Posts Tagged

humanity

The Cost of Faith

I wouldn’t say I am religious, but I would affirm I am spiritual. I do not like doctrine and I find the word religion to be incredibly loaded. The practice of religion is very much a currency in India – every place of worship, especially the ones that we have been to, will be surrounded by shops and attractions that require money. It is impossible to estimate how much this brings in, but you can assume it is a hefty amount and it is inevitably mostly cash in hand.

When my parents brought me up, they were not afraid to admit that they did not have the answers to my questions. Whenever we conducted anything religious, there were always holes to be found in meanings and understandings, but it was a challenge to find out the answer – it was not something to be ignored. This inquisitiveness has never left me. In fact, it has probably permeated into every part of my life.

Our last day in Mumbai was important to my Mum. The school of thought within which my family has learnt about Hinduism is based in a small insitution in Mumbai. Early on a Sunday morning we made our way to the lecture theatre and sat in the room where the teaching had first begun over 80 years ago. Having seen it on videos and in pictures, it was like de ja vu when we walked into the courtyard and took to the benches at the back.

The man who started the movement demanded that it should not be outwardly publicised, but instead should be passed from person to person, so I will not name him here. However, this weekend would have been the celebration of his 95th birthday and so there were people present from all over the world. My mother had actually met him when he had been alive, and their first meeting was when she was only a girl, a little younger than me, just 20km away from where we stood.

He was responsible for the development of the first university in the world that was built on the ancient tapovan system of education – focusing on the development of the individual, rather than their future aspirations. This unassuming campus was tucked away in the suburbs of Mumbai and it was the beginning of my Mum’s faith. It would also be the birthplace of mine.

It is difficult to describe. There were very few buildings, but the place itself was inundated with nature. It was completely green and you could barely hear the sounds of the noisy highway once you were through the gates. The intention was to create tranquillity. To remove the impurities of the mind by purifying the landscape around them. It had a profoundly uplifting quality.

The students were mild mannered and wore simple white clothes. There was not much talking and people from all walks of life trundled barefoot through the landscape. It was only open to visitors on a Sunday afternoon for a few hours and so this was a chance for the outside world to creep in and take a peek. There was a point in my adolescence when I thought this could be my destination, but that seems like a long time ago now.

Before we left, Mum stood standing in front of the flowered gateway. She was crying and looking forward in silence. She told me how she remembered the last time she was here and spoke to the man who made this place a reality. He was sitting on a bench and greeted her like a distant uncle – she remembered seeing a twinkle in his eye but was too naïve to understand the impact that he would have in her life at that point. Years later she stood in the same spot and imparted that knowledge to us knowing that this was where it had all begun, where it had all started to make sense.

A stranger looking onward came over to ask her why she was crying. She said they were tears of longing joy. He smiled warmly and introduced himself and his wife. They made polite conversation and reminded us of the reasons why he was there – to reinvigorate his faith. Mum smiled back and looked at me with the same expression. She was not upset anymore. He took his leave and I never learned his name, but I remember his warm smile and the way his eyes lit up when we spoke.

That probably doesn’t mean much, but it made all the difference to me. There are many places here that will measure the size of your faith by the thickness of your wallet. They will try to fool you and capture your belief. However, I am forever grateful for the fact that my faith was presented to me as my decision. I was not told what to believe and not vilified for what I thought. It has always been a healthy process of re-assessment and contemplation.

I am happy to be a part of something that recognises the kindness and dignity of complete strangers. For a man to look at us and offer conversation as a means of solace, with no ulterior motive. When you can instil a thought like that, there isn’t the need for expensive prayers. Humanity is enough.

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.

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

Decorum Please

Yesterday, Margaret Thatcher passed away. And I was absolutely disgusted with the reaction and sentiments of some people on all forms of media. Just to be clear before we get carried away, this post is not going to be an endorsement of Lady Thatcher, nor am I going to rant and rave. This is about reminding people to be human beings.

I could not believe some of thing things that people were saying. “Burn in hell” and “I will dance on her rotting grave” were just a selection of the tweets I saw just minutes after acknowledging the saddening news. It made me extremely angry. We must remember that behind her controversial politics, she was a mother and a grandmother and these familial roles should be respected and treated with sensitivity. Imagine how her children and grandchildren must be feeling, seeing idiots in Brixton square dancing and trampling over pictures of her in today’s’ newspapers. It is akin to the trolls that attack tribute pages on social media sites, which add further unnecessary insult to injury.

There are many who have made it clear that Lady Thatcher has systematically ruined their lives, causing them significant hardships which they are yet to recover from. These people have my deepest sympathies, but it does not excuse their behaviour, which is damn near indefensible. The hard truth is that Thatcher has not had any real control of politics for over 20 years. And it defies logic to place the blame of all incidents and bad things on one person’s head when national government is a deep, complicated system that relies on an infrastructure of hundreds of individuals. She was also voted in THREE times, given a majority – and so it is foolish to claim that she was not wanted by the people, when this is clearly not the case.

But putting the petty politics to one side, we have to remember that however controversial, she has written her page in history. And we must respect that. There have been many controversial figures (which I will not name, but you can fill in the blanks) that have earnt our respect, even if they have not made many friends. We must learn from the tenacity and determination of such characters, good or bad, which shape the way that we think and the way that we progress. And we can learn…if we look at the bigger picture, and try not to score cheap points.

All I am asking for is decorum. The British invented it. A little bit more sensitivity and a little less bile. It is cheap, it is degrading and it is pathetic. And nobody wins. Especially not the Thatcher family, who our prayers should be with at this difficult time, so let’s be a little more adult shall we? From the point of view of someone who has lost a family member recently, we need to give them the time and space that they deserve. Free from our own politics. And free from any idiocy.

Humanity costs nothing.