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.

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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.

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…

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.

Are Trump and Farage our alter ego, or our reflection?

I had only just got over Britain’s vote to leave the European Union when the shock of a divisive reality TV star winning the most important position in the world stunned me.

Maybe this was predicted. The only constant in elections is that polls cannot be trusted so maybe we should’ve expected Donald Trump to be elected President and we should’ve expected Nigel Farage to ‘win’ with Brexit. Even at the 2010 general election polls predicted Nick Clegg was serious competition for Labour and the Conservatives – quite extraordinary for a – then – new MP so early in his career. Instead the Lib Dems didn’t quite stir the ballot box as much as they thought their poster boy could influence, but he made it as Deputy PM – suppose we can give him that!

But on to the present, it seems politicians who the media find divisive and regressive for modern, literate democracies are in fact swaying voters. Be it the largest democracy in the world; India, where Narendra Modi made it to PM. At the time the Western world saw his win as a step back for India because of his controversial history but the majority of the country (of over one billion people) backed him.

Likewise with Brexit – the media was convinced leaving the EU would be a catastrophe nobody in their right mind would vote in favour of. Even David Cameron was so convinced he had the public’s backing that he called for a referendum to shut-up the likes of UKIP supporters. And how sorry he looked on the morning of the Brexit result when he resigned, which to me proved he no longer understood the electorate or the demands of the – albeit small – majority. The result was so very close to 50:50.

And more recently, there is the race for the American presidential candidate. When Barack Obama won eight years ago, the world rejoiced. The first Black man in the world’s top job; now that’s what was seen as modernity, development, prosperity. Hopes were high for the first female president to break the record this year if Hilary Clinton were to win. Instead, a man who has no history in politics, is a TV reality star and managed to lose billions with his ‘business mind’ won the hearts of Americans by a significant majority. 

This is the man who wanted to ban Muslims in America. This is the man who wants to build a wall between neighbouring Mexico. This is the man who was recorded making sexist comments. Yet he appealed to the Latino, Muslim and female voters. Why?

In my broadcast career I have worked for stations that appeal to various demographics – young, old, various races and ethnicities, various social groups. And the one common factor in all of these audiences is prejudice. More often than not, I have come across listeners and viewers – and maybe the loudest don’t speak for the majority – who are, quite frankly, racist. It could be a White person, Asian or Black – there has always been a sense of “them and us”, dislike for other communities with a tinge of threat felt by diversity.

And it doesn’t just stop at racism – sexism, casteism, homophobia, faith prejudice; I have come across it all no matter which broadcast outlet I have worked at. And even in my social circles – be it family, friends, colleagues – some people are overtly prejudice and some have an undertone of dislike for people who are different to them.

This leads me to question are we all racist? Do we dislike people who are different to us? Is there a fear of the other?

Quite often us journalists get wrapped up in our own liberal worlds where we decide right and wrong and judge others if they fall out of our parameters of right-mindedness. But maybe there is an innate insecurity in everyone of different communities, maybe they’re seen as a threat to personal development or their differences are ridiculed as being degenerate. This could explain why so many residential areas across the country are segregated; people tend to stick to their own, or why there has been an increase in reported hate crime.

It may seem like sweeping generalisations, and maybe I’m high on coffee on a 5.30am train to London but just think about it. How many of your relatives and friends have expressed distaste or looked down on people from other communities, the other gender, other ethnicities, sexual orientation, caste or class? 

It’s a sombre thought but maybe the rise in political correctness and diplomacy was just a smokescreen to make us feel we’re educated, moral and progressive people. Now that the mist is clearing, the real us is exposed; raw and indifferent to what others think because of disdain in the political system and all that it brings with it – rising cost of living, employment challenges, NHS waiting lists, spiralling cost of a decent education.

I’m not entirely sure how to end but to question how many Donald Trumps and Nigel Farage’s I know. We may be in the 21st Century, living in the developed Western world but our mindsets may never evolve from cave man days of fight what you fear, or run away from it.