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Think About It

Tolerance begins at home

It is easy to be angry and to blame it on racism. It is easy to say that you don’t understand and be shocked by the result. It is easy to remove those people who don’t agree with you from your feeds. However, this is exactly what the supporters of the winning campaign chose. They chose to be divisive, to split you by fear and to stop you from talking to each other. Don’t let them have the power.

I have been saddened by the amount of hatred and bile that has been spouted as the UK chose to leave the European Union. The irony that many of those have spoken about inclusion and tolerance when asking people to vote, now choose to use the most vicious language for those that went out and voted last night. They have an opinion. We lost. But there is something to build from.

Our social feeds serve as an echo chamber for our own views and opinions. If everyone on your feed is filled with #Remain, then of course you are going to be shocked when it goes the other way. We actively choose to block out, ridicule, ignore and chastise those that don’t agree with us. It doesn’t make sense. As much as it is difficult and frustrating, we should be choosing to listen to what this small majority think about the country that they are living in.

Many of us have been lucky enough to enjoy the benefits of the Union. Multicultural universities, the ability to move freely and the opportunity to associate with many people of different cultures. However, there are many that have been let down. I can understand the individuals that are jealous or bitter about the state of affairs – that are struggling to make ends meet and cannot understand why we enjoy the prosperity that they don’t. I am not saying that it is right or just, but it exists and this is a trident call that we need to listen.

The “us” and “them” culture has been created by us and not Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage. They have fed off our own laziness to interact with each other. It is easy to galvanise a people that don’t feel listened to. That feel abandoned. We may have welcomed many and advocated tolerance through our borders, but this result clearly shows that we have not learned this lesson in our own streets. We have forgotten to educate, to listen, to empathise and to work with ourselves.

Immigration is a fantastic thing, but there are millions that have slipped through the net of our system that we have failed to notice. Investment and financial stability are paramount to success, but we need to empower other industries and break down the glass ceilings that exist in the cities. Prosperity and multiculturalism are powerful tonics that we have been lucky enough to consume, but we must remember that there are many who have never been given the opportunity.

This is a wake-up call. It is a not a beacon of hatred or intolerance. It is the biggest internal conflict that we have faced in a generation. If we truly wanted to remain, then we must be the ones to make an effort to listen to those that didn’t. If we promote inclusion and tolerance, then this is our opportunity to shape the outcome to reflect this. Isolation and divisiveness may have permeated the campaign, it may have helped to win votes, but it does not have to be a part of the conclusion. If we open our arms as a country to those that feel isolated, that needed to be selfish yesterday, that felt lost and wanted to protect themselves, then that is the only way that we can make use of our votes.

Making a stand isn’t about putting a cross in a box. It isn’t about making a Facebook status. The vote in itself is symbolic – now the only thing we can control is the depth of our actions. Nothing will change immediately, but the tide is slowly turning towards a potentially sinister path. Let’s see it as a challenge to bring a country divided back together.

Tolerance starts at home. And God knows, don’t we all need a bit of love right now?

Bleed Blue

I looked on my Facebook this morning and saw someone say that they were proud to be Indian because we (I say “we” in the loosest form here) beat Australia in cricket. Sitting in a pub in Birmingham yesterday with my family, it was clear that that everyone was in a good mood. Boundaries and sixes were celebrated with noise that could probably be heard from India. However, this morning I stumbled across a documentary called “India’s Daughter” about the violent Delhi gang-rape of aspiring medic, Jyoti Singh, and it left a bitter taste in my mouth about patriotism.

All over my social feeds yesterday, there were plenty of people that were jubilant about the victory. It created a great atmosphere over lunch, although there were a few people that inevitably took it too far. I watched some of the reactions to players like Virat Kohli and M.S. Dhoni, the vice and captain respectively, as many people created a cult of personality around them. Sure, they are incredibly talented individuals, but there have already been allegations of match fixing with both of them at the very top and not to mention Dhoni’s infamous goat sacrifice scandal 6 years ago now which saw him banned from games.

It is very easy to look at sport in isolation. To watch and enjoy a game at a time, and ignore the politics that is happening behind the scenes. To be honest, a lot of the people who benefit from these games would prefer it that way – so you were not aware of what is going on. And if you don’t think that sport, even cricket, is political…then let me direct you to every India and Pakistan game that has been played since 1947. Whilst I can understand why it is exciting to see Indians of all shapes, sizes and genders colouring their faces in blue paint, donning their jerseys and singing in the crowds, it feels like this doesn’t translate outside of the stadium.

The problem with these sorts of tournaments, is that whilst they are a release from the mire of what else is going on, they do nothing to tackle the ongoing injustices that are plaguing Indian society. Speaking as an NRI (non-resident Indian), I am sure there are many that would label me a hypocrite. However, listening to the story of Jyoti, who had her entrails dragged out from her private parts with an iron rod before being thrown into the road, tells me that a cricket game is not going to fix it. If anything, it is more of a distraction.

Passion and enthusiasm are key. When you hear the cries of “India Zindabad!” during these games, it is fantastic to see the voices of many joining the chorus. Whether they are men or women, young or old. But we pick and choose the parts that we are patriotic about – the conversations about female foeticide, rape, a lack of sexual education, inequality, cultural backwardness, changes in attitude are all swept under the carpet. Not only are we not proud of that India, we choose to ignore it and let those individuals suffer in silence – shaming them for our own crimes of ignorance.

I don’t want to dampen any celebrations. It is fantastic that India are through in a tournament that comes around all of the time, with individuals that get paid too much money and who might be cheating. I mean in reality; I couldn’t give a toss. What concerns me is that we cheer for a nation that seems to be doing well in the ICC World Rankings, but is also dubbed as the “rape capital of the world” in Delhi.

I mean we could practice our bowling and batting, because it is easier. It also means someone (probably not you) will make a lot of money. But does it really make you proud to be Indian? When you watch that and realise all of these things going on in the background, does it make you “bleed blue” as everyone seems to say?

I wouldn’t say that I am that sort of patriot yet.

Ideas are more powerful than bullets

It’s been a week now and there has been a lot of noise. Since the rounds were fired in the Bataclan, the screams of those innocent people have been replaced with the constant drum of empty rhetoric. From apologists, to commentators, to politicians, to preachers, to sympathisers, to bigots, to well-wishers, to aid-givers, to you. Everyone has something to say and someone to blame for what happened around the world (NOTE: not just Paris) on Friday 13th when nearly 115,000 died.

Whilst it is interesting to see the world responding to what is going on, no one is actually listening. I have been silent all week, refusing to talk about the attacks, not with the intention of ignoring it, but with the aspiration of absorbing as much information as possible. It is the tendency of many, like in an auction, to be the first to put in their bid for an opinion. Although getting there first in this case is not likely to yield any reward.

This week we have seen more bombs dropped on Syria, more attacks in Iraq and Lebanon, tighter restrictions of freedoms in France, heavier surveillance around the world and a shift of attitude towards those of the Islamic faith. 115,000 people have died and the reaction was to strike again, to continue this escapade for bloodshed, as if this is likely to put a stop to it all. It breaks my heart.

Even having this conversation with my family, I have visibly seen the fear and anger in their eyes when they say that we have to get to them before they get to us. The understanding that violence is justified if the ‘right’ people are being killed. However, where is the accountability for the thousands of lives that have been taken by Western powers during my lifetime? Where are the investigations into manipulation, extortion, lying, torture and falsification that now surround every war that we have fought in the 21st Century? The two sides of a warzone leaves nothing but devastation.

There is no reason that will ever be able to justify the deaths of the people who were sadly taken in Paris, Lebanon and Baghdad last week, whether ISIS claim the attacks or not. For me, there is absolutely no justification for killing, whether it be in retaliation or not. I don’t accept that in order to end this, we need to forcibly destroy every individual that claims to think a certain way. Ideas are more powerful than bullets, and we cannot just extinguish them.

I have turned off a lot of my feeds and I haven’t changed my profile picture. I think it is best if we take some time to understand what has happened, and really decide what it is that we want before we do anything else. Do we want to get even or do we want to be safe? These are not mutually exclusive.

Watch your governments and use reliable media. Don’t get caught up in rhetoric that uses fear as its catalyst. There will be plenty of people that will be telling you what you want to hear, but not what needs to be done.

Rebuilding the world starts with forgiveness. And forgiveness is an idea that transcends all hatred and fear.

For me, that is much more powerful than any bomb or bullet.

#PrayForHumanity

The Precipice

Well, I failed. My 30-day blogging challenge that started off with a shot of adrenaline managed a pitiful 8 posts in 9 days before the stress of exams finally caused me to put it on hold. I am quite disappointed in myself, but then again, choosing to write 500 words a day for 30 days in the midst of cramming thousands of words in revision was probably not a good shout. However, the one thing that was encouraging was the amount of people that engaged with them, at a time when they were definitely too busy or stressed out. So, rather than killing myself putting these thoughts down with a 24-hour time bomb waiting to drop, I thought this one would just allow me to de-stress before tomorrow.

I read an article yesterday, yes it was the Tab, sharing techniques on how to de-stress when you feel like the sky might be falling. One of those was blogging, and I have written about it before, so I am not going to repeat myself, nor paraphrase the words of thousands of people on this. Yet I can stand testament to the fact that doing something different and allowing yourself to be expressive in the face of public ridicule prepares you for something that examination questions just can’t tackle.

But I still have to do exams which count. And this is the penultimate year of my education. I am feeling fairly okay about it for the first time ever!

It feels strange, that after all of this time, you would think that I would have learnt how to prepare better by now. For those of you reading this in the library, you will probably let out a small grin, knowing that everyone puts themselves in the same boat. They leave it to the last possible minute and then a rush of energy hits you (hopefully) which pushes you over the line. It is like standing on the precipice of a cliff, looking at the fall you need to take, and feeling the tips of your fingers tremble as the nervous energy starts to set in, before your feet throw you over the edge.

The reason I am feeling fairly relaxed is that I know that I don’t measure my worth or success by exam results anymore. I don’t tell myself how good I am based on the hour that it took me to cram in as much information as possible so I could to secure the grade I needed. This time, I actually enjoyed learning it – I felt like I got some of the value back from my investment. I finally felt less out of place in this environment, and I tried to put the work in. Obviously if this doesn’t translate into decent results, then I will have to reflect on it – but it is more about technique, than actual skill. Play the game. Please the examiners for the 45 minutes that they need you to and then go home and find pleasure in something else.

All I wanted to do was to wish you the best of luck with the upcoming exams, but I know most of you will do well. As much as anyone tries to convince you, you can’t blag a university exam – trust me, I have tried (and failed). You don’t need to – it is there within you – because you are already successful in most of the things that you do, as well as being healthy, loved and supported by the people around you. Numbers and statistics will try to define you, as much as people will look at what you are wearing and make their impression, but it is those that see behind that who will last.

The sceptical, stressed-out version of you will think this is flowery bullshit. And that this isn’t what you need right now. You need a 2.1. And don’t get me wrong, you do, but you also need to be a human being too, not a drone. If you don’t believe me, read this. Now jump.

Fear Of Missing Out

I got in quite late to the summer internship game. You could see people scrambling for CV clinics and after-hours dinners with associates desperately trying to get that business card to use on their applications. The whole process seemed quite inhuman – a game that was constantly being played between graduate recruiters and students that weren’t really sure what they were getting themselves into. The promise of quick money, security and a lifestyle to match was dangled like a carrot in every presentation I went to.

And then I would walk out and see other students protesting about the real state of affairs: the falling pay of lecturers, the lack of a minimum wage for low paid staff and food banks becoming more prevalent in the surrounding areas. It created a terrible inner-turmoil.

I am not a particularly empathetic person, although I am trying harder to listen. It’s easy to get sucked in by false promises and fancy titles. Even being at Warwick is drastically different to what I expected and it looks nothing like the prospectus. I am no fool. I wasn’t expecting miracles, but maybe I was looking for something that would make more of an impact, especially when the world for many of us is just beginning. Are the next 10 years of my life just about setting up the next 30? Would I really be brave enough to go against the tide of things, to really push myself to take a risk?

The short answer is no. A frankly honest and emphatic no. The truth is, the reason that many of us feel the need to source and strive for these opportunities so early on in our lives, is for the very real fear that we could end of with nothing. After spending all of this money, the countless hours putting together essays and assignments, as well as the constant struggle that is dealing with one of the most emotionally fragile periods of our lives…we could go back home to our loved ones “supposedly” empty handed. Progression can be a positive step in the right direction, but a shackle around the ankle if we don’t climb high enough.

And the world is just waiting to drag us down. You don’t have to stare at your phone for long to see how difficult life is for other people that you have never met. Dodging ignorance and explosives at every turn, in the most remote parts of the world, just to get into school praying that it isn’t targeted by a militia. Education is not a struggle for us. We are the privileged ones. The overachievers. We don’t get things wrong or make the wrong call. We do better than our friends, and achieve more than our parents because of their sacrifice. And still, we complain that the world isn’t big enough – that another firm rejected us, or we simply couldn’t secure the job we wanted.

I am spoilt. As are many of you. I was very fortunate, after much effort, to be able to secure a placement for this year – I am so grateful that I played the game and won. An achievement that I did not think I could realistically get to. But I haven’t forgotten the struggle or the understanding that it was a challenge. A part of me is extremely frightened of going into the world of work – the idea of actually stepping into the next stage of life.

Though I know one thing for sure. That there is more to life than a job. And a career is built around the people that benefit from your generosity and not the other way around. It seems the richer you get, the less you value the wealth you actually have – because you forget what richness is. Spend 10 or 12 weeks living in that flat, making your mark on wherever you are going and really push yourself to succeed.

But realise that real success is giving back. And when you finally have the power in your hands, don’t keep it all to yourself. Share it. Never forget how lucky you really are.

I’m Too Busy

It’s easily done. You want to make the most of your time, combined with the fact that you rarely say no. You have a diary covered in biro from the various meetings and lunches that you have to attend. When you ask a friend if you can meet up for a drink, both of your eyes avert directly to your phones to see whether your calendars can squeeze each other in. Spontaneity is allowing them to decide where you are going. The idea of being impulsive is a distant memory when you think about all the responsibilities you have to keep.

I have been guilty of this. This is only the second post that I have written in four months. I’m actually embarrassed at the fact that I have forgone one of the things that I have loved doing for so long, because so called “more important” things have taken over. For all intents and purposes, that is an illusion. The only reason that I was reminded to write something, was after a chance encounter with a friend who said that they read the blog. Then it hit me.

I hadn’t even thought about it in months. I always keep a list of things that I want to write, but the chances are these ambitions get squashed because, you guessed it…I’m too busy. It really got me thinking about my priorities on a day-to-day scale. How often do I sacrifice things that make me happy on a daily basis to graft for the long-term vision? You can tell yourself that things are going in the right direction, and by busying yourself with a list of tasks, how do you actually know where you are? Have you given yourself a chance to reflect?

It pays to take a day off and do the things that you have been putting off. The reason that your productivity is so low, is because you give yourself nothing to look forward to. And I am not talking about that dinner that you offered yourself as a treat for writing that essay, but the food for your soul. Let me give you an example. I went to India for the first time last year, and in 6 months, not once have I looked back at my diary or even contemplated going through the pictures. Yet, it sits on my to-do list, circled vigorously with the vague urgency to get to it. That doesn’t work.

The one thing that I have realised, is that the best things you do don’t get put on your lists of mundane tasks for the day. They sit dormant in your mind whilst you contemplate taking time out of your busy schedule to actually do them. Now is the chance to make time.

For the next 30 days, I have set myself the target to write something every day on this platform. To be honest, I am quite scared, because I have never written with that level of frequency before and I fear that it could get self-indulgent. So watch out. But this is a challenge and it means making an effort. It means making time. It means “I’m too busy” isn’t good enough.

You should try and do the same. Start thinking about the things you have been putting off, the people you haven’t met, the places you haven’t visited. What can you do in the next 30 days to consciously free up your schedule and release the shackles of your packed diary?

Try it. You really have got nothing to lose.

What Can I Write On This To Bring Them Back

I walked into the newsroom on Tuesday and logged in. It felt like a normal day, sat out on the balcony, next to my manager. As I do every day, I looked at the headlines to acquaint myself with what is going on so that I would be on top of the curve in the office. Making a good impression. I’d never even heard of Peshawar before, but I knew who the Taliban were. The more of the article I read, the more the hole is my stomach grew and filled with sickness. I asked for five minutes to compose myself outside in the fresh air – making sure that I didn’t make eye-contact with anyone, my eyes fixed on the way ahead.

The room continued as normal, buzzing with stories, but I could not help but feel hollow. You can understand it, you become desensitised to tragedy and loss because there is so much of it that stains the papers everyday with blood. But I am not of such a breed, it is not my job to report on what happens – but my duty as a human being to feel the loss of 132 sets of families in the same moment.

It didn’t make me angry. It made me fearful. Frightened of an existence where a human being, (although I would not classify the beings that conducted those acts to have humanity) can walk into a classroom and shoot a group of innocent children. Who can then, after hearing the screams and seeing the room turn scarlet, casually walk into the next and repeat the same thing again. Walking around to make sure that not a single child would stir amongst the occupation of their thick, black military boots.

Conflict has become dirty. It is abhorrent to be in a society where individuals who have no hope of defending themselves can be extinguished. Where the bodies of innocent school children are sacrificed to make a political point. Have we stooped so low? The saddest part is that these kids were learning to look past the differences. They were becoming wiser. But when the ignorant are armed with guns, their textbooks do not provide sufficient protection.

I am an advocator of free education. A sense of learning and entitlement. But can we really advocate education without protecting it? Malala survived, but how many children are extinguished every day for getting on a school bus, when we complain that our own bus is 10 minutes late? The gulf between the young people of the three worlds is getting wider and it won’t be long before the conflict becomes out of arms reach. We make our placards about education for all, we demonstrate for cuts in fees, but how many of us actually use our learning to help those that really need it? Education is a right that needs to be protected, because when we don’t, it becomes a weapon in a political power play.

Every journalist must feel this...
Credit: Slice of Simplicity

Trafalgar Square was solemn on Wednesday night. I arrived 40 minutes before the candlelit vigil was set to begin, organised by university students, to remind the people of Peshawar that the world was with them. But it wasn’t the people, or the lights, or the pictures that made me think – but it was the signs. The title of this post was written on a placard at the front, “What Can I Write On This To Bring Them Back”, others read simply “Enough. We are tired.” So am I. Tired of walking into a newsroom and seeing the anguish of families carrying their loved ones in rushed, wooden caskets, as the world starts to forget they exist.

“When a wife dies, we call the husband is a widower. When a husband dies, we call the wife is a widow. When parents die, we call the child an orphan. But when a child dies, there is no word to encapsulate the pain that the parents feel – we just cannot begin to imagine this suffering”  – Taken from a speech at the candlelit vigil

There is nothing I can say here that is going to bring them back. There is nothing that, God forbid, will stop tragedies like this occurring tomorrow. However, the thing that will change is the attitude I saw at the vigil. People standing in silence, together, existing as a barrier between the ignorant and the innocent. We will protect them from harm. Condemnation is not enough anymore, and violence is all too much. It’s time we stopped skimming and really started talking about it. Hold hands with the person next to you, hold their hearts and realise that they are all you have, even if you don’t know them.

When we start realising how precious life is – how survival is really all we have – then we can start building the bridges towards each other. Just start by seeing the humanity in others, and it can’t be lost. Not entirely anyway. Because spirit is bulletproof.

Never forgotten in our souls – the 141 that didn’t make it out of school this time. They wait for us by the gates.

#PrayForPeshawar

(60) Days of Summer

Today is my last night. I have become accustomed to long summer months of freedom, where a year of stress is relieved. Knowing that there is no plan, other than the one that I have set myself, is something that you rarely have the chance or the time to do. Nevertheless, this summer has been the perfect time to relax and recollect on all of the summers that have come before.

I have always tried to make the most of the free time I have. Before it gets to July, I had already planned out how the two months were going to pan out – one week at this company, two weeks volunteering here, a few days here and there at home. I don’t stop running. I am almost busier when I am supposed to be free. So close friends of mine have always joked that I don’t really know what the real definition of relaxation is, because I seem to do the opposite.

I love it, but this year I realised that I never really took time off. When I was supposed to be just chilling at a mate’s house, I was on a week long course. When I should have been playing in the park, I was too busy organising work experience. When I should have enjoyed being a kid, I was too busy trying to grow up. Trying to prove that age was not going to stop me from walking into boardrooms or working with decision makers. And making sure that adults took me seriously.

I don’t regret any of the decisions that I made, but I wanted to give myself a chance to do the things I missed out on. And in true hyper-organised style, I wrote down a list of things that I wanted to achieve so I could cross them off. The picture of that list is at the top. And as you can see, I am chuffed with how much I have done. But at the same time, I wanted to feed my soul. It wasn’t enough to do things, but to enjoy doing nothing productively.

I started reading again for pleasure, ditching academics for storytellers. I cooked knowing that it made my happy, rather than out of necessity. I wanted to run outside because the weather was so beautiful, not just because I wanted to drop a few. I made the effort to break bread with people that inspired/scared/loved me because I wanted to spend time with them, not because I hadn’t seen them in a while. I got into designing again and smiled through the long hours of editing on Photoshop. After 19 years, I finally took a deep breath and learned how to ride a bicycle – this was one of my proudest moments. Most of all though, I made time for me.

Some of these things probably mean nothing to you. Most people are shocked when they find out I can’t ride a bike. But the truth is, there were a lot of things that I just didn’t make time for, because I was preparing for a future. Now I want to live it.

And that is the only thing that I can say to you that is noteworthy. On this last real night of my childhood, when I feel like I am finally becoming the adult I was too eager to become: I am so glad that I was a kid. That I felt the innocence. That I made the mistakes. That I looked stupid and embarrassed myself. That I believed the world could sort itself out. And that the most important people were my Mum and Dad – and they were like superheroes.

Because isn’t that what the world really needs? Child-like optimism. Through the 60 (or more likely 600) days of summer, all of these things one way or another were true and they made me happier than anything. I didn’t feel stress or frustration or loss. I just felt free.

Now I have stopped running, and I’m ready to fly.

Good Gossip

Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” But isn’t it true that everyone discusses people? So are we all small minded? What I know to be true is that gossip as a practice is loathsome. And I do not find it interesting to speculate or discuss other people’s lives unless they are sitting in front of me. Because that means that they can respond.

I walk away from these sorts of conversations. I do not scour the Daily Mail for celebrity gossip columns, neither do I trawl the Times for individual political scandal, yet it is all around me. So why there is a need for us to discuss each other and what do we classify as gossip? Anyone who went to a high school or was a teenager knows what gossip is. The truth is that even if you don’t care for it, like me, there has a point at least once in your life when you have passed judgement on a person or the actions that they have taken.

Yet, this notion doesn’t satisfy me. After having a conversation with a few friends, it got me thinking about why we regard judgement to be a derogatory term. He judged me. She made a comment about me. Now you are remembering a comment that he or she made and I can bet it is making you grit your teeth. Why do we always remember the comments that make us feel small or demean us? The conclusion we came to is that judgement is not a bad thing – it is an instrument. A filter that allows you to understand a person and whether you want to make a connection.

With this in mind, it is easy to see why we gossip. We are desperate to make connection, and judgement forms a part of that. You make judgements in your head a thousand times a day with a thousand people you have never met. It is natural. But that does not mean that gossip has to be a bad thing. Purely discussing a person does not necessarily mean that you are trashing them. There is a fine line between praise and gossip – except praise doesn’t spread like wildfire.

So let us try an experiment. Practice good gossip. Give yourself a chance to say nice things about people and notice the good in them. Let judgement be in your corner and allow yourself to praise those that you value. Don’t get sucked in to an endless debate of cynicism and bile – rise about it. You are better than that. And if each of us just chose to spread this secret, one by one, word by word, then what is stopping random acts of kindness being a little less random?

Put simply, gossip hurts because it can be anonymous and snowball. But maybe it is time we stopped seeking adulation for praise and started being grateful for all of the great people making a local difference. Let’s anonymously start making the world a better place.