.

Sitting in the library, at a desk, for five or more hours a day is the monotony. The slow conclusion that dawns on every finalist: this is what the rest of my life is going to be like. It has been a good run, and the nights out have been fantastic, but this is all ending and I wasn’t ready. I have convinced myself that I am ready to go, that long days of reading and writing about thinkers is not for me, and that the last good bits are already over.

The truth is that without it, I’d probably be a bit of wreck. I haven’t made the most of my lectures and taken the knowledge that I should have done. I have learnt a lot since I’ve been here, but maybe I should have taken it more seriously. There are so many new things that I didn’t get the chance to do or gave up on. Many relationships that I failed to cultivate, or made mistakes with – things I said that I could take back, but that isn’t how this works.

The positive thing is that this feels like a peak. Whether this is just a camp on the way to the summit, or if there is a sharp drop coming, at least I felt the high. The sense of bliss from knowing that something, anything came good with the effort that you put in. And that is what I am going to remember, not this feeling of loss.

So I am jittery, I am itching to leave in once sense and fidgeting in another about what is going to happen. I guess it is the sort of thing that could be quite normal at this age. The only thing that I do know for sure is that regardless of how monotonous and all-consuming this work feels at the moment, it stands at the culmination of the end of my time at university. It is the important last element.

Getting that scroll of paper may be a chore, and these two months will be the most mentally intensive of my life, but it comes with a reward. And some of that reward has come good already. If nothing else, I am going to enjoy this period of learning because it might be the last, at least academic, in a while.

Every time my eyes are starting to close in the library, I am going to read this through again and realise that I’m lucky to be here. And now it’s time to stop taking it for granted and embrace it. Only a little while longer, keep the faith.

You Won’t Be Loved

Responsibility is a very funny thing. It puts you in a position where you can make the difficult decisions, move towards a vision that you are personally invested in and share this with the people around you in the hope that they will walk with you. My leadership style has evolved over the past few years to be more inclusive – to try and empower everyone to fill my shoes regardless of where they stand – it is called servant leadership.

A servant leader is one who chooses to work for his team and not the other way around. It requires an individual to value and weigh up the opinions of those around them, without being scared to make the tough calls when need be. And I think the most effective way to take on any sort of responsibility. To ensure that you value the humanity of the human beings that break their backs for the good of the cause.

However, it is a very lonely experience. The one thing that I have noticed about taking on responsibility this year is that you stand alone and at the front. There are no safety nets or comfort blankets. Whether I have liked it or not, every decision has been a risk that needs to be taken, without being able to make people happy and learning to justify each and every element. It has been a fight against myself and sometimes others. There are no easy wins.

I have lost friends and gained colleagues. The lines become so blurred that you become the face of the responsibility, and that every conversation is about work. The positives are taken for granted with the understanding that these are expectations which needed to be met. The negatives are riddled with ridicule, criticism and personal attack – and you become a brick wall for people to bounce their frustrations off. You wear your heart on your sleeve, but you must keep your emotions locked away. People want to see strength from those at the top, albeit at any personal cost.

Some responsibilities in themselves are a poison chalice, with only the passion and enthusiasm for the cause being the motivation to carry on. Because there is the potential for you to do something amazing, you have to wade through the tough waters first. It doesn’t get easier, but you become tougher, with the conviction that you are doing the right thing; even if it means upsetting those people who matter to you the most.

As a leader, you won’t be loved. You will not be praised for your good decisions, but will be responsible for the bad ones. There are no prizes for the process, and the outcomes are important to share with the team, rather than take on yourself. You will not be thanked, and people will inadvertently take you for granted. A servant leader will get the job done, but no one will really know what happens behind the scenes.

Everyone who fulfils their responsibility will understand these hard truths. It will not have been what they signed up for, but what inevitably becomes reality. We must forgive those that make rash decisions and don’t understand the implications; we must protect those that are vulnerable and need support; and finally, we must love those that won’t love us back. It is our jobs, the burden that we inadvertently chose to accept when we took on the responsibility.

The silver lining is that the people around you will finally realise how much time and effort you went to, to make them happy and spur on their success. When all of the petty arguments evaporate as the wider vision is achieved.

This is a fantastic day and you will cherish it. But by the time they realise, you will have inevitably moved on, and it will be too late.

You are not important, but the vision is. You won’t be loved, but you will be successful. This is the curse of leadership itself.

20 Messages

I am very bad at keeping in touch with people. This sentence alone probably has many of you nodding your heads thinking, “yes, I just remembered you didn’t reply to that message that I sent you x days ago. What a twat.” Well, I apologise for not responding and if I didn’t, it wasn’t meant to be intentionally malicious. I’ll be honest and say that I just don’t prioritise as much time as I should to catch up with people I haven’t spoken to in a while. Or sometimes even with those I speak to often.

Going back to the beginning, I find the advancement of technology difficult to adjust to. Before owning a proper mobile phone (really only in the last few years) I found it easier to keep in touch with people because I could see them. Graciously on their part, knowing that I would be rubbish to get a hold of, they would either call or meet me in person. I could hear their voice, watch their nose crinkle as they laughed and look into their eyes when I spoke to them. I could resonate with their humanity.

The ones who did not meet me after my invitations or seemed to become more distant, was painful at the time but slowly I have understood that they had priorities and I wasn’t one of them. That is not to say that if I ignored you above that I don’t value you, if anything it means the opposite. Because I only speak to those that I value – those are the ones that I make time for. The frequency of communication does not heed the development of a relationship. My best friend, who is incidentally getting married this week, is someone I only see every 6 weeks or so but I couldn’t be closer to them. Absence, like appearing offline, makes the heart grow fonder.

Now, it becomes easier and easier to string people along. To give them the impression that you care without ever really valuing them. I read an article recently on the phenomena of “ghosting” where an individual deals with the idea of ending a relationship by just ignoring them. Rather than facing up to the reality of saying goodbye, they choose to revoke that courtesy from both people. It was confusing and frankly quite scary. I can understand why this can lead to people becoming so mistrusting.

With this in mind, I have decided to experiment with something. Considering my distaste for technology, it has taken quite a lot of self-convincing. I am going to send 20 messages out over the next week. Knowing that I am bad at sending that first message to people, it is going to be interesting to see their reactions. I am going to send it out to people that I am close to, those that I have moved away from, those that have inspired me and those I want to learn from. In some cases it will be a “thank you” and a hug, in others an “I’m sorry” and in all of them a “Hey! You know what, I really value you and your time – let’s have a conversation.”

I am not going to tell them about this, but it would be nice if they made the connection themselves. And it doesn’t mean that I am just messaging 20 people and cutting the rest out. It means that I am taking myself out of the comfort zone and building a bridge. If we can’t do that, then we might as well be ghosts.

No Greater Insult

I constantly kick myself for not knowing enough about the world. Every day I learn about a new figure or amazing personality, and as excited as I am to learn something new, I always berate myself for not finding out about it sooner. There are so many things that I should know, but there is a finite amount of time within which to learn it.

My hunger for knowledge overtakes my commute. The two hours that it takes to get to the office (not an exaggeration) is a combination of listening to new albums on Spotify, reading my book on marketing and watching a daily TEDx talk. A lot of people have spoken to me about TED talks and tell me that they fall asleep to them. I don’t know how they do that as I am hooked from the moment the video starts.

On Friday, however, with the onrush of the working day rendering me physically exhausted, I had to retire at home and get my learning fix from elsewhere. I may be overdoing it. Well, I am overdoing it. It often happens that I fall ill have to restore settings to the last time that they worked properly. On instruction from my manager to rest, I chose to watch The Imitation Game, as it was another on the “must-watch” list of films that I haven’t made much of a dent in. You can probably tell I am not the sort to sit still for two hours straight.

However, the entire film engulfed me. Even though the Hollywood interpretation makes Bletchley Park look like a luxury estate, when after seeing it as a high school student it looked more like a dilapidated college, I was taken aback by the work of Alan Turing. I had never really heard of him before. I had seen a poster or two and the name rang a bell, but nothing more than that. It still upsets me now that I did not look into it further.

I could not be typing if it were not for the work of this man and his team. It is incredible to think that the digital civilisation that we find ourselves in now can be traced back to a shelter in the south of England that cracked the most difficult puzzle in the world. My life would be completely different without him, and I didn’t even know his name.

It unsettles me. The idea that a man’s name could be forcibly forgotten because he was gay. One of the most important minds in the history of the world could be so easily tossed aside because of his personal life. He is the reason that 14 million people lived on and that the war finished early. A society that he chose to save gave him no option other than to kill himself. There is no greater insult than that.

And now our personal lives are on show. The secrets that Alan kept and the truths that he cracked are now celebrated (by some). There are other parts of the world where he would still be considered a criminal. It frightens me that you can be imprisoned/killed for something that you can never atone for – a part of your being that is considered fundamentally unlawful. And for goodness sake, your sexuality is not a choice. It cannot be ripped from you.

As soon as we forget our humanity, and we choose not to see it in others, is the day that we ourselves become inhuman. The monsters that we hope to extinguish. The only question is: how many more great minds must we lose before we remember?

There will be more thoughts on this in the future I am sure.

This Is For You

I’m sitting on a train contemplating adulthood. I never much felt like a teenager, but now it’s a fact. And I can’t help feeling like I got here too soon. Thinking back to the first time I got on a tube myself, or when my Mum trusted me to get the bus to school on my own, clutching a handful of 20p coins that I shakily gave the bus driver. Snatching my ticket and jerking my head back, I could see a smile on her face and watery eyes – I was growing up. Now sitting on a train, the thousandth time on my own, it makes me realise how such a scary notion has become second nature.

I started to look back at my old school photos, and wondered how I’ve managed to lose the dimple in my left cheek over the years. How the clothes started to get a bit tighter and the collar a bit sharper. And the final one in a suit, with hair slicked back, almost ready to take on the world too soon. Now wearing the same suit, with three others in the wardrobe, ready to take on job interviews and actually seeing the minus sign in my bank account disappearing (for a short while at least).

Being 20 comes with pressure. And it is all self-inflicted. The party that I turned up to seven years ago, when I didn’t really know anyone, has become all too familiar. It isn’t about video games but the Game, and the drinks are less fizzy and more fermented. Everyone is a little bit more blurry, and the morning after is starting to hit harder. Innocence was lost a long time ago, but Ignorance is starting to fade. As I read in a recent VICE article, the party doesn’t end until you wake up and walk home.

But I don’t want to. I was sitting with a few friends in the early hours of this morning, the obligatory “Happy Birthday” sung amidst some of the people that really matter at university. I wasn’t in a mass of people, there was no cake or formality – it was a relaxed smile and a cold drink…I much prefer that. The party that I am turning up to has changed, the world has changed, but I haven’t – not in myself. The real 13 year old that got onto the bus, handing in that change, is now looking to make a different sort of change at 20.

I am not a birthday person. I never have been, but I like the fact that I can reconnect with my past, and the people that hold up that mirror. This is the first time it felt different. When I woke up feeling like things are actually clearer. I am healthy, content, assured, smiling and loved. I couldn’t ask for much more when the daylight hit my face this morning.

This birthday isn’t for me. I never want it to be. I want it to be about the people that have supported me. That have loved and lost me. That have walked in and out, leaving the door open so I can see them waving in the distant. This day is my thank you to them – not the other way around. Because I wouldn’t be here to “celebrate” it without them. I would still be the shaky handed, slick haired kid with fear in his eyes as to what was coming.

My body is not shaking anymore, although my hair is a little rougher. And I definitely need a shave. I am not afraid of the future, I am embracing it. And this means embracing you. So if you see me, hold out for that hug and smile.

Because this is for you. Cheers.

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The Centenary Post

Dear Reader,

I have been writing to you for over three years now and I can honestly say that they have been some of the best of my life. With this, I write my 100th love letter…to you. You, who has stood over my shoulder every time I have picked up the pen, putting a hand on it when I couldn’t find the words to write.

I’ll be honest, early on I didn’t think that you would turn up. When I first started writing, if you had told me that I would have written to you 100 times then I would have laughed. I never really thought it was possible to keep this conversation going…I thought I would run out of things to say. But the funny thing about this process is that with every letter, my voice just gets bigger and bigger.

I have told you extremely intimate things about the hardest parts of my life. I have spoken to you about things that have troubled me, made me think and infuriated me. I wanted to share my successes with you and ask you what you thought about issues that affect us all. I liked hearing your opinion. It made me think that I wasn’t alone.

It hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes these conversations are difficult because we don’t always agree. But I have realised that it is better to say something, than to stand silently by. We have talked together, shared together and cried together. You have poured your heart out to me and I have loved getting to know you a little better each time, as I myself have given you a piece of mine.

The most important thing is that it has been a journey. A mountain of 100 steps that we have climbed knowing that with each new perspective, we overcome ignorance and can see further onto the horizon. I have fallen. You have carried me. There are points when it has felt pointless, but you have always kept me hungry which has kept the conversation going.

And now here we stand, at the first peak looking out at what we have done. What we have created here. It is actually quite emotional knowing that this started with one small letter, Starts and Beginnings, with no real idea of what the future was going to hold.

I hope that you will continue to reply to me as I write to you,

I hope that you have found it as enlightening as I have,

Let’s continue walking together,

Forever yours,

Hiran

28.08.14

Rhyme

 

I have always been jealous of poets. If you gave me a piece of paper and asked me to write a love letter, or an essay, or a blog then I would bring something to the table. I would not hesitate. By the time you finished reading this sentence, I would already be biting my lip deep in thought, scrawling down some ideas with a chewed biro. But I have never grasped poetry.

When students were burning their anthologies after they finished their English exams, I kept mine. I was never a devotee of Shakespeare but even my numbskull worked out he was a genius. I read Shelley’s Ozymandias 10 times the first time I saw it because it taught me about hubris. All of these words might not mean anything to you but they broadened my mind. Yet metre, rhyme and verse seemed to be ancient – relics of a middle-aged white man’s canon that I had no means of accessing, other than through old textbooks at school…

…then years later, sitting in a café in East London I was too young to appreciate, I heard someone rhyme on a microphone. I was not a fan of rap, nor its connotations, but this was different. This person wore a Trilby, read out of a Moleskine and rolled up the bottom of their jeans. The words rhymed, but they didn’t talk about daffodils or a rose by any other name, but about their Mum and leaving home. The words danced. And I closed my eyes and I felt the hair on the back of my neck move to the beat.

Spoken word changed the way I thought about poetry and hip-hop. It breathed life into something that I could never revive. But I never felt the confidence to write a single line, so I just listened and absorbed the words of George the Poet and Akala. Anthony Anaxagorou and Dean Atta. Kate Tempest and Dizraeli. Sarah Kay. Names are not important, but these talisman and women made me believe that finally the lines need to be written.

And so this is a call to those of you that like poetry or spoken word. Speak to me. Give me some advice. I have no idea where to start, but I know that the evolution of writing for me, ends in rhyme. If you have written, performed or just appreciate something then please start a conversation with me. From Khalil Gibran to Doctor Seuss, I am a sponge.

I made a bet with someone to write at least one poem and to share it with them. I now have a month left to fulfil it. If it is good then I have confirmed that I will perform it to an audience. This could be the start of something big. Watch this space.

Missed Opportunities

Excerpts from Europe: Part Six

When we first walked out of the station in Prague, I fell in love with it. Having seen the character of Budapest and the veneer of Vienna, Prague was a perfect balance of the two. It instantly had the feel of being a busy city, but at the same time, the pockets of a quiet suburb that instantly appealed to me. It reminded me of home.

Then we got into the tourist shops. Prague is notorious for being the centre of a once strong Jewish community that has to some extent slowly rescinded in the years up until now. Even one of our group, of Jewish heritage, was excited to see a bit of the history. Then we saw a Hitler face mask literally two metres from the Jewish district. Our whole perception of Prague changed in an instant.

This city is a gimmick, a place for the flocks of idle tourists to experience culture (at a reasonable price). It was thoroughly disappointing – a missed opportunity for a town and country that is dripping with history. This was accentuated by the fact that Prague runs a large pub crawl, of you guessed it, tourists, run by British reps. The clubs in Prague tend to cater to their clients.

By 1 o’clock we hustled our way to the third bar/club, Roxy, which epitomised our first night in Prague. It was not authentic – it seemed to rip off its more Western partners – although it didn’t stop us having a good night. The fact that we missed various “opportunities” (think of that what you will) at these clubs due to the watered down drinks was a frustration for me. It seems like I had run the 100m and ducked out of the photo finish.

Although, everything is a learning curve – and we are learning as we go along. We have to expect mistakes, trip-ups, fits of passion and emotion; especially as we get more and more tired. But we need to push through it, the best is yet to come. All of us can feel it. And we don’t want to miss out.

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Another city, another club.