Vain humility

I was at a religious function recently that was at a gurdwara (Sikh temple) and something that took place there has compelled me to vocalise my rant.

Sikh prayers culminate with what is known as Ardaas; when you ask God for forgiveness and pray for whatever you desire. Some gurdwaras have adopted a practice that is in no way religious but has become cultural, and goes against the very grain of humility.

Sikhs are known to be charitable. It’s part of our values; “seva” meaning selfless service. As part of this, its common for congregations to give donations to the gurdwara. These donations are used for the upkeep of gurdwaras where food is served seven days a week.

However, some people – rather than make a private donation – insist on their name being attached to it and being declared in the Ardaas. So you hear the gyaani (priest) announcing “X family gives £X” and this list is tirelessly long! In fact, at times the list of “humble donors” can be longer than the actual Ardaas itself!

I appreciate gurdwaras – like churches and other places of worship – rely on the generous giving of their congregations. After all, they’re registered charities. But isn’t the true meaning of charity ‘selfless good’? Isn’t the aim to help others without expecting anything in return – be that praise or acknowledgement? And surely when it comes to a religious donation; that transaction is between you and God. So why should the whole community hear that you donated £5 or £50?!?!

It becomes an issue of status. People who give more will be seen beaming with pride. As if to imply “I’m doing well and I can prove it by dishing out so much to the gurdwara.” That may be the case but if you were truly humble, you wouldn’t need your name announced.

At this last function I’m referring to, a woman donated money on behalf of her late husband. So now people are giving to God even in their death!

When did faith become so selfish? When did it become about you and not about God or the less fortunate? And yet so many elders in the community wonder why younger generations are gradually moving away from their local gurdwaras.
The corruption at places of worship and other such politics I’ll leave for another blog on another day. For now, all I can end on is think twice before a “humble” act and question who you’re doing it for…

Advertisements

Blurred lines of harassment

If there’s one thing that virtually every workplace has discussed in the last couple of weeks; it’s the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Every day more women are coming forward claiming he harassed them. As if this wasn’t shocking enough – a multi-Oscar winning media mogul disrespecting women in the most crude way – then what’s amazed me is how many people are coming forward saying such harassment is common in many industries.

Before I go any further, I just want to clarify that I’m only talking about harassment and not sexual abuse or rape, because neither need defining. They’re as black and white as it comes to intolerable behaviour towards women.

#MeToo

The Hollywood scandal has led people questioning harassment in the workplace. The #MeToo campaign got me thinking about whether I’ve been harassed at work but I couldn’t recall a single time, despite virtually every woman on my timeline joining the social media campaign. I’ve been complimented, asked out and treated better by some men, which others would consider positive discrimination. I wouldn’t consider any of these things as harassment – although some men have persisted in asking for my number or asking me out without taking the first rejection as an answer. But isn’t it human nature that if you’re attracted to somebody you would do something about it? When does flirting become harassment?

I wonder if men, and women for that matter, will now be too afraid to proclaim their attraction for a colleague and ask them out. Will we see a drop in workplace relationships? I work in a busy media environment where you spend more hours in the week with colleagues than you do at home, so its little surprise many couples have met at work. Will that no longer be the case?

Women represented in media

Then there are the music and film worlds. Every world cinema seems to portray the same thing. In Hollywood and English cinema there’ll be pointless sex scenes that add nothing to the screenplay where the woman is portrayed topless. Likewise in Bollywood: men will be dressed head to toe while women will be revealing as much skin as possible. It makes me wonder if this is done for the audience’s benefit – if so, what does that say about us as filmgoers? Or does it reflect filmmakers, who – lets face it – are usually men.

And speaking of harassment, could it be argued that films like Hitch with Will Smith or Akshay Kumar’s recent hit Toilet: Ek Prem Katha; promote harassment? Will and Akshay are shown wooing their love interests by making grand gestures of affection, following them, giving them gifts and assuming the ladies will be receptive. But when we watch the films, we think of them as love stories, romance, affection. So when does pursuing someone who you’re attracted to become harassment?

A couple of weeks ago I saw a film based on Michelle and Barack Obama’s first date; Southside With You. Of course some artistic freedom would’ve been exercised so you can’t take it word for word, but overall Michelle repeatedly asserts that it isn’t a date and argues why they can’t pursue such a relationship. Barack is persistent and doesn’t back down. But if you see the film you can’t help but feel butterflies at how beautifully Barack woos Michelle and wins her over. Now this is a confident, educated woman telling a man sternly – repeatedly – that they can’t date. This intelligent (and suave!) man doesn’t take no for an answer and although he doesn’t physically harass her, he sways her with his words and gestures. Is that harassment? If anything, after watching the film my love for the Obamas has grown even more and Barack truly appears to be the perfect man every woman would dream of marrying. So is it not harassment if the attention is wanted or mutual?

And then there is the music industry – from lyrics to music videos, women are seen as objects of desire. The likes of Nikki Minaj and Rihanna seem to perpetuate this sexualisation with their dance moves, choice of attire and lyrics. But they’re seen as powerful women who know what they want and are proud to declare it. I think Charli XCX’s song “Boys” is a refreshing twist to the traditional take in songs where women talk about how desirable they are (Kelis’ “Milkshake”) and men proclaim what they’d like to do to them (Akon’s “Smack That”).

Women in society

The way women are portrayed in media stems from our culture; what we believe as a society. Quite often we see eastern, developing countries associated with patriarchal views where women are often considered subordinates or secondary to men.

As a British Asian, I’ve seen too often how men are prioritised over women by women themselves – be it mothers, wives, sisters. Festivals celebrate men – be it Lohri where the birth or marriage of a boy is celebrated, or Karva Chaud – where a wife fasts all day to pray for her husband’s long life. When do we celebrate women?

I was raised in a home where the men and children were fed first, then my mum and aunt’s would eat after. Even today, although there has been a generational change and we eat together, it’s the women who will cook and serve.

It used to really bug me when my brother would have a cold and my parents would fuss over him as if he needed hospital care. If my sister and I were ill, Mum was always concerned and nursed us but not in the same way as she did for my brother. Was he treated with more care because he was a boy or did they think he needed more care because men needed more nurturing (in their eyes)?

When you think about rishtey (marriage proposals) – traditionally the demands are for a woman to be tall, slim and fair (academic or career achievements are secondary). For a man, his education and job are promoted – even if he is a bulging, balding five footer! So why the contrasting demands? Why are women judged by their aesthetics, and a man on his earning power? Are we encouraging the archaic notion of “men are breadwinners, women are homemakers”? This is despite so many career women who are also wives and mothers, and in many cases more successful than their spouse.

The more I dissect my cultural heritage, the more I found men were treated far superior to women – sometimes consciously, other times subconsciously. So when I hear or see cases of harassment in South Asia it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Yet why do they happen in the west which is considered to be a modern, educated, developed society? Why are the likes of Harvey Weinstein able to prey on women and abuse their powerful positions to make women feel vulnerable and powerless? It’s not just one culture or community that treat women with less respect, it happens the world over.

Animal instinct

Weinstein has claimed he needs therapy to change his habits. It’s a great way for a wealthy man to deny all responsibility of his wicked, seedy, filthy actions. But actually, it comes down to a very simple notion.

In the animal world, males woo females to procreate. And I’ve seen enough Attenborough to see how damn hard the males work to fight off (literally!) the competition. But have you ever heard of animals raping each other? Ever heard of animals forcing themselves onto another for sexual gratification? Yet sexual abuse and harassment is so rife in humans – so are we less evolved than animals?

Are we all complicit?

From what’s emerging in the Weinstein scandal; his actions were well known in the industry. Actors, filmmakers and designers have said it was laughed off as “there goes Harvey again”. So women were being harassed, manipulated, made to feel vulnerable – and bystanders just let it be…let that thought sink in for a moment. This is twenty-first century Hollywood, advanced in technology, the epitome of glamour, one of the most successful industries in the world – and women are being mistreated but nobody is saying anything. Eyes seem to be open but mouths are shut. Why?

The intensity of the situation hit home when Angelina Jolie – who is testament to a strong, powerful woman – said she was victim to Weinstein’s harassment when she was starting out as an actress. Yet she never spoke out. What does that say for how vulnerable he made women feel, how powerless they were in this empire that was controlled by men? Its a chilling thought.

But if you relate to us lay people – if you knew that a woman was getting unwanted attention from a man who was abusing his position, would you intervene? Isn’t it time that everybody not only opened their eyes but their mouths too and put a stop to women being harassed, manipulated and abused?

Dealing with the loss of a loved one

I’ve often expressed my thoughts in written form. But this time, I felt it was easier to vocalise them.

So here is my first vlog about the different stages of grieving. Talking about it has helped. I hope sharing this will help others going through something similar…

 

Click image to play

Many thanks to Pria Rai for the beautiful filming and editing.

The meaning of life

Today marks three months to the passing of Mum and I feel there’s no better way of honouring my beautiful mother than writing this…

I’ve just returned from a trip to Cape Verde where I planned to do nothing but escape reality. The country has little to offer in the way of sightseeing, shopping or night life (which is what my holidays usually consist of!) but after the worst few months of my life I just wanted to go somewhere to unwind with the sea, sun and sand. Little did I know I’d get so much more.

Cape Verde is a poor country which is still relatively young to tourism. I went to the island of Boa Vista, which has three hotel resorts and vast desert land. The airport has one runway and it took us all but an hour to check out the shops in the capital, Sal Rei. That should paint a picture of how different it is to England. 

But the biggest and most unique difference is the attitude of the people. Wherever you go, no matter what time of day or what age of the person; you are greeted by genuine, big, infectious smiles. Locals have so little, yet they are so happy and content. 

Wherever we went we heard the Swahili saying “hakuna matata”, which roughly translates as “no worries”. For us Westerners; the Cape Verdians say “no stress” – and that’s because they know what kind of a lifestyle we lead.

I spoke to many people who worked in our resort or as entertainers in bars and restaurants. Some had come from even worse poverty struck nations like Senegal. And when asked if they’d like to come to England, every single person shook their head. They responded by saying they’d heard how busy and stressful life was in England so they’re much happier with the life they have here.

And a side-effect of this stress-free life? The sheer energy of these people and how youthful they look. It’s difficult to put an age to people because their skin looks fantastic and hardly anybody had greys (which I got aged 25!) Dance and music means everything to them and once you hear Funana you can’t help but move. The stamina and excitement with which they dance is spellbinding and inspires you to momentarily be tranced into worry-free, simple happiness.

I went to forget everything but I discovered one of the biggest beauties of life that we overlook in our fast paced world. Happiness is a state of mind. Nobody has everything they want but by focusing on what you want, you lose value of what you are lucky enough to have. Cape Verdians put into perspective that even with very little – health and happiness is ultimate wealth. Eventually, we’re all going one day and we take nothing, its all material. So to make it a worthy life, we need to make beautiful memories and share infectious smiles that could brighten others’ lives without us even realising it.

Hakuna matata…because life is far too short and there is much more to celebrate than stress over.

Extremes of humanity

Britain has faced its third terror attack within three months. Thirty-four people have lost their lives and others are still fighting for theirs. In the most terrifying years of my lifetime, one solace that cannot be ignored is how the country has come together in the face of evil.

Defiance against extremism, and unity have been the most significant factors for me in the last few months. People have gone out of their way to help wherever they can – bystanders risking their lives to step in and try to save strangers lives, taxi drivers offering free lifts, people opening their homes to frightened victims fleeing terror scenes, emergency services working tirelessly to restore calm and order, fundraising for victims and their families.

And all of this has been in the face of indiscriminate brutality. The young, the old, people of all colour and creed have been targeted in killing sprees. We truly have witnessed the two extremes of humanity.

The One Love Manchester tribute concert last night was a great way to show how united we are as British people, to prove how we can put our differences aside and come together with love for mankind. Music transcends beyond ethnic/religious/racial/socio-economic barriers.

The current climate is by far the scariest time in my lifetime. I work in the capital so the terror threat is real. I live in the second city where security has been hyped up because of the risk of further attacks. Yet all I can think about is that sadly this is a fear countless people in conflict-struck countries the world over live through every day. What we’re experiencing is nothing new and nowhere near the worst of how inhumane mankind can be.

In the fight for power through warped ideology; the innocent always suffer. People trying to live their life are caught up in evil. And in all of this, the depraved acts of minorities are blamed on religion. From what I’ve read and seen, I’ve never come across a faith that promotes death and suffering. Which religion condones the slaughter of others who have different ways of life, beliefs or outlooks?

Religion was designed to help us live decent, moral lives. Ironically, its been blamed for some of the biggest acts of evil in history – be it World War II, Northern Ireland, storming of the Golden Temple, Kashmir and Islamic extremism.

Religion means different things to different people. For me, it means hope. Hope that there is a superior power. Hope that all will be well in the end and if its not well, then its not the end. Hope that good can and will conquer evil. The selfless acts of so many over these recent terror attacks orchestrated by five people has proved that hope can come in many forms – be it risking your life to help another or holding a terrified person’s hand to comfort them that all will be well.

And it will. We will remain united. We will live our lives as we wish. We will not be deterred by warped ideology.

When customs hinder your grieving

In the last few weeks I’ve undergone an unbearable pain I wouldn’t wish on anybody – the sudden loss of a parent. I’ve lost close relations in the past, including my grandparents, which meant the mourning process was done in our home. But this time everything felt so much worse, for all the wrong reasons.

Maybe it’s my age – I’m older thus more involved in everything. Or maybe it’s because the person I loved more than anybody else, who meant everything to me, who I revolved my life around; was suddenly snatched away by fate.

From the start I’ll specify I’m about to explain the British Sikh way of mourning. In India, it’s quite different. And elsewhere, I have no idea what grieving families are expected to do leading up to the funeral.

In Britain, Sikhs usually start a Sehj Paath (prayer) in the house the day after a relative passes and lay white sheets on the floor until the funeral (depending on whether a post mortem is needed or availability of the crematorium; this could take a week to even three weeks). The prayer means two meals must be cooked daily to be blessed by a priest – although this doesn’t necessarily have to be cooked in the same house. And the door is left open during the day for people to come and go to pay condolences. Tea is served throughout all of this, as well as the blessed food.

It’s not guests eating I have an issue with – they don’t always expect to be fed a meal and some travel from different cities so its fair play. But it’s the custom of providing food at such a tragic time in a household that I don’t understand. Historically, people would travel by foot or cart to villages or towns in India to pay condolences. So food would be provided because of the distance they’d travelled and the time it took with restricted modes of transport. Moreover, as Sikhs we provide langar (blessed food) wherever the Guru Granth Sahib Ji (holy book and living Guru) is kept.

But in an age where virtually all households have a car, thus travelling is more efficient, people paying condolences don’t necessarily stay for long enough to expect a meal. As for those close relatives who are there round the clock – and they’re the ones who do much of the cooking and housework – of course they would need to be fed. But maybe we should adopt something similar to Muslims – relatives bring dishes to the mourning house. No cooking is done in the grieving house. Or what Namdharis (Sikh sub-sect) do – food is provided at a certain time of the day and anybody to arrive before or after is only served tea.

When you’re coming to terms with the loss of your mother, you barely have time to shed a tear or see to guests when you’re consumed in cooking two meals a day. You spend much of the day in the kitchen cooking and cleaning when your deceased parents’ blood has hardly gone cold. To any other community, such a custom would seem unbelievable. And as Sikhs, yes, it’s in our faith to serve and provide food but essentially that’s for the needy. A lot of what happens has become custom because of societal expectation.

You may think I’m coming across as unwelcoming; ranting about having to feed guests. If you’ve ever been to my house you’ll find my family’s very much feeders. We don’t let guests leave without providing food. But at the most tragic time imaginable, such a practice feels overwhelmingly tiring and unfair on a grieving family.

Aside from this are the comments you have to hear. I’ve lost my mum, the person I loved most in the world, the person who I revolved my life around. And I have biddies saying: “Your mum has gone, you’re all alone now, you’ll never get a mother again, mothers are irreplaceable.” – don’t you think I know all of this? Are these meant to be consoling words?

The worst has got to be: “If only she married you off first then died the following day”… f***ing unbelievable. And what hurt the most was: “Your brother will be happy in his family, your sister will be happy in her family, but you’ll be all alone now.” Wow. So apparently I have nobody left in the world now.

I appreciate people come to pay their respects and say what they feel is best. But at times like this, the less said the better. There’s no ‘right’ thing to say but all of the above are definitely the wrong things to say.

Despite all of this, my family and close friends have been an absolute Godsend. Their continued love and support has been the strength you need to cope with such a loss that makes you feel crippled. And it’s times like this you realise who will be there for you. People I least expected have put themselves out to show their support. Whereas some of those I’ve grown up with have shown their true colours.

Ultimately, it’s all an eye-opener: how unhelpful Punjabi customs can be, how insensitive ‘standard’ comments from the community at bereavements can be and how distant you feel from people you once considered your dearest. Conversely, it’s the love from the genuine friends and relatives that is your biggest strength and a blessing from God.

Rant over.

A thought for Brexit and Trump voters…

As we all hold our breath over the Supreme Court’s decision over whether Parliament has the power to impose Brexit, it got me wondering – what will Brexit actually look like?

The biggest issue drummed home by politicians supporting Britain to leave the European Union was migration and “protecting Britain’s borders”. Likewise, migration was a big issue for voters who elected Donald Trump as US president.

My family moved here in the 1960s when the British government was appealing for Commonwealth citizens to come here and take up jobs to fire-up the economy. At the time there was a lot of resistance from locals – racist attacks and segregated areas are testament to this.

But overtime society evolved. Migrants appeared to adapt to local customs and culture and even the Brits adopted the curry as the nation’s favourite dish. South Asian migrants were becoming entrepreneurs and business owners, not just factory workers. This wave of migrants was making an identity in the British way of life.

Equality legislation was established, race relations were considered the pinnacle of a modern society. People became more aware and respectful to cultures and faiths, which gave birth to a politically correct society.

Fast forward fifty odd years and suddenly more and more hate crime is being reported. People are questioning why some Muslim women wear headscarves and some Sikh men wear a turban. People are questioning why there is a huge wave of Poles, Somalis and Romanians who are “coming over here and taking our jobs”.

It all seems eerily similar to stories I’ve heard from the 1960s when the first wave of South Asian economic migrants were coming to Britain.

Is history repeating itself? Are we regressing as a society?

A lot of (granted, not all) Brexit voters here and Trump supporters in America took migration as their key voting decider. Many of them are indeed descendants of migrants themselves, which I find particularly interesting. Even Donald Trump is of German descent!

Some 40% of the NHS workforce is from Europe and beyond: think about when you go to see your GP or you’re visiting someone in hospital, now imagine no “foreign” workers there…

From the medical profession to the legal, building contractors to beauty salons – ethnic minorities have made an impact across the broad spectrum of the economy. Be they first, second or even third generation – when are you defined as British and no longer a migrant?

As a journalist I have come across people who have suggested that the reason I am where I am is because there is a need to promote diversity and apparently I tick the relevant boxes…need I explain which party such people have been politically aligned to?!

I’m bored of hearing the tenuous argument about controlling migration to secure jobs. So my suggestion to Britain and America – stop all of your ethnic minorty workforce, or whoever you consider a migrant (European and further afield) – stop them working for one week, just seven days. And let’s see how your respective countries cope.

Why blow out hot air with rhetoric. Let’s see if your arguments come to any fruition and “locals” can manage their economies alone. Let’s rewind the clock to a world where globalisation was a thought and not a way of life (that’s the direction Donald Trump’s America seems to be going).

So seven days. One week without any minorities working. Let’s see how the countries function.