What Can I Write On This To Bring Them Back


Credit: Kashif Haque

 

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

Shed Perspective


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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.

The Worst Week of My Life


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It has been just over a week now since I came out of the hospital and was discharged to come home. A friend kindly dropped me off to my house, where I hobbled groggily to my room on my crutches, still coming down from the painkillers that had been pumped into me for the past 24 hours. I felt…no that’s a lie, I couldn’t really feel anything, so I sat down on my bed in silence and my ears started to burn. This already sounds incredibly dramatic, but it is my intention to paint a picture and not to incite any sympathy at all. I am not good at dealing with sympathy.

After coming down from the high of conquering India for the first time on my own, I launched myself straight into my second year of university. Without pausing for breath, I started to run at my course, my friends and all of the things that I was looking forward to this year. At the end of my first week, I stopped running. Slipping over on a night out, I broke my ankle in two places (the first thing that I have actually broken) and have been on crutches ever since. Now everything has become a lot more difficult.

I can deal with physical pain. There are pills and potions that can make things numb and painless, but trauma is a completely different beast. When I have to prepare myself to stand up and walk the two metres to the door of my room just to turn the light off so I can go to sleep, I feel the trauma. It is an uncontrollable urge to run when you can’t walk. When you have to rely on everyone around you to do things for you, because you can’t look after yourself, is when I feel the pang of guilt from my own idiocy.

This is my fault. However much the accident was just that, an accident, the steps that I took to get there are all my own. And that is what makes this the hardest thing I have had to cope with. All the funny looks and laughs are justified, because I am the one to blame. These are the consequences.

I have been so self-indulgent recently, and even this is just an extension of that. Because my world has changed so drastically, I have forgotten how fortunate I am to have all of these people around me that are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure I get better without complaint. I am eternally grateful for them. There are many who are close to me in the same breath who have let me down and it has made me see them in a new light.

Although the most upsetting thing is knowing that you have let yourself down. When you look at yourself and see the shadow of the person that you once were. That is the bitterest pill to swallow. You look down every day and are constantly physically reminded of the stupid mistake that you made. The mistake that will make every second of every hour a struggle until it is healed. The cast will come off in a few months and I will walk again. But it is not the physical wound that requires attention, but the mental cut that continues bleed. Unfortunately there is no quick fix for that trauma.

Changing Dynamics


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Tiredness Level: 1000

Excerpts from Europe: Part Seven

Today has been the most interesting day for me in terms of learning and social interaction with the group. We pretty much saw all of Prague in a day, completely on foot – which is no mean feat. The blisters on my heel tell that story explicitly. However, we are at a stage where the tiredness level has taken us over the honeymoon period.

Speaking to different people at different times and spending some quality alone time has changed my perspective completely. Having been obviously guarded at the beginning of this trip, I feel like Prague is the turning point. The true colours of our personalities are starting to show without any pomp or politeness and we are dealing with it. It is the make or break.

Regardless of that, it seems like we can do nothing but make the best of these situations, develop our confidence knowing that this is the practice ground for real life. There are no more half measures or tentative movements – we haven’t got any time for that. Prague has taught us that the bold are rewarded (but not always the first time) and that the best place to leave our inhibitions is at the bottom of a glass. Roll on, Berlin.

Beaut shot of rural Prague on the train

Beaut shot of rural Prague on the train

Incredible India


Whilst you are reading this, I am on a plane to the subcontinent where my ancestry began. I have no idea what the time is yet, I am probably squashed like a sardine in an aluminium tin and the musk is going to hit me like a freight train when the plane doors open, but you know what? I am going home for the first time. I am actually going to touch down in India.

Whilst I am writing this, just before going to the airport for the flight, I can feel my hands are starting to get a bit clammier and my head feels heavier. All the excitement of the last few months of planning the trip of a lifetime is starting to set it, and the gravity of the situation is dawning on me. The real headache is not knowing what to expect. Getting varied second-hand reports from all sorts of people has made me confused – it has made it daunting because India seems to be, as a friend put it…interesting.

That is a loaded word. It isn’t particularly positive or negative. It is just curious. A place where over a billion people live and work – a part of me believes that India has got something for everyone. But what do I want to get out of this trip? What part of the real India do I want to see? Will I get to see the real India at all? I hope so. But I am going to have to throw myself into it.

The title of this post comes from an advertising campaign that the Indian Tourist Board ran when I was a kid. Slightly adapted, the ‘!ncredible India’ campaign made me fall in love with the place. The colour from Holi, the beautiful sunscapes of Goa and the bustling hive of Mumbai and Delhi made it seem like a wonderland. Then as I grew up, I realised how this affinity with the place became more and more stretched.

India isn’t by any means perfect. A large majority of the population is poor and lives in slums. It is overpopulated, overcrowded and overheated. It is bubbling hotpot of political corruption. Women are not treated with respect. The healthcare system is a sham. But, there is something that India has that makes it incredible.

It has history. Culture. An air of pomp and grandeur. It is a paradise. And I am going to spend a month exploring it. This will be my last post for a while because I will be busy discovering. A trip to catch up on 19 years.

I will tell you all about when I come back. But I don’t think it will fit on a postcard. Namaste.

The Centenary Post


Dear Reader,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s continue walking together,

Forever yours,

Hiran

28.08.14

(60) Days of Summer


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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.

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