Featured

New contributor blog post on Head Talks!

I have exciting news:

I’ve had my second foray being featured on an online blog!

Many thanks to Head Talks for providing me with the platform for some writing on my journey with grief. This is a short piece, a very condensed snippet of a much longer piece I wrote during an introspective period (the pandemic seems to be a great catalyst for those!).

My name is misspelled (Rome wasn’t built in a day) but I’m so grateful to have had the chance to write again for another online platform. I look forward to improving the quality of my writing as well as potential future contributor and publication opportunities.

Please click on the link below to take a read:

Grief’s many faces

WP

Many thanks for the continued support, dear readers!

Featured

BOOK REVIEW: Burmese Days by George Orwell

Burmese Days, by George Orwell, was first published in 1934.

The novel is a prime example of white privilege: George Orwell’s position in British society was not endangered by his race nor gender, yet Burmese Days looks at the imperialist reign of the Empire through a cynical lens. Orwell provides readers with a sympathetic portrayal of some ‘native’ characters; dissecting the attitude of those (for example, Dr Veraswami) eager to assimilate into ‘white values’ whilst simultaneously observing the conflicted role of the coloniser (as evidenced in protagonist Flory).

Flory’s British comrades are entitled, egotistical individuals who sneer at the local community. Aside from the fetishised exoticism of women, there is little regard for language or cultural customs. There’s primarily an agenda to erase the culture of the Burmese and to replace this with British ideals. In contrast, though Flory is an agent in this scheme, he ultimately struggles to straddle British values and the Burmese culture in which he is immersed, bringing to the forefront issues of identity and belonging.

Orwell highlights the problematic power dichotomy enforced by the Empire, particularly in portraying the general admiration and fear from the Burmese themselves. Flory unwittingly charms a Burmese woman goes on to harbour a dangerous obsession: she clings to the notion of eventual marriage, a.k.a a means to escaping her impoverished background and otherwise lowly prospects. The public declaration of affiliation with a white man is perceived as the ultimate ticket out.

The novel provokes a sense of discomfort in the reader, some parts of the narrative are shocking in that Orwell’s depiction of the colonisers as openly elitist and oppressive men is far from subtle. An example of this dichotomy occurs very early in the text within dialogue shared between Ellis and his hired help. Upon hearing his butler speak in articulate English, Ellis reprimands him:

‘Have you swallowed a dictionary? “Please, master, can’t keeping ice cool” – that’s how you ought to talk. We shall have to sack this fellow if he gets to talk English too well. I can’t stick servants who talk English.’ (p. 23)

Ellis owns his servants. Ellis dictates his servant’s voice. Ellis does not want to see a Burmese man, who is explicitly described as his inferior, excel.

The shocking nature of this critical novel makes it an exemplary work both for its audacity at the time of publication, but more-so for its relevance now. Campaign slogans at the heart of the election for presidency in the USA and in the lead up to the UK’s Brexit decision saw the emphasis on ‘Making Britain/America great again’, political leaders projecting plans to tighten up on immigration policies.

The term ‘great’ could connote many things, yet for ethnic minorities and immigrants who have cemented their lives in the West, even after offering invaluable contributions to society, there is still the threat of persecution. There is claim that we exist in a multi-cultural West and yet integration is problematic. The tensions which simmered beneath the surface are now blatantly transparent: this surrealist political nightmare has led to a significant rise in hate-crimes and the segregation within our ‘multi-cultural societies’ being exposed as a result of the verdicts delivered.

I feel that Burmese Days could be a vital tool in reinventing attitudes, a useful means of understanding from the perspective of the ‘other’.

Youths are malleable and the voices of the future, it is imperative that they’re equipped to more than just co-exist with their peers, that they could consider the perspectives of the ‘other’ away from the bias attitudes encouraged at home or in the media. Finding ways to draw upon Burmese Days could potentially challenge intolerant views before they become rigid principles and deconstructing the novel would encourage discussion about the key societal anxieties embedded within its core.

Offering high school students the opportunity to create a dialogue about this novel and its profound themes could result in powerful and cathartic dialogues. It’s time for major reform in the British school curriculum!

 

Featured

British Curriculum: A Change Gonna Come

In light of recent events and the global uproar surrounding George Floyd’s death, this is my response to an article originally published 5 months ago on The Guardian.

The British empire colonised, slaughtered, raped and exploited. The empire was responsible for famine, apartheid, slavery and the erasure of cultures globally. The BE stole what they liked and trashed what they didn’t like.

At school in compulsory history classes, we only really looked at the other side of the coin. The “benefits” of imperialism a.k.a the BE standing on the shoulders of all the nations they’d trashed, to seem taller and more almighty.

As a British citizen, I’m not proud of this legacy. As a brown person, I’m a victim of this legacy.

We need to broaden the curriculum to paint the full picture. We should be inviting post-colonial voices and looking at the impact of the BE from other perspectives. We should be encouraging critical thinking, not blind patriotism, racism and xenophobia. We should be planting the seeds of compassion, understanding and remorse among kids: they’re the future and have the power to make the world way less of a fucked up place 💜🌍

Please sign the following petitions online and do your part to push for change:

Featured

DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Evelyn

TW:

I would err on the side of caution as a viewer. The contents of this film could be very upsetting for some due to the themes of suicide, mental health, mental illness and bereavement. I understand that these are powerful themes that we try to face in the process of recovery but, especially during this precarious time of living in isolation and avoiding social contact, it might be worth putting this title on the shelf for better days.

“Don’t go, please stay”.

These are the words lifted from a vivid dream in which a brother pleads with the apparition of his deceased brother. He describes that awful feeling of knowing that things aren’t quite right, that his brother isn’t really real, that he must be dreaming because his brother is dead, but he still pleads nonetheless.

Grief is a challenging feat for most people and filmmaker Orlando von Einsiedel is no exception.

Einsiedel is no stranger to danger. His colourful resume is comprised of filming up-close-and-personal in war-zones and refugee camps. As a fly on the wall in high-risk, adrenaline-pumped environments, he has witnessed horrors beyond comprehension. Despite this, Einsiedel claims that none of these things have affected him quite as much as one particular subject: the unexpected suicide of his younger brother Evelyn.

Einsiedel has been unable to say his brother’s name for ten years. His sister, brother and their single mother have collectively struggled to cope with the repercussions of bereavement and have learned to completely avoid the topic of Evelyn’s suicide. With tears in his eyes, Einsiedel stares down the barrel of the camera from the other side, for the first time, and exposes the raw, brutal and long-awaited confrontation that his family face with acknowledged Evelyn’s death.

Sharing is preternaturally difficult for the family, yet they venture out on a journey to heal, retracing the hiking paths they once walked with Evelyn when he was a young boy. Recounting their fondest and most difficult memories of him along the way, they talk mental health, mental illness, vulnerability and the reality of living with the absence of a loved one. They drudge up recurring, vivid nightmares and the feelings of guilt and shame, which have haunted them in the years since Evelyn’s passing. Bearing the brunt of responsibility as a sibling or a mother, they reflect upon the signs of deterioration that Evelyn displayed and reflect on their roles in his battle with schizophrenia and depression.

This documentary is an ode to Evelyn’s life but more importantly, it’s an exploration of the impact his life and subsequent death had upon those who loved him. This film has managed to authentically encapsulate the roller coaster ride that is grief in a way I’m not sure I’ve encountered before. With nowhere to hide, the family are shown bursting spontaneously into tears in one shot and laughing hysterically in another, as they muse on the idiosyncrasies of Evelyn’s life. That’s what it’s like. A complete mess of emotions.

To hear somebody else express perfectly the frustrations and angst that I’ve felt over the last few years, since my uncle died, has been strangely healing. I initially thought that the nature of this documentary would leave me hysterically bawling from beginning to end but, in actuality, it really powerfully demonstrated that experiences of grief, though felt in a very insular manner, are intrinsically similar. It made me feel less alone in my experience and also more motivated to keep the conversation going, regarding mental illness.

For anybody who has experienced an unexpected loss, this documentary is a live-wire and touches a lot of nerves. It’s also a reaffirming scope into how deeply trauma can embed itself and the impact it can have, long after the event in question. Einsiedel captures the fragility of the lives left behind following a suicide and really brings relevant issues to the forefront. I applaud him for finding it within himself to embark on this journey, and even more spectacularly, to also invite others to experience it alongside him.

Featured

BOOK REVIEW: The Stand

Last night, I finally finished the girthy Stephen King novel that I started more than a month ago. I’ve been recommended this book on several occasions by people who share an interest in either King’s back-catalogue of absolute bangers or an appreciation of dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction in general. Regarded as one of King’s strongest works, The Stand is an epic piece of literature at 1300+ pages (I have the full edition, which was published years after the heavily cut original) and therefore not for the faint-hearted. Just a warning before I go on: as much as this is a book I’d recommend to any readers of this blog (all three of you), it’s worth pointing out that the themes may be upsetting for some, with the striking comparisons to the reality we’re living in right now. So, if you’re trying to deal with this quarantine/isolation business by avoiding all talk of pandemics, avert your eyes or click on another random blog. But if, like me, there’s a morbidity and Sertraline-pumped interest in the encompassing darkness of fiction, read on.
Set in 1990, The Stand begins as many dystopian reads do: a secret base, a hushed-up government operation, an engineered virus designed as biological warfare and a panicked employee who is responsible for accidentally releasing the virus from the secure compound in which it has lived since discovery. The virus reaches the outside world. The world is never the same again.
Capable of constantly mutating, and therefore effectively resisting any cure, ‘Captain Tripps’ wreaks its havoc by spreading like wildfire, and subsequently goes on to claim the lives of the majority of Earth’s population. The Stand looks at the impact of the man-made disaster, and the ripples of effect felt by a number of survivors dotted across the ghostly remains of America.
Of course, this isn’t just any generic take on what the world would be like if just a small population remained. I’ve read a few books which have followed this angle and watched many films/TV series (the initial series of The Walking Dead will always live in my heart) but King does his thing better than most. He works his magic as a natural storyteller, allowing us to see the world through the eyes of numerous characters before, during and after the catastrophe hits.
The Stand is fundamentally a story of survival and faith, which sees its cast of characters ponder the big existential question as well as theology, as they try to assemble the jigsaw pieces of what’s left behind. There’s so many enigmatic figures: ‘Trashcan Man’, Frannie Goldsmith, Mother Abigail, Nick Andros, Larry Underwood, Glen Bateman and ‘The Walkin Dude’ to name but a few. King has this magical ability to make each person as real as your neighbour, or the person you used to walk past every day on your commute. They’re living, breathing figures that transcend the page and hold their own anxieties as to what will become of humanity and what shape the new world might take.
There are underlying themes of redemption and faith, at the heart of the novel. Powerful characterisation is one tool, but one of King’s greatest skills is interweaving the delicate plot-lines of each character, as they intersect along their journey to either the East (the hub for ‘Good’) or the West (a more brooding collective of ‘Evil’). The world King builds is complete, with constant references to both the individual story arcs and the overall story of picking a side, choosing something to stand for.
Survivors are left to their own devices, they are responsible for preserving notions of democracy and society, for bequeathing memories of a world that their children will never know in their lifetimes. This psychological shift draws parallels with the attitude changes I’ve seen in people who have been transformed by the virus, and the repercussions of forced lock-down. Some people seem humbled by the effects of perspective: of seeing what’s important when the hum-drum of capitalism and consumerism shuts down and normality, as it has always been known, is disrupted. The Stand makes for interesting reading material at a time like this: it calls upon our tendencies as humans to live cyclically and to repeat the patterns of what has already been, but also calls upon our imaginations to picture what could be. I would definitely say that this book is powerful more so because it is especially tangible now more than ever, as a reader.
The Stand was a risky choice of reading material in that the COVID-19 pandemic we are experiencing seems to be identical, in many ways, to that of ‘Captain Tripps’. The viruses themselves are distinguishable from one another, but the human responses to the threat of a pandemic are difficult to separate into ‘fiction’ and ‘reality’.
King does an incredible job of depicting how people interact in the face of disaster and how they cope with the trauma of it, in its aftermath, and this seems eerily comparable to that which we have seen so far during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that which we are yet, still, to encounter when it leaves.
I’m genuinely upset to have finally finished The Stand, primarily because it’s been such a great accompaniment since the day lock-down officially began and because it’s also weirdly given me some strange sense of clarity and hope. I guess some people might feel worse, reading about a situation so similar to what they’re experiencing in real life, but for me it was a reminder that we can withstand things beyond what we believe we are capable of.

Featured

Day 13: COVID-19 Isolation Mode Activated

cropped-60175880_10161660205990317_3375923605522087936_n.jpg

*This content is intended to be satirical and no lives are actually at stake, despite the few references to violence in this write-up. If you are living with family, you will probably understand that this is written from that place teetering between “actually joking” and “laugh-crying because maybe you’re not joking”*

Day 13 of social distancing/isolation

Today’s soundtrack: copious amounts of the ultimate heroine Nina Simone.

Our food stock is yet to reach depletion thanks to decades of mum’s hoarding. The pantry is loaded and ready for indefinite quarantine, the deep freezer is ready to unearth all the long-lost meat joints/meals that have been buried away for god knows how long. We always joked about how we’d be ready for a crisis and now that one is here, well, it’s just not all that funny anymore. One day, the T&A will be reporting of a gruesome homicide and at the heart of the case will be two sisters who fought over the last-remaining Bombay Bad Boy pot noodle with tooth and nail.

It’s a miracle, really. As of yet, nobody has been throttled in our household. Dad hasn’t had to dare us to brawl each other for his own entertainment, as he has a stream for Bad Boys 3 (as he keeps telling us) and is spending his hours being my mum’s man-slave. My sisters have embarked on adventures such as destroying and then systematically cleaning up bedrooms, watching TikToks for hours on end and spending up to 3 hours in the bathroom (doing what, we will never know). Then there’s the matter of my mum- the chili whisperer. They’re all over the damned house, under heat lamps and specialist equipment ordered from some dark corner of the internet.

The sensitivities are at an all-time high and moods shift like the seasons under climate-change. Even the smallest things are like flint for a big fire. One minute you’re feeling pumped to use this isolation period for a series of productive activities that have been repeatedly put on the backburner, the other minute you’re sobbing into your sixth glass of gin because you miss your family and friends, and Houseparty just isn’t enough. Then ten minutes later, you’re passed out on your bedroom floor and having a trippy dream about crashing a car.

Basically, what I’m realising is that everyone needs their own space to do with it what they will, be it sleeping, staring goggle-eyed at BBC News for a few hours, yoga or just reading in some obscure corner of the house with a torch. Space is so important, especially with the spectrum of emotions everyone’s going through. You can rub someone up the wrong way by looking at them. You can also rub someone up the wrong way by hiding the precious, last-remaining cargo of spicy Cheetos and eating them secretly in your room. I would say, “keep your secrets” but it’s obviously pointless when you’re faced with a younger sister presenting the unmistakable red tongue and fiery fingers. I could have been violent, when faced with her betrayal, but I took a deep breath and exited that situation swiftly.

Life is a volatile ride at the moment and that is both incredibly scary and incredibly exciting.

Apart from the increasing odds of full-blown alcoholism, I think we’re faring well. We are generally respectful of our differences, and perhaps that’s something which comes with age as this definitely wasn’t the case in my younger years… This has to be some sort of record for us, considering all five of us are under the same roof and basically in each other’s faces for a substantial portion of each day. No significant screaming match so far and nobody has had their hair shaved off in the middle of the night, so it’s an unprecedented victory that I won’t take for granted because I really didn’t think we’d last even a week without things getting rowdy.

As time goes on, all I can do is fill the hours of the day with the things that spare me boredom and anxiety. After all, it is a very precarious time for those with underlying physical health issues AND those who suffer with mental illness, as the usual solace found in interacting with others or burying oneself in distractions is very difficult during a pandemic…

I’ve taken to resurrecting my journal and to also honouring the routine of listening to my hypnotherapy tapes at night, as I haven’t done this for quite a while. I am persisting with The Stand by Stephen King and racing through Fargo on Netflix like there’s no tomorrow. I’ve even had the chance to squeeze in some lush walks, yoga and fun times with my MIDI keyboard/the guitar kindly bequeathed to me by a solid Scottish pal. Generally, I have been focusing on the positives wherever possible and resisting the occasional urges to launch my 6kg kettle bell at people’s heads. I feel it is far too early in this isolation period to be going all Jack Torrance on everyone, but stay tuned for updates over the coming weeks, as that may change.

Churchill is not my hero (part 2)

I’m Bangladeshi and I didn’t even know Bangladesh had two major famines until literally 2 years ago, and that was because I accidentally found a video of Shashi Tharoor talking about the issue. I’m a self-professed simpleton. I barely know anything apart from the regurgitated and filtered curriculum taught at school. I barely know anything about my native culture. It’s embarrassing.

I did this to myself, by rejecting my brownness as a kid so that I’d fit in. Obviously you can’t take your skin off, but you can reject your identity for sure. I refused to speak Bangla, hated dressing in saris and avoided any cultural/religious events like COVID-19. My childhood was basically Anita & Me, with me being the brown kid who just wants to be her best mate, the white girl from a completely different walk of life.

I’m a different person now. I’ve taken an active interest in my roots and asked questions, which has led to me hearing stories of civil unrest, family members seeing strangers shot before their eyes, whole villages uprooting and fleeing to India, as well as accounts of adapting to British life, following immigration in the years after.

It’s astounding.

Did you know that my grandad was a qualified teacher, and a pretty damned good one, in Bangladesh? Because I didn’t know exactly how esteemed he was in this role or how much of an impact he had on his many students, until his funeral. My grandad, as far as I’d known as a kid, was a labourer in a carpet factory in Bradford. He had a beautiful brain on his shoulders but that didn’t matter because his qualification counted for nothing in Britain. So he worked in an environment that probably involved few brain cells, and worked his ass off to give his children a great life in a country that, up until the fifties, didn’t even allow brown people to own their own properties.

You conform to fit in and you’re embraced more if you’ve got a “whiter” personality. I’ve been called either “paki” by dimwits or a “coconut” my whole fucking life, always being a classic Asian from afar and an exceptional token for racists who say I don’t “count” as one of the stereotypical Asians they have a problem with. What the fuck does that even mean? I’m stumped, man. I really am.

I don’t hate anybody. I just want more awareness of HISTORICAL FACT and more consideration of VALID HUMAN EXPERIENCES/FEELINGS. “Historical amnesia” is 100% a thing and I really believe that if people looked at the past with less tunnel vision and embraced the “other” with less fear/hostility, the world would be so much nicer.

As a young kid, as far as I was aware, Britain had practically reformed the rest of the world and turned helpless brutes into the pillars of civilised organisations. As an adult, I’m learning that brutality is on my doorstep and rich cultural civilisations were destroyed by colonialism. Lives were undervalued then, just as they are now. So let’s just wake up, smell the coffee and change shit for reals so that this same conversation doesn’t need to be had in another 100 years’ time.

My future dogs and children will not be growing up to think cultural erasure, racism or just being an asshole in general is acceptable🐶👶🏽🤷🏾‍♀️

EDIT: Actually, there were still issues with “coloured people” buying houses in 1968. Nikesh Shukla, a wicked writer you should read, said in his interview with The Independent that, “My uncle Mahesh is a source of strength for me: in 1968 he tried to buy a house in Huddersfield but they had a policy not to sell to “coloured people”. He’s the first person to have brought a case of racial discrimination under the Race Relations Act.”.

Churchill is not my hero

There aren’t statues of Hitler around Germany, commemorating him for being a decent bloke until he went all Walter White on the world. The Holocaust isn’t forgotten, and thrown under the rug. It was genocide. It was systemic ethnic cleansing.

The Holocaust is part of the curriculum all over the world because it was an absolute atrocity. That shitstain in history is acknowledged, and people feel remorse as well as the responsibility to ensure we don’t repeat the past.

I have some serious questions though:

Are people aware of the genocide that Churchill was directly responsible for? He was a great orator, strong leader and white supremacist, so what exactly distinguishes his profile from Hitler’s? Why aren’t we taught this in our curriculum? Does “winning” against Nazism erase his abysmal track record as a white supremacist? If people are glorifying Churchill with an awareness of all his ugly, does that mean it’s acceptable to glorify Hitler’s vision too? Is it truly justifiable, in any instance, to treat others as though they were worthless because of the colour of their skin? If so, and you’re an open racist, would you like to be remembered as one of those figures whose hate speech and apathy led to more segregation, acts of violence and crime against minorities?