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Incredible India

The “Fixed Price” Myth

You would think that after the wedding, all of the gifts had been given and it was time to move away from incessant shopping. You would be wrong. Whenever you are in India, there is a need to buy a gift for everyone there, back home and some people you don’t even know. As soon as you walk past something, there is a committee meeting with three distinct questions: 1) can we make use out of it or give it away? 2) is it something that we have seen before or unique? 3) can we afford it? If two out of these get an overall yes, then the process begins. If you didn’t know it already, Indians love a bargain.

We decided to stay in Baroda for a few more days after the wedding considering we hadn’t spent enough time with our family. It had been so hectic that we hadn’t really had the chance to relax with them. However, part of this bonding experience meant exchanging gifts as well as finishing off any last minute shopping. And if you walked around any market, you would be surprised what you can walk away with for 350 rupees (about £3.50 at this current moment).

The most laughable part about the process is the “fixed price” signs that they put in each of the shops. It is an unwritten rule that there are absolutely no fixed prices in India, unless it is unlucky enough to have a barcode – although to be honest, the most persuasive person could probably do the job. If you are trying to buy a sari, for example, then you can assume that they are charging you 20 percent more before you have even sat down and it has been unfolded in front of you. The so-called NRI (non-resident Indian) or foreigner tax. Then you can probably shave another 20 percent off if you have a little more chat, and the more items you buy, the bigger chunk you can get off the overall bill. By the end of it, the original figure seems like a fairytale and however upset the vendor looks, he or she knows for a fact that they have got as much out of it as you have. Just be ready to walk away if the price isn’t right.

When prices are so flexible, you start to get an eye for quality. The street markets in India are generally better than those in the UK, but you have to be careful, and it means shopping around. Whenever you enter any showrooms here, with stacks and stacks of clothes delicately placed behind the counter, it is no mistake that there is a huge mattress on the floor. You don’t look through the clothes here, they are presented to you. A salesman will get our sari after sari, shirt after shirt, until the entire white surface is covered in a heap of colours and material. If you are lucky, he (all of the sari vendors seem to be men) will try on the sari in front of you so you can see what it would look like. The first time it happened, I can’t tell you how many glances were exchanged between my brother and me.

As much as I hate shopping, especially in the intense heat, it is interesting to see the performance every time. It is always the same routine as I have described above, and it is amazing the effort that each vendor will go to in order to sell his wares. Everything is in fashion, a good material, with some sort of quality certificate and an absolute steal…whether it be 100 or 10,000 rupees. We seem to be spending a lot of money out here, but I can see why.

There aren’t many good shows in the world that are cheap.

A Dozen Or So Lanterns

There are many things about the British influence in India that I find abhorrent. The way that the old Maharaja were treated is one such circumstance that makes me feel sick. The loss of wealth, the pandering, the lack of respect, but most of all, the idea that everything should be made into a theme park. Suprisingly, the Laxmi Vilas Palace in Baroda, the venue dedicated for the reception did not live up to any of my preconceptions. It was still lived in (albeit as a hotel – you can’t win them all!), but it was understated, elegant and absolutely beautiful.

Four times the size of Buckingham Palace, it was unmistakably one of the biggest residences I had ever seen. Considering the temple yesterday had absolutely overwhelmed me, I was starting to realise why people choose to get married in India. You don’t need to hire any decorators because every venue is furnished as if it were welcoming royalty. We were dressed like kings and queens when we arrived in the early evening – everyone else seemed to have gone for smart casual – and we went for this-is-the-only-Indian-wedding-we-are-going-to-so-let’s-turn-up outfits. I was told that the suit I was wearing was supposed to be for a lagna; I smiled politely before quickly scurrying away and taking a seat. There is still plenty of time to arrange my marriage. Not today please.

It was the first time that I saw Pooja, the bride and my cousin, at ease. She was spending time with her new husband, walking through the grounds before everyone started to arrive, and it seems like she could finally relax and enjoy herself. The culmination of three weddings in one week had obviously taken their toll. When we bumped into each other during dinner, it was so bizarre to see her as a fully-fledged adult when only a year ago we were traipsing around Mumbai in the early hours, looking for a café that would serve us. She made one of the busiest cities in the world so manageable (and now writing this in retrospect in Mumbai, I am so grateful I got to spend that time with her).

The garden banquet took most of the crowd’s attention. When we were stood outside, there was everything from a live pasta station to a coffee bar being replenished constantly under the lights of a dozen or so lanterns. You can see a glimpse of how it looked in the picture above. My stomach was still recovering so it was a case of window shopping when it came to most of the food. Like the famous Goodness Gracious Me sketch, I ended up with the blandest thing on the menu and a free reign on the desserts. I wasn’t complaining.

As the night started to draw to a close, our Indian wedding seemed to be drawing to an end. I had missed half of the festivities due to illness, had made the most of the wedding and now stood in a groom’s suit at the reception – it was fair to say that it hadn’t been the conventional way to do things. Nevertheless, it was a wedding that I wouldn’t forget soon. It was probably going to be the last time I saw Pooja for a while as she was moving to Malaysia, probably the last Indian wedding I would attend in India, and most probably one of the last that we would attend as a family (that wasn’t hosted by us). A sobering experience in a state that has banned alcohol.

I thought back to the amount of weddings that must have taken place here. The lavish receptions and bountiful food. For over a hundred years, these walls and gardens were the boundaries of so much happiness and hope. I have noted before how assumable marriage is an institution of progression and prosperity – in fact, someone noted that on these occasions that big weddings are inevitably worth it.

Although, finally the confetti hits the floor and it is time to start the rest of your life. Pooja and Eldan will be walking around Paris now enjoying the first steps of theirs, as our own journey continues. The wedding, the reason for our coming, is now over – but this is the start of a new chapter.

This is the start of our holiday.

Lagna

“Lagna” is the Gujarati word for wedding. Whether you speak Gujarati or not, everyone knows the meaning of this word. It culminates the entirety of all awkward conversations with older relatives in your twenties as they unsubtly hint at the fact that you still don’t have a ring on your finger until you finally tie the knot; the showcase of your summers in your thirties as every week is another journey with your spouse to a stately home or temple for another cousin’s ceremony (or usually string of ceremonies); the laborious chore of your forties as you introduce your children to the various rituals that you yourself have been getting to grips with for most of your adult life; the expense of your fifties as the time eventually comes to give away your daughter or welcome a new one to your home; and finally in your twilight years it remains the rare opportunity to bring your family together and celebrate the beauty of such a union. This may be the longest sentence I have ever written. However, it reflects the nature of lagna. It permeates each stage of life and is a centrepiece in Hindu tradition. Fair to say, it is kind of a big deal.

Weddings in India are the stuff of film and legend. Growing up watching Bollywood films, I imagined that it would be thousands of people all adorned in their finest clothing, steel cast after steel cast containing delicious food and an intensely traditional ceremony that would give me an insight into how weddings should be done. It wasn’t…quite like that. The bride, my cousin, and the groom had decided to go for something much simpler and so it remained close family and friends – they didn’t want a big fuss. Go figure. The one time that we spent all of this time and effort to see a ridiculous Indian wedding and they had chosen to “keep it basic”.

However, the venue was absolutely amazing. There are a few extremely ornate temples in the UK, but it was absolutely nothing like this. This was on the level of a palace in the middle of a busy city. Domes of marble and coloured statues filled the grounds with large open platforms that lit up a sparkling white when the sun finally came into view. From the very finest detail in the pillars, to the huge carved tiles that made up the ceilings, it looked like someone had gone through this place with a microscope. I had never seen anything like it.

Unlike back at home, the weddings are conducted in the late afternoons here because of the intense heat. Even though this was technically the winter, it reached the mid-twenties when the ceremony started and we all started to sweat into our outfits. Because lagnas are such a big part of Hinduism, both practically as a means of legitimising marriage and spiritually to move forward to the next stage of life, it is important to understand the rituals. It is said to be the bride’s occasion, the very last event before she leaves her parents’ house and moves in with her in-laws. The more lagnas you attend, the more you start to pick things up – I guess this is part of the point so you know what you are signing yourself up for when it finally happens to you.

But that is just it, isn’t it? This preparation and celebration comes with the frightening expectation that the seconds are ticking. I don’t think I really feel it at my age, but I can tell that my brother can. Every wedding we go to now, he can’t escape without another distant relative promising him that they can find him a girl. It doesn’t matter what his current situation is (they never ask that) but they are determined to make sure that he gets married. It has become a running joke that I get to tease him about, but I am fully aware that my time is coming.

The prospect of arranged introductions is promised with love. It is 50 percent inquisition and 50 percent well-intentioned. However, it is 100 percent pressurised. There are a very few cultures where the narrative is so direct and continuous – there is almost no question that an Asian man and woman in their twenties should get married against all of the odds. Homosexuality is never discussed and the concept of staying single must mean that there is something inherently wrong with you.

I can’t imagine the prospect of not getting married. Yet, I don’t know whether I have been conditioned to think this way in all of my relationships or whether this is what I actually want. I am sure it is what I want in the end, but there has never really been any other option. It is scary how the lives of most Indians are already mapped out until their 30th birthday.

I don’t know whether tradition has saved or shackled us in this regard. We don’t question marriage like we do other institutions. It just is. Maybe the big weddings are worth it then, hey?

Eleven Times

It was time to leave Jamnagar. The wedding was in a day or so and we needed to make it to the other side of the state before we ran out of time. There was still some more shopping to do (it seemed a never ending list of cloth and jewellery) and we needed to stop in Rajkot again to finish things off. The funny thing was that I had an assessed essay due at the same time.

The next two hours was spent frantically writing the last few sections of an essay on whether wealthy citizens were responsible for the plight of global poverty. Apt considering the previous post that I wrote and how it has made such a big impact on my time here. However, trying to write on a laptop on a campervan in the middle of India when you are bouncing around with every hole in the road is not ideal. It leads to a considerable amount of nausea. The aftermath of which was left in a plastic bag on the side of the road before reaching Rajkot.

Feeling thoroughly awful, the rest of the family dropped me to a nearby hotel where I could access the wifi and send the essay off whilst they finished their shopping. There was nothing that I wanted to drink that would get me the password to stay in the hotel restaurant, so my brother settled for some ice cream to satisfy the waiter who was looking to close when we walked in. The next two and a half hours, we nursed two small drinks and a bowl of kulfi before they finally turned the lights on and kicked us out. I think it would have been a lot sooner if they didn’t feel sorry for the state of the two of us when we came in. India was starting to take its toll.

49 minutes before the deadline, the essay was submitted and I was relieved just to stop staring at a screen. The hours that I had spent procrastinating the week before seemed a lot more valuable now that we trudged back to the campervan for another journey…another four hour drive. Roads in India are not built for plump British Indian boys with sensitive stomachs – quite the opposite actually.

I must have thrown up eleven times. It got to the point where even the water I was drinking, because I couldn’t eat, was being deposited at every truck stop on the way as I couldn’t take more than an hour at a time. We visited an extremely religious place called Sarangpur that was really important to my aunt, but all I remember is the neon lights outside – I was woken up by my brother after falling asleep in my lap on the steps. I could barely walk and I wasn’t making much sense when I talked. I couldn’t breathe without feeling the left side of stomach shiver with a stabbing pain.

It was only two days later that I realised that is was gastroenteritis. When I say realised, I mean diagnosed after being in bed unconscious for twenty solid hours. In that time, I had lost over a litre worth of fluids from my body, had four biscuits to eat over three days and could barely stomach a soft drink without being bent double in the bathroom. I had never gotten this ill before, always being careful to avoid local water, before cursing myself for not checking at a relative’s house a few days before.

It must have been a small snack or a sip of water that had made my body refund everything that I had put into it, like a department store after Christmas. Everything must go. I couldn’t remember much and there were times when lifting my head felt like trying to move a medicine ball.

I had heard of Delhi Belly, but this felt like an atomic bomb. At least now it was over and I could eat solid food again. Just in time for the wedding.

Porbandar

I was hoping to write a little something every day to capture what is going on in my head whilst I am out here. Unfortunately, I didn’t account for the fact that I could get ill, and after throwing up every hour for the past two days, and having slept solidly for the past 20 hours, reaching for a laptop has sort of been at the back of my mind. After tentatively having some solid food for breakfast and feeling my insides settle a little bit, after what can only be described as a tsunami hitting the lower half of my body, I am ready to start writing again. Let me start from where I left on off two days ago in Jamnagar.

The great thing about Jamnagar is that it is a portal to many different parts of Gujarat. Located somewhat in the centre, it gave us the opportunity to choose a number of places to go without worrying about driving for hours on end. For me, there was only one real choice. Porbandar. Not because it is the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, although this was a factor, but this was the place that my grandmother passed when she visited with my aunt and father only 3 years before. It would be the first time that they had gone back since the incident, which cut the fabric of our family in half 2 days before my 18th birthday.

I was apprehensive which was expected. Three years ago, she arrived in Porbandar in the evening, hoping to see the sights the following morning, but the day never came. Our first stop was the temple of Harshadimata, the goddess of individual families, who was allotted to us in some fashion before I was born – our own patron saint. I am not really sure how these things work, nor did I really have the inclination to ask, but I know that it was important to her. She died to be here.

The drive was longer than I was expecting. Considering our driver was from a different state in India, and there were no signs that I could see directing us towards the small village in which the temple stood, I was impressed that we got there at all. As soon as we set down, we took the fancy of a couple of children who tried to sell us religious offerings to deliver at the shrine, before they got distracted by a tour bus that pulled in behind us and realised that they had chosen the wrong crowd. I remember it being dusty, warm and quiet. Really very quiet for India.

The temple itself was such a disappointment. I hoped that I would feel some sort of connection, knowing how special it was to her, but there was nothing. An earthen idol, set back in the orange and green of its surroundings, it seemed like nothing special – and so I sat back in the dilapidated arches of the outer courtyard and felt that crushing feeling of lost expectations. Dad and I walked out towards the river adjoining the town, the opposite side of the temple, and he explained how the first strands of hair of both my brother and I were submerged here. How decades ago, in this small little town, we found a new beginning. And this was all part of the journey.

The next thing I remember is sitting in a strange house looking at the silky, red carpet on the floor. It was probably the most expensive thing in the house and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The owner of the rug and the house was one of the last men to see my grandmother alive and the first to see her dead. Kailashbhai, a humble dress shop owner and distant cousin on my father’s side, was our final stop for the day – we visited to thank him and his wife for their help three years ago. Unfortunately, I fear it was the food that I ate there which made me feel so unwell, but it was worth it to see one of the men who saved my father’s sanity when it happened.

I believe I have now met all of the people that were there that fateful February night in Porbandar. The three different families in three different locations. All incredibly unassuming and welcoming. All with a firm sense of duty. Whilst the shrine may not have developed any feelings within me whatsoever, Porbandar rekindled the faith of something much more important.

Faith in people.

Walk A Mile In His Shoes

Every place that we visit has a beautiful family history that spans the same trip over 25 years ago. Sitting in the Hotel Aram in Jamnagar for breakfast this morning, my parents told me about the last time they were here. My brother had just celebrated his first birthday and they had given him his first haircut. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a very auspicious ceremony, as the hair signifies the remnants of a previous life forgone as it is cut and replaced with a new beginning – a clean head of sorts. Although the baby doesn’t always see it that way and ends up bawling it’s eyes out.

Apparently the now patio of gravel and iron tables was once a lush garden filled with white chairs and a fountain. Over 200 people came to the ceremony that day, and the hair was purged within the hotel as well, as a sign of prosperity. I am not sure how much I buy into the ritualism, but there is something wonderful about the idea that my parents sat newly married in the same seats a quarter of a century ago, looking ahead at what their lives would bring.

Since then, obviously I was born, but it was the first time that they had set foot in the hotel since the occasion. According to them it hadn’t changed much in the time that they had been away, but it seemed like Jamnagar had. The city, close to the Western coast of Gujarat, was the birthplace of my grandfather, Jamnadas, who unfortunately died a year before I was born. My mum always joked that my birth was a blessing that the family needed after a distressing period and that is why I became so close to my grandmother. It has always been a great source of sorrow for me that I never got to meet the man who I seemed to be so alike.

Apparently he was impeccably well dressed, stern, committed to his family and a bit of a wanderer – everything I could relate to except potentially the first quality. I don’t think I could get away with wearing a three-piece suit everywhere like he did. There were so many times, according to Dad, that he would disappear on the bus for the day just to take in the life of the world around him. He would sit on a bench near Marylebone Station and contemplate what was going on, giving himself space to think and gain perspective on a life that spanned three different continents: Asia, Africa and finally Europe. It is something I have always aspired to achieve.

Walking around the famous reservoir in Jamnagar, that is now unfortunately running dry due to climate change, I imagined what it would have been like 70 years ago when he walked past the same, then brimming lake. It is a funny thing to feel an affinity with one you have never met. I imagine it is the same feeling as walking beside a character that you envisioned in a book; one that you had a real relationship with, but will never be able to meet.

Did he get the same itching to travel the world? To see the stars beyond the sky in front of him? I discovered his old passport this year, and it was covered with stamps from different countries including Tanzania, where I climbed Kilimanjaro. He lived in a world that didn’t have planes, or fast trains, but boats and steamers. What took us a day would have taken him three months, but he carried on. He ditched his sandals for shoes and walked a mile of footsteps with nothing to guide him but his heart.

It seemed pretty surreal to look at the same sunset all these years later with the knowledge that he succeeded. He made it to the other side of the world and back. Through us. Through me. And we never exchanged a word. There is something so beautiful about that.

And now the shoes have been passed onto me.

The Poverty Complex

The unintended consequence of prosperity is that people get left behind. The deeper that you get into India, the more you realise how severe these consequences are. I am not saying that there isn’t an element of this in every place in the world, but when you step onto the streets in most parts of this country, it is something that cannot be ignored. Virpur, a small village in Western Gujarat, has an important part to play in this story and you have probably never even heard of it.

It is the birthplace and home of Jalaram Bapa, an ascetic saint that is revered within mine and many other families of Indian origin for his work with those blighted by poverty. He is often depicted as a slender man, wearing a white or orange simple tunic and turban, with prayer beads around his neck and between his fingers and a small walking stick that comes up to his chest. Whilst he is not fantastically well known outside Gujarat, if you go to any temple in England, you are likely to find some sort of statue or shrine dedicated towards him. He is not worshipped as a God, but admired as a man with an extraordinary compassion and character, disbarring the debilitating caste system at the time (often misunderstood) and feeding anyone of any creed that walked through his door.

The feeding continues today within his ashram, which is one of the oldest educational systems in the world dating back nearly 5000 years. The town itself remains one of the poorest parts of the region, but the effect of his teaching has pushed the population to become more sustainable and rely less on begging and other forms of dishonest earning. Not everyone has very much, but what they have is true.

For my Mum, it was the first emotional moment in the trip so far. Having heard the stories and seen this in pictures, it was the culmination of a long time coming. However, it was not without complications. From the moment that we touched down, there was a young girl who carried her younger brother on her shoulder and followed us everywhere that we went. My brother and I gave each other a self-defeating look, having encountered similar situations in the past. My Mum on the other hand, looked at the girl and relaxed her shoulders – she couldn’t just let the child go.

It started with a small snack from the local sweet shop – the child looked satisfied that she had got a treat and Mum was happy knowing that she had not given her money, but something a bit more meaningful. Yet, the child continued to follow. It then moved to a sari that Mum had been keeping to give away – she hoped that the child’s mother would also be pleased to get something too – not with the intention of it being charity, but almost as a present considering the sari was not worn. The following continued. By this point, other children arrived and my brother was thoroughly annoyed that Mum had continued to encourage that behaviour.

I can’t say that I was pleased either, considering the girl’s unrelenting behaviour even when Mum tried to help as much as she could. However, when Mum turned around in the car and looked at us both, she explained why this town was so special to her – why this man was so revered because he gave without expectation or judgment and this resonated globally – and on any other occasion, she would have walked away, but she couldn’t just leave the child behind. I felt conflicted. Who was I to tell a mother, my mother, that giving in the way that she did was wrong? That creating this dependency, rewarding this behaviour as other girls looked on having returned from school was worse?

At the same time, what right did I have to tell an 11-year-old girl that she was ungrateful when it appeared that she had nothing? The complex of poverty, especially in the developed world, helps us to recognise that it exists but that we shouldn’t do anything about it. We shouldn’t give money because it is irresponsible, we should be careful of food or clothes as to not create dependency and some advise us to even avoid talking to them in case we put ourselves in “danger”.

The worst thing about the entire situation? We never even learnt her name. We didn’t ask her where she lived or what she liked. Because we saw her as a nuisance (my brother and I), like every other beggar (and I am ashamed to use this term), we forgot that she was just a girl who we could have had a conversation with. We wouldn’t have been able to help, but maybe we could have learnt something from our Mum and Jalaram Bapa.

I am still not convinced whether what we did was right or wrong. What I do know is I am so lucky for everything I have, and remembering to be grateful for that is the first step to finding the answer.

Reading The (Gujarati) Signs

I learnt Gujarati, my home language, religiously until the age of 11. I remember sitting in a women’s kitchen, with a makeshift whiteboard on the wall to my left, looking down at a tattered textbook that I imagine was probably used by teach her children, leaning on a table that was covered in a thin plastic sheet to prevent the ink from our pens ruining her mahogany table. As I look out the window of this campervan, and try to read the various signs of these shops that we keep passing syllable by syllable, I must admit that those lessons seem to have come in handy.

This will be the third time that I have visited India in the last two years, having never set foot in the country before my 18th birthday. It was more by luck than circumstance that I was able to come in the first place, but this trip is completely different. I can’t remember the last time that we went on a proper family holiday, as both my brother and I have taken the last 6-7 years consecutively to finish our university degrees; but that means that we haven’t been away together as an entire family for nearly a decade.

India seemed the natural choice. My mum, having not been back since Nikhil was a baby (some twenty years ago), has been itching to come back and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. My only cousin out here in Gujarat is finally getting married, which is the only real incentive that she needed to plan out her ideal trip. Only two days in now, and already on the way to our third location it seems like she is determined to make up for lost time. I am less apprehensive than I was before we arrived – having mostly been travelling on my own for the past four or so years – I now feel happier and less stressed knowing that the weight of all this running around is much less heavy and more luxurious than I could afford on my own. There seems to be a lot more luggage though.

After a really stressful couple of months, this feels like the perfect time to start writing again. I wasn’t planning on doing anything like this when I left, which is unusual as I carry a journal with me all the time, but I don’t remember the last time I wrote anything down for me. My diary is always full of appointments, my pads full of seminar notes and my head full of conversations. At some point in the last two years, I just stopped engaging with them all and decided that my responsibilities were more important than my personal development.

Today was the first day in a while that I looked out the window and felt that pang to write. Anyone who writes a blog probably understands the feeling. Reading those signs in Gujarati shot me back into that kitchen in my childhood, my connection with my grandmother (we will get onto this another time) and this big move forward for my family. India has always been about heritage and at this moment, all I want to do is write it down which is fantastically exciting.

This space for my writing has always remained a risk and a source of nervous tension. When I plan what I want to say, it changes at least eight times before the final version is ready. Ironically, I re-wrote that previous sentence a few times before I was happy with it. However, I am going to go back to how it was at the beginning of this journey and write fearlessly. The next month will be the most honest conversation that I have had with anyone who reads this since I started writing as a confused and scared teenager.

I can scarcely remember what it was like to be that 11 year old who sat in the kitchen. Let’s go and find him.

Shed Perspective

2 years ago, I wrote the post Shed Light which has probably been my most popular blog to date. The reason why many of you will have kept up with me until now. Since then I have been trying to find answers which is what I set out to do. I have never stopped being hungry in asking questions and trying to further my understanding.

Knowledge precedes understanding, but understanding precedes perspective. Everything must be seen in context. I wrote that post on Diwali which is the most auspicious day in the Hindu calendar marking the journey that Lord Rama makes from one side of India to the other, to get home. The day after Diwali is Bestuvaras which marks the start of the New Year, which in this case is 2071. It is fitting that after the day of illumination, it should be followed by a new beginning. The chance to change perspective.

I was fortunate enough to go to India this year and spend some time with some amazing kids. Many of them were disabled – born without limbs, deformities, psychological defects and even blind – and it was a privilege to see their perspective on life. Within a week of coming back to England, I broke my leg and had a chance to see what it was like to be in their position. After seeing how well they dealt with their hardships, I realised how ungrateful and selfish I was.

I wallowed in self-pity. I became agitated because I couldn’t do the things I wanted to. I blamed myself for my situation and made it seem like I was the only person suffering. Through the trauma, I spared no thought for those worse off. “I was hurt…this was horrible…fuck everyone else” and in this way I became the one thing that I made a commitment not to be in 2012. Ignorant.

Weeks down the line now, I realise how ungrateful I was. It was a natural reaction to what happened, but I am disappointed that I didn’t open my eyes. There is a magic in positive thinking that is underrated. There was nothing I could do about my situation, other than to change my perspective about it. I would have to change my lifestyle, but not necessarily for the worse, as rather than running, I have been able to spend more time with the people that matter most.

So this is my commitment to the next two years. Every time I feel like my eyes are closing in dark times, I need to remember in my mind’s eye those kids that found solace in themselves. Knowing that adversity is the catalyst of progress, not the restriction of it. From now on, I am going to take the blinkers off and realise how good it is to appreciate what I actually have.

This year as a resolution to yourself, regardless of whether you are Hindu or not, use perspective as a positive. Tell yourself how lucky you are each day to be alive. Smile at what you love about yourself. Message the people that love you – don’t wait for them. Hold out your hand for those that need it. Look at what is in front of you and relish the challenge. Take risks. Walk (or in my case hobble) forward.

And if you ever feel like your eyes are closing, read this post again to remind yourself of how great it is to feel the light hit your pupils for the first time each morning. Then get up and live.