Holiday season

Last week I went abroad and despite being a regular traveller for over a decade, I saw the airport in a completely new light for the first time.

I couldn’t help but notice how relationship dynamics were impacted by the rollercoaster of emotions – anxiety, excitement, frustration, fatigue and fear. From parking, to finding the check-in counter, to the nail-biting baggage weighing and tediously long security process – travelling abroad isn’t quite a breeze. And the facial expressions and body language of passengers tell many stories.

It’s not the first time I travelled abroad alone, but this time I was so relaxed that I took the time to soak in my surroundings; and boy was it entertaining.

What stood out the most was my absolute worst kind of passenger – the tantrum-throwing child – especially in the early hours of the morning! Surely it must be child cruelty to make infants travel at ridiculous o’clock – and the reaction from others is priceless. I saw a few men mouthing the child needed a slap…I wonder how many others agreed.

There were plenty of hen and stag parties – who were equally as loud and irritating as the infants. And alcohol at 6.30am??? I don’t know whether to commend them or be disgusted.

Some families travelling with their in-laws in tow were the most entertaining of all. The sons and daughters cushioning the tension – now that’s another kind of challenge altogether. An Asian daughter-in-law who was being criticised by her mother-in-law for not travelling light was like watching a film – the daughter-in-law pulled her husband aside and demanded he have words with his mother if they wished to continue the trip – and they hadn’t even reached their destination yet!

The young couples oozing with love and unable to stay away from each other as if they’d be blown away if they let go. The affection in every glance at each other, every touch, and every comment…was far too sickening first thing in the morning!

And how could you miss the business-types who seem to go out of their way to prove they’re making a work-related trip – checking emails whilst on a conference call. Although the same suited man was switching between his emails and Facebook on his Mac – I wonder what he considered to be more important.

But my favourite sort of travellers are the OAPs. They’re so relaxed with no children to take care of, no excess luggage to tug around, and no work to worry about, no parties to plan and still in love with a lifelong companion. I admire their dependence on each other and how they have grown to know each other’s habits and preferences so even the silence is amicable. The occasional glance is often sufficient communication. I look forward to growing old with a partner and sharing that.

But before that there are other stages to conquer – the hen party weekend abroad, the honeymoon, and travelling with the in-laws…(I may reconsider!)

It was captivating to see people from all walks of life, all sorts of occupations, ages, experiences and expectations of their trip meeting at a common platform to venture on to their destination.

The airport is a fascinating common factor between most of us, regardless of our budgets or aspirations.

Lost in translation…lost in generation

The other night I was watching an Indian films award show and my dad happened to walk through. As usual he began criticising the actors for only talking in English when they’re off the silver screen yet they earn a living in Hindi cinema, speaking in their ‘mother tongue’. This got me wondering how many desis living in Britain can speak their ‘mother tongue’…or is English their mother tongue?

My previous employer once quizzed me over what I considered my mother tongue. I said it’s Punjabi but she argued I had been born and raised in this country, therefore it should be English. I justified it by saying for my generation – whose parents are born in South Asia – their ‘mother’ tongue would be determined by their ethnic origin…right?

Having discussed this at work with some great minds in the newsroom I received a contrasting view – the consensus was that your mother tongue is the language that you speak often – or to put it poetically – as said by one of our great news presenters: “It’s the language in which you’re fathered” [from the fatherland where you are raised]. Another journalist says she considers the mother tongue to be that in which you can count…

I was still quite confused as to what my mother tongue is because I have been raised to speak both in almost equal measure. In fact, because I was raised by my grandparents who only spoke in Punjabi, the first language I learnt to understand and speak was Punjabi.

Interestingly, for different communities it means different things – for British Asians (despite being born and raised here) the ‘mother tongue’ and even the ‘motherland’ is usually defined by your ethnic origin.

So what about those who can only speak English and cannot speak the language in which their parents were raised to speak? If they can’t speak it, will their children be denied the chance to learn it? And thus, the language will eventually dwindle outside of its country of origin? And then I suppose reading or writing that language is out of the question.

I was sent to Punjabi school and I must admit it felt like a chore, but I persevered and went on to do A Level Punjabi. It’s something I’ll be encouraging my children to be doing because let’s face it, if I don’t how else will they know the language?

I find it quite amusing when I see Asians enjoying music from South Asia and even singing along but they have no idea what the lyrics mean. As with all languages, the context is lost in translation so you don’t even get the beauty of it if you rely on interpretation.

I appreciate there isn’t really a need to learn another language if you live here – apart from English – unless your job requires it. But it would be a great loss if poetic and rich languages like Punjabi, Gujarati, Urdu and Hindi (to name just a few) were lost in coming generations living outside of India. You would lose a significant part of the culture too (God I’m starting to sound like my dad!)

People study ancient languages like Greek and Latin, but are we already giving our current languages archaic status?

I don’t listen to much Punjabi music but Jaz Dhami’s song “Boli” could not have put it simpler: “Mein Punjabi boli ha, menu bhul na jayeen javana.” [Direct translation: I am Punjabi language, don’ forget me youth]

Have we lost faith?

The holy month of Ramadan is drawing to a close. I’m not a Muslim but speaking to friends observing the fast and shopping in Asian areas, excitement for the culmination of the month, Eid, is palpable. I couldn’t help but compare it to other religious festivals where the focus seems to shift from faith to materialism…have we lost faith?

From the start I’d like to make it absolutely clear this is not an attack on Islam or how Muslims practice their faith. The month of Ramadan has compelled me to draw comparisons to Christmas, Diwali and Vaisakhi (all of which I celebrate) where we tend to spend time, thought and money on what we’ll eat and what we’ll wear.

It seems a shame that consumerism has conquered all areas of our lives. Even funeral services (regardless of your religious belief) have lost the simplicity and we compete to make it as memorable as possible. Is that something the family of the deceased do for their lost loved one? Or is it something the consumer world has brainwashed us into thinking is the ‘best send-off’?

Yes, I’m making sweeping generalisations and no – not everyone is sucked into the gimmick. But how many people do you know who are so obsessed with planning their Christmas lunch that they don’t even recall the reason why the day is celebrated? The same goes for Diwali and not to mention Vaisakhi.

This was just a thought that I felt compelled to word up. Maybe its human nature to be influenced by marketing strategies, maybe we’re just not that religious, or maybe this is just my interpretation of the world around me.

Can you be politically active and religious?

I recently spoke to a journalist who was berating a Sikh UKIP supporter because he believed the party’s policies went against Sikh values. This got me thinking – is it possible to support a political party if you’re religious?

Many, if not most, politicians will lend themselves to a particular faith, but how religious they are is down to personal perspective. When they follow a party, I wonder if their faith plays a part in who they decide to support…

We often hear the government say we’re a Christian country (especially after growing allegations of radicalisation). The British constitution was developed at a time when faith meant a lot and the men who ran the land claimed to be God fearing. So whether we realise it or not, religion has – directly or indirectly – influenced modern day policy.

But can you be both politically active and religious?

I am born into a Sikh family, I went to a Catholic school, and have grown up with Church of England, Hindu and Muslim friends. So I have had some exposure to a multitude of faiths. I don’t consider myself ‘religious’ per se, but I do believe in God and the fundamental principles of Sikhism, which include equality – a phenomenon advocated 500 years before the anti-discriminatory act we now have in the UK – voluntary service (charity) and making an honest living (working). I suppose the latter could make me more inclined to support the Tories who advocate working and discourage benefits culture. But I don’t agree with everything the Conservatives stand for.

Likewise I don’t agree with all Labour or Liberal Democrat policies – UKIP doesn’t even come into the equation for me – but I do support elements of each party, such as boosting entrepreneurship, supporting first time buyers, getting rid of tuition fees.

I work in news and there is a buzz in the office as we run up to the elections. I asked colleagues whether they thought it was possible to practice a faith and be politically active. The majority responded ‘yes’; because you would support a party that, generally – and this is the crucial part – generally reflects your views, not necessarily wholly (pun not intended!)

And speaking generally, regardless of whether you follow a faith or not, maybe you are swayed to one party more than another because you agree with the majority of what they advocate.

And that’s a probable likeness of the electorate – they agree with a mixture of policies from all the political parties but one party may, overall, best reflect how that person believes the country should be run. I guess that’s where you would think a coalition would help bridge the gap but when one party has an overriding majority, a coalition seems to mean very little.

The 2015 elections will be exciting – to say the least – because for the first time, in a long time, a coalition is almost determined. To me, that proves none of the major parties reflect what the electorate wants. Or maybe their policies on certain issues – like security and immigration – are loosely the same but fluffed with rhetoric.

So where does that put people who feel policies are a mockery of their faith? Or maybe they don’t realise it and simply vote for what they think is best for the country.

I suppose the only firm conclusion I can make is that it isn’t fair to judge a person’s religious integrity by their political persuasion, because I doubt anyone could be fully in support of a single party’s policies. Moreover, no party fully reflects a single religion. Thus, people will support the party that is closest to their personal views, be they religious or otherwise.

The farce that was Trojan Horse

This week MPs criticised an investigation in which five Birmingham schools were being accused of Islamic extremism. The Education Committee has concluded the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal was baseless…not surprising when the ONLY evidence was an anonymous letter mentioning one school.

This one letter led to five major inquiries. That is all it took to stir national panic. The letter could’ve been from a disgruntled ex-employee, supremacist or even someone with mental health issues.

It has caused a huge expense to the taxpayer for officers to investigate five schools in the city where staff must’ve felt ridiculed and their livelihoods at risk, students academia affected, their parents unnecessarily panicked…all over one anonymous letter!

I’d be livid if I were a GCSE student whose education would’ve been setback, or even the parent of a student who would be stressing over the alleged damage caused to my child by so-called extremist school agendas.

In one case, the schools watchdog, Ofsted, had downgraded a school within a month of calling it ‘Outstanding’ to ‘Failing’ – why did alarm bells not ring as to how Ofsted could get their ratings so very wrong.

For those schools and parents affected, their confidence in the Department of Education (which was run by Michael Gove at the time…) and Ofsted have been stigmatised. Sentiment in Birmingham is that there was a witch-hunt against schools that are in largely Muslim populated areas. Schools that, by Ofsted’s own admission, were performing so well were tarnished due to groundless allegations.

Terrorism, radicalisation, extremism – these words have been hitting the headlines virtually every day since 9/11. Terrorist profiling has been an inevitable consequence. Terrorists are often branded as young, bearded, Muslim men dressed in traditional attire, or young women wearing a headscarf. The other day I was watching the BBC News at 6 in which the top story was about a Muslim teacher – pictured clean-shaved – who had been radicalised – then pictured with a beard. It is such profiling that is causing fear and prejudice in society.

I wrote about this recently when I questioned whether terror was skin deep. Trojan Horse is another such example of fear perpetuated largely on face value at schools where there are an overwhelming majority of Muslim pupils.

Such inquiries and profiling are further marginalising a large community in Britain – the Muslim community. People who are going about their daily lives are feeling under the microscope constantly, their every move monitored and anything they do or say being taken out of context.

I have such endless conversations with my friends – Muslim and non-Muslim – and sadly the only conclusion I can come to is that we will be continuing such conversations for a long time yet.

Making a difference: donating blood

For some time I have been contemplating on donating blood. Three years ago my father was attacked and left with a potentially fatal wound. He lost a lot of blood, crucially because he is diabetic. It was thanks to a blood donor that he is with us today.

For my 30th birthday I have set myself a challenge – 30 new experiences at 30 – a couple of which I have already achieved. A lightbulb moment last night made me decide my third and so I booked an appointment to donate blood.

It was such a straightforward procedure that I felt compelled to blog about it, hopefully inspiring others to follow suit.

One in four of us will need blood in our lifetime – that’s one person in the average family. So in less than a lunch hour, you could be saving somebody’s life.

I was advised to eat regularly before the appointment, get a good nights kip and avoid alcohol. First off you’re asked lots of routine questions and a nurse tests you for anaemia. If you test positive you can’t donate because it would be harmful to you.

A pinprick in my finger and blood was ejected into a solution. If it sank we were good to go. But in my case, it just stayed floating at the top. At this point I was heartbroken because I thought I would be unsuccessful in my quest. But the nurse reassured me that there could be an issue with the solution so she took an additional test.

Hey presto! Not only was I not anaemic; but my iron count was better than the average man! (Get in!)

In all this time I was encouraged to drink plenty of water/squash. And off I went to the seating area, next in line to lye on the reclining chair for almost a pint of blood to be sucked out of me.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the range of donors – from gender, age and ethnicity – people from all walks of blood donationlife were there to donate blood. And they all looked like regulars!

After a few minutes I was called up. I was advised that it shouldn’t take more than a quarter of an hour depending on the individual. And also, you should move your legs and thrust your pelvis throughout for the blood to continue circulating – you can imagine I was having a whale of a time thrusting!

I won’t cotton wool it – the needle is huge. I mean it’s very thick and it does hurt when they inject you – especially when the circulation was going low so the nurse was jerking the needle around. More discomfort than pain actually.

While this is going on I’m lying back, watching TV while kicking my legs around and thrusting my pelvis – what a scene (thankfully I wasn’t with a friend who would undoubtedly have taken embarrassing pictures!)

Ten minutes in and we’re done. I’m 470ml of blood lighter, with a light head. I’m directed to the refreshments area where they provide hot and cold drinks, crisps, biscuits, chocolates, cereal bars and fruit. I was advised to avoid hot drinks as it was my first time, and to avoid any strain on the arm from which blood was taken.

I sat there for another 5-10 minutes and was on my way – a very productive lunch hour that made me feel humble and grateful that hopefully I would’ve helped someone in need.

If you’re inspired, you could book an appointment online or just drop in to your nearest blood donation centre.

It really is the simplest noble act I have ever done.

Is terror skin deep?

Walking in to work I am prompted to show my ID. Even those who have worked here for decades and present local TV and radio programmes are instructed to prove their identity when entering the building. The fatal attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris has left news organisations around the world feeling vulnerable. Suddenly, acts of terror feel closer to home than they ever have before. But what impact does this have on the average British Muslim trying to go about their daily life?

One of my best friends is Muslim and she wears the headscarf, or hijab, as well as the shoulder to toe loose-fitted garment, called the jilbab. I have grown up with personal and family friends wearing such traditional attire, so it isn’t something that stands out to me. However, after 9/11 I felt a palpable difference in how I was acknowledged in public when I was with her, or any other Muslim friend wearing a hijab. A few years later these attitudes seemed to dwindle. But more recently the attitudes are re-emerging.

Commonly, these are demonstrated through fearful or angry stares, people keeping a distance and sales or services staff showing the cold shoulder or arrogance. And all this because one of us is wearing a hijab.

What hasn’t helped is the growing attention on young Muslim women becoming radicalised. Namely, the three east London girls Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum who flew out to Turkey allegedly to head on to Syria. This has left people like my friend feeling more vulnerable in public and feeling discriminated against.

And it’s not just Muslim women. Anybody who appears to be Muslim is often tarnished with the same brush. I have relatives and friends who wear a turban and they are compared to Bin Laden. Of course it’s down to ignorance of faiths or just lack of education, but it is worrying that such stereotypes exist in a ‘modern’ western world where religious education is compulsory in the national curriculum.

It may seem like a crude comparison but it frustrates me that so much media attention is given to anti-Semitic attacks yet there is little, if any, recognition of how Muslims, or Asians in general, are feeling the side-effect of terrorism: hate crime and discrimination.

I work in the media yet agree the media has a large role to play in stereotypes. But are we all that naïve and impressionable? Can we not judge characters in a rational, mature manner?

Ironically, it is these very prejudice attitudes that are aiding radicals to fuel their fire and infiltrate extreme views into those who have experienced discrimination. Hate is the biggest cause of terrorism. And singling people out based on their appearance is hate!

We aspire to live in diversity and multiculturalism, yet we view anyone ‘different’ with fear or anger.

Grow up Britain. Not every Muslim is a radical; likewise not every White person is fascist.