Expectation


SPA

When I was about 13 or 14, I went to this intensive training weekend with a company that I cannot remember the name of. There were around 10 of us, I was the youngest, and we sat and listened to two trainers teach us how to achieve success. It sounds very far-fetched, but it has stayed with me to this day. It focused a lot of visualising what success was going to look like. Remembering all of the little things that you can see, hear and touch when you realise what success is.

I have noticeably been silent on a lot of what has happened this week. I am incredibly proud and humbled by all of the things that we have achieved this year and I have no idea how we got here. When I said that we were going to be the best student publication in the country, I was being naïve. I wasn’t lying because I believed it, but I still might be the only one who thought that we had a chance.

For me the nomination was always enough. At least, that is what I thought until I got to the awards ceremony and sat on my chair. As the night went on, I thought we would do the impossible and I have been kicking myself for the last few days trying to figure out what went wrong. I visualised what success and failure would look like – I dreamt about it and prepared myself for it. But in the end, losing on the night took all of the breath out of me.

The truth is that I am disappointed – upset, that we didn’t quite do enough – but that is the problem with expectation. I feel guilty for even feeling like this, because I am so proud of how far we have come. It is this strange inner conflict, of both complete happiness but a nagging sense of incompleteness that confuses me. I didn’t really know how to react and so I went with what I knew – I felt inadequate.

What is most annoying is that there are so many positives to take from this. All in all, the awards that we won were actually the ones that we deserved and the ones we put the most work into. Best Publication would have been a nice cherry, but in my heart of hearts, I know that we just weren’t consistently good enough. It is a hard thing to swallow, knowing that it wasn’t quite enough, but if I had it all worked out now, who knows what the outcome would have been?

The positive learning curve from this is that I am not quite there yet. Hell it hurts more than a lot of things that I have done, but it is the reason why I need to wake up early in the morning and keep going. We managed to do the best that we have ever done at these awards, and I need to realise how big a deal that is – regardless of my selfish motives and my ego.

Putting that all aside, I cried with happiness. I actually weeped and it didn’t feel like a bad thing. It felt like a wonderful thing to let the emotion out. Knowing that life never really works out the way that you know it, to have these pieces of glass, to go beyond the expectation, is one of the best things I have ever done.

It is with this that I finally put it to bed and realise that it is time for the next challenge. I have done everything that I can do here and it is finally time to say goodbye. For the millionth time, it is time to look back fondly, rather than turn my back.

Expectation is a bitch. But this is enough for now – there are more first places to come.

The library in your last term


warwick library

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.

Bleed Blue


Credit: sum_of_marc / Flickr

Credit: sum_of_marc / Flickr

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.

A Little Time Off


Credit: petalouda62 / Flickr

Credit: petalouda62 / Flickr

It’s been just over a week now since I left the best job I ever had. It feels weird to think that, let alone say it. When I was still there, it definitely didn’t feel like the best job, but the last seven days or so have given me some perspective. I wake up in the mornings not routinely checking my emails, clearing my Facebook messages or wandering onto the website to see how everything is going. I have started to make time for breakfast in the morning, I don’t wake up panicked and I actually have time to read on the bus without falling in and out of sleep.

I miss parts of it. Of course I miss the inevitable sense of importance and being able to work with fantastic people on a daily basis. I miss being at the beginning, middle and end of the story, watching the whole journey happen – and knowing that there was a small part of it that was down to me. The feeling of accomplishment that you get from doing a good job and working with people who (hopefully) feel valued is second to none. I miss watching the names and faces of those you start with, grow and prosper. There are so many fantastic individuals that have made me smile and gasp in awe this year, many of them close to home, but also a number that I can already see on the horizon doing their thing already.

It would be impossible to thank everyone that has been a part of this. There have been times along the way, probably more than I expected, when I needed to lean on someone for help and they have always given me the time I needed. I am not going to say that those people should know who they are, because many of them are reading this – and I wanted to express a heartfelt thank you. Feeling empowered in the position that I was in is only boosted knowing that I represent and sponsor the values of others walking alongside me. Like-minded individuals marching fervently towards change.

It has been a privilege to hold that baton for nigh on 12 months, but batons are meant to be passed. In truth, even though it was difficult at first, it has been refreshing to find myself again. It also amuses me slightly that at a moment’s notice of focusing on me I am back at this keyboard and typing it all out. I guess this gives me a platform to transform myself. A constant that I can turn back to for more challenges and puzzles that I am craving now.

It does feel empty at points. A numbing feeling looking back at some of the best experiences and achievements of my university life, knowing that it is not only the end of that, but nearly the end of another chapter. I look back at them fondly, but it hurts knowing that they are past and the future looks a little more uncertain.

However, I am taking a little rest to start with me. That is the reason why I have not been so diligent in responding to messages this month or have taken time out of other commitments. This phase of hibernation is slowly drawing to coming to a close with this succinct message, but it has been nice to have some time away from most responsibilities. As time like this, as much as I hate the mundane, it feels good to have a tidy house, a decent schedule and time to relax. It is something that I have missed immensely, and felt guilty about for too long. No one should begrudge themselves a little time off.

With the last few months of a staple life to go, before things take a massive upheaval, I can honestly say I feel calm for the first time in a while. I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen, but having fought against the impossible last year and managed to achieve some of it, I can’t wait to see what is in store.

The thrill is in the chase right?

Bedouin


The bow of a traditional pearl diving boat // credit: Bala / Flickr

The bow of a traditional pearl diving boat // credit: Bala / Flickr

Bedouin. No, it isn’t something from Star Wars. The inhabitants of the desert and forefathers of the hyper-city that lies before us was no more than a nomadic tribe diving for pearls only 100 or so years ago. Before the discovery of oil in the 1970s and the mass development of Dubai, it started off from fairly humble beginnings. I was convinced before I came here that Dubai had no history at all – it was one of the reasons that I avoided coming here, but there is a heritage. It isn’t something that you are going to find in Dubai Mall or in a 5* hotel (of which there are many). You have to dig a little deeper.

The city tour that we booked ourselves onto this morning was to settle us in. After resting our swollen feet from the floors of the Burj Khalifa, we decided that it was time to sit on a bus. The national museum had told us the brief story of this place, and now it was time to see the effects. Bur Dubai, where the old gold souks (markets) lay were noticeably empty – it was the quietest street market I had ever seen. However, it had a character that did not shine with the veneer of the imported marble that we had seen everywhere.

Jumeirah. You have heard of it. It means chandelier and relates to the most expensive part of Dubai, probably the wealthiest street in the entire world. A road filled with the emirati, descendants and loved ones of the royal family, that own the UAE and its rich contents. Whilst the oil may have dried up, the wealth has never left. Only the distant descendants of the Bedouin tribes are able to open businesses and own property in this country – which means that the only thing that we can take away is what we can carry in our Prada bags – the real wealth in estate and citizenship don’t go any further than the Arabian Gulf.

What struck me about this place is the sheer size. It is like an enormous Monopoly board in which someone has put hotels on everything. From the breathtaking Atlantis hotel as a window onto the ‘Gulf; to the familiar sail of the 7* Burj al-Arab hotel on the Palm Jumeirah; the word ‘luxury’ is ripped out the dictionary and replaced with a map of Dubai. The only place for modesty here is in clothing, with its unspoken yet strict Islamic laws.

However there are contradictions. The pork aisle in the Waitrose supermarket labelled “non-Muslim”. The variety of cigarettes and alcohol on offer to any tourist willing to pay the tax-deductible price. The emphasis on greed and spending, and the absence of humility and humanity. There are thousands that build these buildings and maintain this 24/7 tourist attraction, but they do not exist in the minds of those who come here. The backbone of the populace is almost invisible outside of their uniforms and duties – it is as if they are the ghosts that prosperity left behind.

It is easy to get caught up in the hype. The thousands of shops, crystal white beaches and unimaginable luxury, but it is not real. It can’t be real when 80% of it is dependent on foreigners and there is no incentive to work for the vast majority of residents. Yet, the destructive circle continues. More skyscrapers are built. The world’s largest zoo is in construction. Companies continue to pay no tax. And investors continue to pour talent into this man-made oasis.

For me, a society built on this level of consumerism is a recipe for disaster. Imagine how many people in Syria could be saved if the King sold his solid gold Rolls Royce. Perspective is a very damning indictment. And it doesn’t seem to exist here.

A Massive, Fucking Queue


Dubai by sunset // credit: SimSullen / Flickr

Dubai by sunset // credit: SimSullen / Flickr

I blink and four days have gone by. I kept telling myself that I would get back to writing, but it has been a few long days and very little time to get my thoughts together. We have now left India and moved onto Dubai. It is the first time that we have been here and it is safe to say that we have avoided coming here in the past. Not because it isn’t an exciting place, but because there doesn’t seem like there is much to do except to shop and sunbathe. Well, if Mumbai was a huge traffic jam, then Dubai is a massive, fucking queue.

I’m British. We are fond of queueing when the result of the queue is worth it. Going to a gig, getting some food or catching a bus are all acceptable reasons to join a queue and they are generally well organised and routine. Not in Dubai. Here, there is a queue to enter buildings, to leave buildings, to get into elevators, to get out of elevators, to get into taxis, to get out….you get the gist. There are only 3 million people that live here, but it seems like they all are standing in front of me.

Our first impression as we reached the hotel is the sort of thing you vaguely remember from that George Clooney movie about tomorrowland. Incredibly flat and fast, as soon as get onto Sheik Zayed Road, the various skyscrapers and hotels pop into view as if you were driving on a car simulator in a service station. Slowly but surely, the tall isolated skyline is visible like an oasis in the middle of the desert. Well, it is an oasis in the middle of the desert. All of the grass is imported from Brazil and it is maintained by fountains – the water has to be imported because the climate is too dry to sustain plants.

You would think that this is unnecessary. However, this place is built for the preposterous grandiose. From gold Rolls Royce cars to the tallest building in the world, nothing is done by halves in this live-in amusement park – a haven for the über rich, a plaything to be moulded by the gold-plated Emirati. The 600,000 citizens here (no one is allowed citizenship anymore) are provided with free healthcare, education, housing, amenities and jobs, with the bill being paid by the millions of tourists that visit every year. That’s right, you. When you check into your hotel here, you have already paid your dues.

The sparkling attraction is the Burj Khalifa, named after the current president of the UAE. Standing at over 830m in the air, it is a spike in the every growing skyscape of the Dubai horizon. Taking over $1 billion dollars to build, it offers amazing views of the entire city as well as housing luxuries like the Armani hotel. God, I sound like a brochure. What they don’t tell you is that the £25 ticket includes a complimentary set of queues and checks totalling two hours. Before you have even got in the world’s fastest elevator (are you seeing the pattern here?) you are so tired and your feet feel like lead. Then you see the view and whilst stunning, it really doesn’t live up to its name. Oh and there is a queue back down too.

I forgot to mention the 45 minute walk through the Metro station, through the Dubai Mall that would make Marx turn in his grave. If there was ever a monument to capitalist consumerism, then this would be the high temple. I like a mall as much as the next person, but this place stands like a giant at an ant’s view – apparently it takes three visits (15 hours) to conquer the mall – we swiftly exited for the first time.

If this place is an oasis in the middle of the desert, then for me it stands as a mirage. Not a good start, we hope for a better (less expensive) day tomorrow.

A Backwater Christmas


Gobble gobble

Gobble gobble

You’ve probably just woken up from your post-Christmas meal nap and are either waiting for the Doctor Who or Eastenders special to start. It has been an incredibly alcoholic/calorific day and you can’t remember a time when you weren’t at a dinner table or splayed out on a sofa. The jumper you are wearing has a snowflake or a reindeer on it and you don’t care a little bit. Your dad is probably still asleep, snoring and has forgotten to take his party hat off. This is what Christmas usually looks like. However, writing this in Allapay on the backwaters of the River Periyar in Kerala, I can’t say that we have had the most conventional Christmas.

They don’t really celebrate it here even though a significant number of people are Christian – however, the hotels containing tourists really do make an effort. I managed to pack a couple of Christmas jumpers in the vain hope that I could wear them without melting underneath. My thin “Chilling” jumper was just about bearable for breakfast before it got absolutely ridiculously hot. Considering the weather has always been freezing at home in the last few years, this was a much welcome change. In Greenwoods, there was a beautiful treehouse that we climbed to peer over the town of Thekkady before we left for the final place, Allapay. Then I saw a turkey. A real live, gobble-gobble turkey and I raced down to see it. It was particularly grumpy, but it was huge and the irony was too strong for me to not take a picture with it.

Skipping ahead the three hour long car journey, Allapay was back towards Cochin where we started, and so it was humid beyond belief. However, this was mitigated by the fact that it was bang in the middle of the backwaters, which are like canals and very famous in the area, which cooled the land around them. You could see palm trees, paddy fields and so many house boats – it was almost like a Venice-themed set for Lost. To top it all off, the only way to get to our hotel was to get there by boat. Yes, a boat bus.

We jumped onto the barge and made our way across the lake to the Lake Palace resort. When my Mum said that she was going to organise a five star trip for my 21st I thought she was joking, but this place was literally like paradise in the middle of nowhere. Set up a serious of cottages straddling the river, the entire hotel was completely integrated into its surrounding environment. Our “room” is surrounded by a man-made lake, the centre of which stands a swimming pool. You have to get around here by golf cart and they offer free pottery classes. And when someone offers you claywork on Christmas, you would be an idiot to say no. So I’ve set up a class for tomorrow – go figure.

The highlight of the day though was the boat ride over the backwaters here. They are separate from the rest of the ocean and act like roads for the fishing and agricultural markets. One of the key features are the thatched house boats that were traditionally set by fisherman over week long campaigns where their family could stay with them. Now they are a cool tourist attraction and inevitably everyone has jumped on the bandwagon. To be honest, all of the other things aside, it was nice just having the tranquillity and the sunset behind us as I thought about how different it would have been in England. There wasn’t a television or Shrek re-run in sight.

With only a few more days left in India, it has dawned on me that this is the last time I am going to be here for a while. Having been here three times in two years and seeing over half the country, it is time to take a break. Saying that, it is going to be sad to say goodbye to this, and especially enjoying these last few moments with my family. I will be forever grateful to my Mum and brother for single-handedly putting this whole thing together. I am not a birthday person at all, but this is the best way to celebrate it.

I may not have learned anymore about Christianity this year (it has been difficult to do so with no wifi and few English-speaking churches out here) but I have learnt the importance of having my family around me. It is easy to lose a sense of that at university when you have been away so long.

I may have met turkeys, made pottery, climbed tree houses, swum in a pool inside a lake, ridden on a few boats, worn a ridiculous jumper in the crazy heat and eaten Indian food instead of Christmas dinner. Like I said, it’s been an unconventional festive season. If this is the last thing I get to say about South India, then all I can say is that it really is “God’s Own Country” as they advertise it everywhere.

I think they just have better tea.

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What a sunset

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