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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.

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.

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.

Meet Kathleen

Luckily, I have never come into to contact with meningitis or septicaemia. They are both afflictions that have a dramatic impact on someone’s life and I feel so fortunate that neither I nor a loved one have been affected by it. However, I remember at school being given lessons on how to recognise it, the headaches and loss of vision, paralysis and sense of numbness. Knowing this as well as the fact that you are more susceptible to it when you are young, as I got older I neglected to understand it any further. All I can vividly remember now is that if you got it, you had a very short time to live, and the chances are you couldn’t treat it. It was and still is extremely frightening.

So I started to look into it. I wanted to read the stories of those that had been blighted and it is my mission to share some of these stories with you. Of individuals that have fought it. Some have won these battles, and some have sadly lost them, but all of them are important in their own right. I thought I would start with one that really affected me when I read it because…well you will see why when I tell you.

Kathleen. She was a university student just like me and walked into her first year as a fresher full of enthusiasm as the next stage of her life began. She was a dancer and had performed since she was very young. Having come back from rehearsals and gone to bed early, her life was about to be inextricably changed in just one night. She had somehow contracted meningococcal septicaemia. I will go into detail of what this consists of in a later post. Luckily, she was able to drag herself out of bed and find her flatmates – feeling delirious and disorientated, within an hour she was at hospital. Within hours, her organs started to shut down and she was taken into intensive care. Her parents had got the call that their daughter was hours away from dying. The only thing that was saving her heart was the fact that she was fit due to her dancing.

But unfortunately, Kathleen would never dance again. After surviving those first few hours, and spending over three weeks in hospital including Christmas Day and New Year’s, her legs had severely deteriorated. She said, “Being told I would lose my legs is still the hardest moment I have encountered. The loss of my limbs, the empty space on the bed where my legs once were, is still emotionally painful to me. I would never dance again.” When I read that sentence, I teared up. I can’t imagine giving up my passion, it would be like my hands being chopped off so I couldn’t write. When I read that sentence, I realised how important it is to share Kathleen’s story.

Charity is a faceless cause. It is surrounded by aggressive advertising, cheap benefits and the same logos and branding. It is a business and I would be naïve in suggesting that it isn’t. However, there is a human side behind the money that is vital in highlighting. You need to see the change that you are helping to create, otherwise I can understand the cynicism. But be brave. Donate some money, but more than that give your time to a cause that you believe in. And tell me about it, because I live to hear your stories and write about them. What is life without anecdotes and lessons?

Luckily for Kathleen, the story has a happy ending. Find out more here:

And if you would like to donate to my page then I would be very appreciative:

Confessions of a Curious Vegetarian

As seen in The Boar (The University of Warwick’s student newspaper):

There has only been one ongoing debate in my kitchen. How can you be vegetarian? It seems that from the people I have spoken to, it is puzzling how I can walk past a pan of fried bacon without being tempted to promptly shovel it into my mouth with a huge smile on my face. Incredibly, it isn’t that difficult.

Considering I am of Indian descent, I can understand why people think that I am vegetarian because of religious reasons. And it is true that my whole family are vegetarian and we are influenced by Hinduism. The belief is that no animal should be harmed as one living thing has no right to harm another for pleasure. However, this is only a side issue for me…the real reasons are far more practical which I will discuss in a moment.

Before that, I’ll break down some myths about vegetarianism. First of all, we are not grass eaters. For those of you quizzically looking at your paper right now, I was asked this seriously by someone in my first week at Warwick… very awkward.

Secondly, we don’t only eat vegetables…we also gorge down on bread, milk and cheese (excessively in my case).

Thirdly, we don’t eat fish like some people commonly believe, those are actually pescetarians.

Fourthly, despite not eating meat, we get ready sources of protein from lentils, nuts and pulses which are actually better sources as they aid digestion.

Lastly, despite what my friends think, vegetarians don’t have less fun that omnivores. I just thought I’d point that out.

Now, joking aside, let’s get onto the real issue here. Recently, I watched a fly on the wall documentary called‘The Fried Chicken Shop’ (still available on 4oD) about a fast food outlet based in Clapham, London. There were some facts about the consumption of chicken that shocked me: “Chicken used to be a luxury. We used to eat the equivalent of just one a year. Now we slaughter 2.5 million a day.

We eat it more than any other meat and it has changed our high streets. It’s the front line and bread line of Britain” The average price of a piece of chicken was no more than £2, which accounting for profit margins, franchise and distribution costs means that the unit cost could be as little as 50p. This is the cheapest that meat has ever been, how is it possible to get it down to this price?

Well, it isn’t pretty. A prior warning before I reveal this, the link I am going to give you is not for the squeamish. If you watch “Possibly the Most Eye Opening 6 Minutes Ever on Film” (the video above) you will be able to see the impact of the cheap meat market.

I first watched it I was disturbed by the fact that you could see chickens literally being sucked up by a machine before being slaughtered. It would anyone feel sick.

The frightening truth is that it just isn’t sustainable for us to be consuming meat in this way. If we are happy to buy this cheap meat, now knowing where it has come from, can we really say that we are enjoying it? Does it not taste a little bitter? Some would now argue that eating organic and free range produce would combat this problem, but the truth is that our collective appetite seems to be insatiable.

All around the world, arable land for crops is being given up to raise livestock, which is actually reducing the absolute amount of food in weight that can be taken from the same surface area of land. It means that by continuing to pursue meaty motives, we are actually worsening the problem and reducing the efficiency of the production of other food.

Let me be clear, I am not expecting you to drop your turkey sandwiches and devote your life to munching cucumbers. But I do want you to think about the implications of what you might be putting in your mouth and the story of how it got onto your plate. Just by refusing to eat cheap meat, or by having a veggie day of the week, you can start to make a serious dent in this issue.

How To Write A (Good) Personal Statement

For those of you that wanted help with the early deadline of 15th October, I fear that this may be too late. However having gone through the horrendous process of the UCAS application process and looking at a number of people’s personal statements (10+) to give them feedback, I feel like I am in the lucrative position of giving some general advice that can make your statement stronger (for the rest of you). These are not absolutes, they are not guaranteed to work; they are just my opinion. Having seen the same patterns in most statements, I thought I would post a few helpful hints that might take you from being middle of the road to top of the class:

  1. Have A Strong Start – The first line is the hook and you want the admissions officer to take the bait. This may take you longer to fine tune than any other sentence, but this is necessary to stop someone from throwing your application in the bin – and don’t think they won’t.
  2. Be Direct – Making flowery descriptions and explanations of things is great in English, but a useless waste of characters in a statement. If you aren’t ‘to the point’, they won’t spend time figuring it out.
  3. Don’t Have An Epiphany – Saying that you chose your course after a moment of revelation is fine if you can make it work, but tread carefully. For example saying that you fell out of the womb wearing a stethoscope and that makes you want to be a doctor is not clever. It makes you an idiot. Don’t treat the universities like one.
  4. Relevance is Key – I fell into the trap of naming everything I do hoping it would make me look brilliant. But try to pick and choose experiences that have a link to the course and if you can’t see one straight away, create one – this will help to strengthen your claims.
  5. Back It Up – Make sure you don’t just make sweeping statements (everyone does this at first so don’t worry) and don’t back them up. They are not looking for you to be deliberately provocative…unless you can give strong evidence otherwise and you have the balls to back it up in an interview.
  6. Make It Personal – It sounds obvious, but think about it. Unless you can say how you are better than everyone else based on what you have done, it may as well be an essay. Don’t be afraid to big yourself up.
  7. DON’T LIE! – However convincing you think you are, I promise you that a lie is easy to spot in a statement. You are cheating the institution, you are cheating yourself and you are cheating someone else more deserving out of a place. Simply….do not do it.
  8. It Has To Flow – This was one of the things that buggered me up. With the character limit, it is easy to take out the natural bits of speech that make it easy to read and not disjointed. The only thing you can do is keep re reading it and get someone else to read it until you are happy.
  9. Get Some Opinions – Ask specialists and non specialists to look at your statement. Few things to remember though: make sure that they are not currently applying (you don’t want to get done for plagiarism) and ask those that have some experience with personal statements so some teachers or maybe an undergrad.
  10. Try, try and try again – Your statement will get better with every draft, so do as many as possible. Don’t be afraid to radically change each one, until you find something that works…just save each one so you don’t lose it. If it makes you feel any better, I did 14 (no, I really did).

I hope that these tips have made it a bit easier to write your statement. If they haven’t, or you have got some more than let me know I can add them to this list. This will be one of the hardest things that you will have to do without a shadow of a doubt and you will be competing against the world so it isn’t easy. All you can do is be honest, have integrity and give it your best shot – once it’s done, it’s done and you will not have to do it again. Well you might do. But the first time is always the worst. And then you have got interviews to look forward to….great. I am going to stop now. Hope that helped!

Leaving Home

I have always been quite mature and so things have never really phased me. I have packed a lot of stuff in to not so much time and have got a lot of experience, but nothing prepares you for packing your bags and leaving home. However ‘hard’ you are, it is frightening. You are going to be on your own in a new place with new people and you are going to be alone. However many times you put ‘…can work well independently’ on your personal statement, you never really know what independent is until you are thrown in the deep end.

I am acting like I have never been on my own before. I have been lucky enough to visit different places and do different things and get used to my own company, but within a short amount of time I am eating my mum’s food again so it doesn’t really count. A few months ago, I was itching to leave my school and get away to university; I was bored of the people around me and I was ready for a fresh start and to be my own person. But I was lying to myself. Freedom is not all that it is cracked up to be. It comes at a price, the price of having people at home when you walk through the door after a hard day from work, or the price of having ironed and washed clothes. I keep thinking to myself, am I ready to look after myself?

I know it sounds ridiculous. A grown man (boy) questioning whether he is ready to look after himself. And for those people that know me well, they know that it won’t be difficult for me to fit into university life and make new friends, but can I really leave behind the old? However hard you try, it is difficult to maintain the relationships with people with distance and time spent further apart – it is just one of those things. So what can I do? How do I stop myself from being so insecure about something that everyone must go through?

To be honest, I don’t need to. Because it is reassuring that everyone else will be going through the same thing. After a lot of searching to try and find the answers to the questions that have been swimming around my head, I came to the conclusion that they are right in front of me. People get scared. They question themselves. It is a good thing. It keeps us from getting complacent and becoming ignorant. The fact of the matter is that I will be gone this time next year, having dived straight into the deep end. It is lucky I’ve had 8 years of swimming lessons then, isn’t it?