In this unprecedented times, blogging through my eyes of this pivotal moment in history. A professional, fitness enthusiast, humanist, father and writer.
My Dad was an emerging local celebrity, so the news of his heart attack, spread much like a viral video does in today’s social media generation. The word of mouth was a powerful tool within the Bangladeshi community. Who make it their business to know everybody’s business. We associated his stint at the hospital with a bulk shopping spree. The mixture of Bengali hospitality, a politician and the universal social protocol of bringing food/drinks to the ill was a toxic mix. Much of that summer we didn’t buy drinks for our house, we had an abundance of it. Taken by well wishers to visit him at the hospital, which my Dad promptly dished back home to us. It was mainly film wrapped Lucozade- because glucose was good for people who were ill and a rich orange cordial drink called Three Top. Still to this day, I find it hard to convince anyone that this drink existed. I can’t have made it up in my imagination.
As Summer slowly died out and Autumn crept in, the talks in our household changed like the season. It became dire and brown much like the leaves scattered across the pavement and dreaded words like ‘operation’ started making its ugly way into our conversations. We relied on our Dad to tell us where his fate lay. As ever, the attention seeking, self- centric person that I got know about him in my later years. He told my crying Mum how they planned to cut open his bare chest and dissect his left leg to transfer a vein to his heart. Even today, I don’t get the science behind it or why our parent’s generation were so irrational to what they spoke about in front of their children. Like the time a doctor came and measured his height in front of us, he told us they were measuring him for a coffin. They were going to operated him inside, just in case of the very real chance he dies during surgery. They will shut the lid and bury him as there would be no point in doing anything else. It was the type of stories my Dad was famous for, sometimes I think he found it hard to distinguish his tales from the real world. What was an eight year old to do with such absurd information, more importantly why would a husband and father openly talk about their death in front of his distressed wife and young children? My older brother carried on from where my Dad left off. He told me it was the most complicated operation ever carried out in medical history- whatever that meant. Exaggerated and melodramatic stories were just the first of many I got used to from my Dad throughout my life and to a lesser extent my brother.
His Triple Heart Bypass took place a year after, I don’t remember that day but I remember the day he went to the hospital for it. Me and my brothers seated on the window ledge of our house, peering outside watching the cars pass and pedestrians crossing. While my Dad, the ever dapper guy that he was, donning his black suit and tie whilst neatly packing his clothes inside his small duffel bag and briefcase (yes he packed his clothes in his briefcase). The heavy heart and tears came as soon as his friend arrived to pick him up. My Mum did the honours of opening the floodgates, my older brother followed and my heart couldn’t cope and so I too joined. The idea of him going to the hospital by his own admission rather by an ambulance was hard to bear. The patriarch of our family was leaving and he was not going to come back for a while. He smiled and tried to comfort us all assuring us he will come back. He touched my head as he did my brothers, if he had tears too? He did a great job hiding it. With everything that was going through his mind, with the impeding operation, he had to show a strong face or everything falls apart.
After the operation, I recall the red webbed scars covered by strips of bandage running down from his chest to the top of his slightly protruded stomach. Every night, he would sit down on his chair with my Mum watching guard. Cleaning his wounds like a wounded, battle hardened soldier who returned from war with cotton wool dipped in a bowl of lukewarm water. He used to have a big mole in the centre of his chest, it was no longer there. My biggest fear was that his stitches would come loose, his chest burst open and his organs flush out.
Two months later, against doctor’s orders and my Mum’s, he travelled to Bangladesh. The military government over there bowed down to public pressure and declared Marshall Law over calling the first General Election in nearly a decade. It was a homing beacon summoning him home, to campaign for the Awami League – his political party. The party that ignited his political career, whose founder father -Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the unilateral influence and hero to my Dad his entire life. Growing up, his pictures were lambasted all over our living room wall, so much so, one would have been forgiven to think he was a close family member. Sheikh Mujib was given the honorary lifelong title of Bangabandhu (friend of Bengal) by his nation. Thanks to declaring and leading a brutal seven month Civil War with Pakistan in 1971, to liberate East Pakistan and finding the Republic of Bangladesh. Whose brutal assassination by a covert defecting military team in 1975, broke my Dad’s heart and gave heed to his self imposed exile from his motherland.
You would think a man like my Dad would have had his life activities cut short by such a big change in his life. But his soul hadn’t reached its pinnacle, so his body had no choice but stumble along with it. His heart attack or the operation didn’t knock him off his pedestal, his best years still laid ahead of him.
I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if he never had the heart attack, how much further would his life had lead him and where would my life be as a consequence. We would never have been housed to a ground floor maisonette away from my beloved 3rd floor council estate home. The estate where I learned to ride a bike, play marbles, swap stickers, get stung by stinging nettles, make slingshots with coat hangers, play football with the milk crates, climb walls, graze my knees and skinned my elbows and when we were forced to move- experience my first heartbreak. He could have carried on being a Councillor longer than the two terms he served and possibly challenge his old comrade John Biggs, for the all mighty Executive Mayors position. I picture a more idealistic childhood, instead of gushing memories of him being swoon to hospitals, suffering cardiac arrests or us reviving him in his sleep when he stopped breathing, which became normal practice by the time I reached my teenage years.
An alternate reality where he played with us outside in the park, ran with us, kicked a football, threw us over his shoulders or raised us on top of his head. What would it have been like to not miss those three months of school, thanks to his illness? Back in the days when social services didn’t get involved for prolonged absences. I could have been a better a reader and learned how to swim.
We siblings would have seen him as a strong force of nature rather than the weak physical person that rapidly manifested in front of us over the years. As a result, the iron rule fathers were expected to bring to a family, eroded from him. Maybe it was that absence of an alpha male presence, armed with a firm hand, was what led to my elder brother, the greatest genius that world had never known, thrown into a dark path. The talent and bright spark of our family, whose presence forever shadowed my life. The prodigal child moulded and destined to take his rightful place on the mantle of our family throne and lead us to frontiers not yet conquered. The boy wonder, wise beyond his years took a U Turn and fell victim to a plague that ended up defying and driving into the dark abyss a lost generation of Bangladeshi boys in Tower Hamlets. In doing so giving up his rightful succession to the family throne leaving a vacuum for me to fill. Why I spent all my time right up to my Dad’s death, fighting battles with him, to take a role that he wasn’t ready to relinquish or was ever meant for me to take in the first place. Taking a position I never asked for or moulded into, making sacrifices the world will never know. Goofy the 2nd in line for the throne, somehow found himself in the world of a Mascot and the circus that came with it.
Heart Attack – Aftermath
“Heart attack” – It sounded majestic like it wasn’t a bad thing, when it rolled out of my Mum’s tongue on her return that night. A tiny regal with a sharp prickling effect cutting the silent sound barrier of the room. The word was on constant loop, repeating out of her mouth, her coat hanging off her slouched shoulders, her lips dry as she continued sipping from the glass of water in her hand drowning out her tired eyes. She did not even acknowledge us, the fact it had been over 12 hours since we saw her and Dad whisked away by the Ambulance, didn’t seem to have an effect on her. She talked over our heads and into the ears of our relatives who had all gathered in the house. I didn’t know what a heart attack was or what it meant. My Mum described it as a death sentence and how the earth moved for her when the doctors took her aside to give her the ground breaking news. The day must have been hard for her, the fear and anxiety of potentially being a widow at 27 with three children. Not knowing if or how long your husband will be around for.
The word didn’t quite have the same effect on me as it did on her. It was a description, nothing more. Something that happened to his heart that made him end up in the hospital and he wasn’t returning home anytime soon.
The morning after, we were strapped inside a cab with our Mum and swept to the Royal London Hospital. The Victorian building with a great big statue of Queen Victoria herself majestically placed in the Gardens. The driver was Bengali, like most cab drivers he knew my Dad and like most of them he didn’t take our money. It’s something we got used to growing up in an environment where everybody knew our Dad.
So there we were- three brothers or musketeers, wearing our matching patterned nylon half shirts – a fashion disaster of that time, much like most of the early 90s. We stood patiently outside Cotton Ward on the third floor of the hospital waiting to see our Dad. We listened to our Mum pleading with the nurse in her broken English, that we were his kids and he wanted to see us. The ward had a strict policy about letting minors in, even though I was eight years old and did not consider myself as a child. Not in the way I considered my three year old brother. She managed to negotiate a 10 minute time span for us to see him.
My Dad lay riddled on his bed in his white singlet. Round white stickers stuck to his chest connected to wires leading to a square beeping heart monitor with wavy lines. I’d like to think our Dad hugged or maybe even kissed us, but the truth is, I was too mesmerised and in awe by the medical machineries that stood in front of me to remember. I listened intuitively to my older brother with his all knowing and all seeing self. He was precise to break down the gory details for me and I found out, if the line went flat? It means my Dad’s heart had stopped and he will die.
The rest of the day we sat at the wooden chairs with cracked leather cushions in the waiting room. Flicking and reading through the free outdated TV guides scattered at the centre of the table that came with The Daily Mirror or The Sun. One of the cast members of Neighbours was on the front cover. My brother read that article intensively. I still wasn’t able to read properly at that time. My Mum – the poor and dutiful wife, sat vigil next to my Dad. The day was long and we became an audience to the friends and relatives that came swooning in to see him. No respect for the two visitors per bed policy of the ward. A rebellion we got used to for the next 28 years of our lives, when it came to hospital etiquettes.
My Dad’s elder sister walked out off the ward crying out loud, my Mum was in sync with her. It was a battle of who can cry the loudest. It seemed the women in my Dad’s life were open to display emotion in the most public of places. They couldn’t be sad in a private way. In their own little world, public grieving was a calling card that they cared, that they love and most importantly they hurt. There was no other way to show it.
A few days passed and it became clear he was out off immediate danger. The sympathy everyone felt for my Dad slowly manifested into judgment. Lying in the hospital, strapped to a machine, wasn’t a ‘get out of jail free card’ by any means. His twenty a day smoking habit and the decades of raising his voice for his political campaigning and community activities was pin pointed as the cause of his heart failure by our family and friends. He was at fault for his own slow demise, somehow it made it easy for everyone to accept the situation better by placing the blame on him. It made them feel more control of their own health and that the same would not or could not happen to them.
As an eight year old, I learned what many of my age at that time didn’t know. Smoking and shouting will give you a heart attack. It served as a rude awakening for most men in our family, who weren’t well versed, like many of the Bangladeshi men of that generation of the harmful consequences of smoking. Most men who accompanied my Dad were smokers, all the men in our family smoked. Walking into a roomful of smoke and having an ashtray filled with grey ashes and orange cigarette butts were part of the natural deco of the house. It was an integral part of the Bangladeshi masculinity, along with sporting a thick moustache. Cigarettes were passed around to each other as an act of greeting, hospitality and goodwill. Back when a packet of twenties would cost you a little more than £2. I remember fanaticising about being a grown up, carrying a packet of Dunhill or Benson and Hedges- the brand my Dad smoked. Practising with a rolled up piece of paper, the theatrical ways I would light up my cigarette with a Zippo like the one he had. My fantasy ended around that time. It wasn’t until I was 14 and thanks to my raging teenage hormones and bowing to peer pressure. I romanticised about cigarettes again and even smoked a few.
If anything was clear from all this, it was my Mum’s stance that she would make him stop smoking and God help her put a stop to his political career. Her tone made us take her seriously and we rallied behind her triumphant battle cry. Like all her multiple crusades she had with my Dad over the course of their 39 year marriage, she failed to win that one too. He continued to smoke for a good decade after that and his political career didn’t end either.
Much of my memories from the summer of 90, are sitting at home with my brothers and missing school. Playing with our Yoyos, watching and dancing to a bad VHS copy of ‘Bad’ (excuse the pun) by Michael Jackson that we recorded from the TV. Getting re-introduced to David Hasselhoff who had abandoned his Knight Rider gimmick and slow motioned his way onto our screens with Baywatch. Listening to New Kids on the Block and watching the cartoon and of course watching Italy 90 which was sprucing up my Geography knowledge. The World Cup taught me names of countries I never knew existed. I was confused, how a country called Holland was also called Netherlands. There was a West Germany that was quite good, unlike their eastern counterpart. I familiarised myself with new and now famous sporting celebrities like Gary Lineker, John Barnes, Paul ‘Gazza’ Gasgoine, Diego Maradonna and of course Roga Milla. I remember my sadness when Stuart Pearce and Glen Waddle missed those penalties and England came crushing out off the Semi Finals. At that time I wasn’t aware of the significance of the World Cup. I was just upset England was out off the competition.
All the while my Mum carried on visiting my Dad in the hospital, who had developed new culinary habits throughout his stay. My Mum’s famous butter drenched fried bread and ghee embellished Paratas, which probably contributed in a major way to his heart attack, were no longer his first choice for breakfast. He began to mildly contradict his anti colonial beliefs by announcing he was eating like an ‘English Man’, thanks to his stint at the hospital and being exposed to a new diet. He wanted toast and crumpets with jam. We had no idea what crumpets were before this.
With each summer day stretching, so did my skills on my Coco Cola Yoyo. I learned to ‘Walk the Dog’, where it span on the floor before retreating back to my hand and ‘Around the World’, where I spun it 360 degrees and took it back in. The best part of the Yoyo experience, was making new strings, with our Mum’s collection of multi coloured cotton rolls from her mini makeshift home factory. One of the greatest untold stories from the Tower Hamlets Bangladeshi Community from the 70s through to the 90s, are that of the generation of women who were expert Seamstresses, working in their homes with their Brother sewing machines. They were the gears and backbone of the notorious East London clothing and garment industry. Women who were artists in making coats, dresses and inner linen wear. So while the outside world held a narrow perception of these mildly oppressed women, with no spoken English, litters of kids and obedient to their patriarchal masters. Little did they know, behind those veils, lay an array of skilled women, earning money and empowering themselves with their craft. Putting in 40 hours a week including all nighters whilst managing their families. Santa Clause didn’t bring sacks of presents to our house. We had burly Asian men carrying big sacks of linen and textiles for our Mum to sew, 15p per garment was the average going price. Every fortnight, I waited patiently for her to be handed that small brown envelope with bright orange notes, her hard earned wage. I earned my pocket money of £1, if I helped her trim labels and sort out the different cuts. It helped develop my fine motor skills and gave me my first experience of employment. My Mum got rid of her Brother sewing machine in 2008, although it had been voluntarily decommissioned and sitting in our hallway since 1998.
1990 – Roga Milla
Disneyland wasn’t the happiest place on earth. We were being sold a big lie. I was eight years old when I stumbled upon on that secret and it wasn’t that magical kingdom located in the sub tropical climate of Florida. Masqueraded through every media platform of 80’s popular culture to the eyes and ears of children growing up in the West. With a sole aim to make us fall in love with a high pitched rodent with large disproportionate ears and his lovable companions. The incoherent duck, dressed as a sailor with no pants, the dog with two bucked tooth and big floppy ears – Goofy. I emphasise that name, because that’s what everyone called me, because of my own two frontal gushers.
My family were given the task of house sitting my Nan’s house. A three bedroom, third floor council flat on a gritty East London council estate in Tower Hamlets. An eyesore of a building accustomed to the occasional drunk and quick urine relief for passersby. Nothing out of the ordinary for that place or time, another large concrete structure, erected during the 1960’s to accommodate the growing population of London. An archetype of social housing sitting on the edge of Margaret Thatcher’s orgasmic dream of giving tenants the ‘Right to Buy’ and giving a lingering hope to the poor working class, to have within their clasp the privilege of private ownership. Thus turning the wheel into motion, which was about to change the landscape of this part of London, that no one accidently gave a shit about.
Here I was, peering through the gap of the pane glassed living room door, watching my Dad on his feet. One hand placed above his groin and raising the other over his head, doing the Roga Milla trademark celebratory dance. Against the noise emitting from the square brown television set that was broadcasting FIFA World Cup 90.
Looking back, I wonder what it was, that pushed a man, who came from a strict conservative background. To get up from his seat and thrust his hips and bum so provocatively, in the presence of my ten year old brother, who was eagerly mimicking his actions. Was our Dad caught up in the moment of euphoria or was the spontaneous dancing a celebration of a higher sense of achievement? Two months prior, he made local history, by being the first Bangladeshi Labour Councillor in Tower Hamlets, alongside his comrade and friend John Biggs – who went to become Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets in 2015. Maybe he was still high from the finality of achieving an official elected position in the local government at a hostile and pivotal time for race relations, after being a grass root activist for over a decade. A man rebuilt with a sense of hope and coming to terms with his new found power. To be in a position to make a change for his people, that for decades had been in desperate search for a voice. In him they saw a leader who was going to pave the way for the future generations of East London Bangladeshis. A small step for a man, but a giant leap for a community, that was in the verge of awakening. Maybe the hands up in the air, represented that in addition to all this, he was in his 40s, the prime of his life, married and the father of not one, but three healthy boys. His heirs to the throne and therefore in the tradition of South Asian cultures his future financial security. A feat many Bangladeshi families dreamt off, but only a few achieved.
Or maybe it was none of that and in Roga Milla, the breakout star of the 1990s World Cup. He found joy and comfort that an unknown African football player from Cameroon was making a name in the world biggest global sporting competition with his wacky dance and flamboyant character. A player who wasn’t white, who he could relate to and whose rise to stardom represented to him, everything he so passionately fought against – The Establishment and British Colonialism.
So there he was, my Dad- The mascot of the family, the Mickey Mouse of our Disneyland. With a gleam on his face, his hair a frizzy wild, his hips thrusting and the top three buttons of his shirt open. Basking in the glory of the summer heat and standing on the pedestal of what was about to push him towards the peak of his life and bring forth his glory days. My Mum – Minnie Mouse, in the kitchen or probably on the prayer mat with her forehead on the ground seeking and speaking words to the benevolent. My younger brother- Donald Duck, in the back room counting the Lychees that he loved to eat, my older brother – Pluto, lost in the moment dancing with my Dad all ready to one day take the mantlepiece from our Dad wear his shoes. And then there was tis, I – Goofy, the overlooked middle child, with my bucked tooth, skinny arms and if my family’s recollection of my childhood was to be believed- a snotty nose. Sitting down in my own solitude, in full acceptance of my 2nd in line to a family throne that would never be mine, observing my great family and thy great father – My happiest place on earth.
The next day, my Dad was lying flat on the bed, his face covered with red sweat, heaving out every single prayer that he had learned in his life. Unlike my Mum, I had never seen him pray or talk about God, but here he was, with every shortened breath, the Lord’s name transpiring out off his mouth, begging for his unlimited mercy. His half tinted glasses laid on the floor, his shirt open and his hand on his chest, a far contrast from the boisterous man who was dancing the previous day. I couldn’t tell if he was pretending or if he was in actual pain, he had complained about chest pains a couple of days before but was up and running a few minutes later. It was hard to make sense from his agonising gasps and through the loud wails of my young mother- she had just turned 27. She didn’t call 999; it was my Aunt who did. She was too busy crying for him through his anguish, that was her job. In a culture where they were taught, woman who cried the loudest were the most committed to their spouses, she was playing the devoted wife, anything else wouldn’t fit the narrative. Her white saree with red glittered borders that she wore for Eid that year, draped over him. It only served the irony of the situation. Since white sarees were mainly reserved for widows, like it was the Universe’s sick way of taunting her, of things yet to come. I don’t doubt she was distraught that day and her tears had more meaning. But weather it was her playing the role of the dutiful wife or the genuine shock that her husband laid in front of her, close to death. It was the first time I witnessed love and affection from her towards him. Something other than watching him getting yelled in his ears about the late nights coming home, his lazy attitude or him not having a proper full time job like all the other men. Because being an activist never paid – it only garnered respect. That didn’t put food on the table, pay the bills, buy clothes for the children or afford a holiday back home to her beloved Bangladesh. A place her heart yearned for since she left when she was 13 and had yet to return for her long overdue homecoming.
I didn’t go back inside the room. It was hard to understand anything from the commotion. The front door like every other summer day was gawping open and the sun blazingly shone down on the grey concrete veranda of the third floor. I could hear my peers playing football, distant sounds of bicycle bells, the hypnotic and melodic tune of ice cream vans, leading the children away like the Pied Piper. I probably would have been part of that crowd, if I didn’t have more pressing matters to focus on. I waited for the Ambulance, once they come and take him to the hospital, he should be ok. He will be back up dancing again and my Mum’s crying would stop.
Two phone calls and 30 minutes later, the big white van arrived with blue bulbs on top. I was looking over the balcony watching my 10 year old brother. He was already down on the streets waiting, waving his hands in frenzy to signal, as soon he spotted them. The sirens weren’t flashing, I still don’t know why to this day. There are a whole lot of maybe scenarios to contemplate. Maybe in those days sirens were reserved for the extremes cases and the super important. Maybe my Aunt couldn’t explain the severity of the situation or maybe the whispers we heard later were right. They never bothered that much when they heard Bengali names.
Snippets of that day are still embedded in my memory like strobe flashbacks in a film. How his limp body was strapped to the chair by the Paramedics – two tall white men, whose uniform and skin colour alone demanded respect and authority. I watched as they slipped a mask over his mouth to ease his breathing and strolled him away like royalty. His head limped sideways, his eyes bloodshot red and in that plastic oxygen mask, his first bit of peace and serenity out of the whole ordeal. My little brother cried when they refused to take him with my Mum on the Ambulance, who by then had managed to calm down a bit and donned her long brown woollen coat. Followed by us, the three siblings sat in the living room, the one he was dancing in the day before, in the care of our Aunt. Trying to calm our little brother down, no parents and not fully able to understand what just happened.
It’s a common theme amongst conversations for second generation Bangladeshis here in the West, when discussing growing up in a Bangladeshi family. We come across a large tin of Quality Streets, Roses or a tin of Biscuit hoping to open and find chocolates or confectionaries, only to be greeted with the pre-cooked pastry or frozen Somosas our Mums had stored inside. Countless jokes and meme’s have been made about it – to the extent it has now become embedded in our general conversation on what it means to be a Bengali. One person once wrote, ‘My Biscuit tin has biscuits in it, does it mean I am no longer Bengali?’
But beyond the jokes and memes, lies a deeper meaning into the mindset of our parents and that of our previous generation. A mindset which some may label an art form, that we are sadly losing or have already lost in current times.
Growing up, I had never seen a Tupperware in my house, I didn’t even know what that was. My parents like many, used empty ice cream containers, empty cans, anything they had salvaged from items they have bought from the supermarket which could be used for something else on top of their original purpose. We, the younger generation attributed it to their ‘Bangladeshi out of touch’ background, on them having no clue on how to adjust to Western society. It was embarrassing to share with anyone at school, who were not from our cultural background, that our Mum used old drink bottles to store her cooking oil, empty plastic containers of my brother’s baby milk formula for her various cooking spices, or how I used to help her mash the garlic for her cooking in the empty can of chickpeas. It was even more embarrassing to explain to our non-Bengali friends, about the second-hand furniture’s that our parents had bought from the market or received from a neighbour who no longer needed it.
Looking back, we now see the wisdom in their behaviour. They belonged to a generation where waste was not an option. In their world, any item that can serve multiple purpose, should be salvaged and used, the ‘mend it and use it’ generation. Ones who did not throw something away because it was broke or no longer served the single purpose it was made for. They viewed items like they viewed individual people. The resourcefulness of what each brings and the different purposes they served. In doing so they were doing more for this planet than we knew.
We never have had recycle bins in our house, our parents would always find some use for the cardboards or plastic bottles. Whether it was for watering plants or acting as a makeshift cover for where we leave our shoes. They didn’t do this because they were socially conscious, fighting for climate change or for some ‘Woke’ reasons that we find ourselves surrounded by in todays world. It was just their way of life, seeing value of every resource, product and item. Making use of everything even after its sell by use. A far cry from the throw away culture that we have now become accustomed to.
As we grew up and progressed on with our lives, getting our degrees and well-paying jobs with careers. We associated those age- old practices of our parents with poverty and their lack of being in touch. To prove our affluence and to accomplish our rise from rags to riches story, we replaced our old tin pots that stored our tea and sugar with ceramic pots that had the names Tea, Sugar, Coffee printed on it. Our biscuit tins now have biscuits instead of pre-cooked pastry. Our fridges lined with different sized Tupperware to take our lunch to work and our living rooms decorated with Ikea furnitures, to look pleasing to the aesthetic eye. Little realising that in our quest to prove that we have moved away from poverty. We have left behind a very important lifestyle, practice and teaching that is pivotal to the survival of our hearts and the planet.
Nowadays, we find ourselves promoting Climate Change issues more so than we practice or care to admit. We carry metaphorical placards to reduce plastic, drive 10 miles of fuel to buy bio-degradable products, all the while knowing that we are participating in a throw away culture than ever before. Every morning we are greeted with stacking pile of our takeaway boxes and our growing collection of clothes all of which is feeding into our constant need of consumerism. Our parents did not know about Climate Change. Recycling is not a word in their vocabulary, nor have they ever heard of bio- degradable products. Yet they lived a more eco -friendly life and contributed less carbon emission, than we do now with our ‘Woke’ knowledge and campaigns. They relied on simple common sense of valuing each and everything for what its worth. Throwing something as mundane as a tin can, for them was same as throwing away a £5 note. The way they treated the items in their lives is how they treated people, which in effect shaped the world we live. A home filled with items less than a year old and Amazon packages filling up our bins is a scenario unimaginable to them. If we could pull our heads out of the bubble wraps that cover our latest delivery, we would realise how this life we lead is eating into our climate and our souls.
The Universe has a funny way of balancing and adapting to our behaviours. The way we treat the things in our lives, eventually shifts our attitude to the way we treat each other. Our parents fought hard to keep relationships with people around them, mend the broken ones, found usefulness in the less useful ones, tolerate the eccentric ones. People were valuable and like the items in their life, they knew they were unique and scarce commodities to last and not to throw away.
Our inept desire for more things, only digs away at these very fundamental and our souls. This culture of getting rid of things after they serve their single purpose, has transformed into our behaviour and in effect how we treat and look at each other as humans. We now live in a world where many fail to see the value of a person or the multitude of skills and things they have to offer, other than what they can serve to us. Friends, Family, Relatives, Neighbours, Ex-Lovers, Colleagues all of whom we discard and no longer reach out to because they have passed whatever use they brought to us at a certain time of our life or have failed to provide something we want- so we discard them, like we do with the items in our lives. Broken people, who like the plastic that float in the the Ocean, lay in waste, hoping that people would see them for more than what they once served and all the other things they are and can be for us.
The race to save the climate does not just rely on poster campaigns and awareness. It lies in the way we lead our lives. We don’t need some expensive viral campaign hosted by celebrities to raise awareness of how to do our bit, we have it inside ourselves already. We just need to dig into our roots a bit. It’s time we did what our parents did, take a hard look into some of their practices and claim them back, in doing so, not only would we find ways to save the world but in the process save our souls too.
As another Ceasefire is declared after 11 days of war. Only one thing lies certain ahead – this is only temporary. For many, like myself, we have seen this endless cycle of war and peace played out over and over in this conflict between Israel and Palestine. 2009, 2012, 2014 and here we are again in 2021. The same story – only more casualties. Those who have been around more than me, can add more years to their resume of this saga and those younger, are going add more in the future.
The issue of Al Aqsa and Palestine stretches far back beyond the creation of Israel in 1947, the Balfour Declaration, Hamas, Palestinian Liberation Organisation, Yassar Arafat, Ariel Sharon or Benjamin Netanyahu.
The hurt of Palestine runs deep like the rivers and it amplifies that much more each time, a never ending voice that refuses to retreat.
Al Aqsa holds deep entrenched values to the global Muslim world- it’s not something they can simply let go and disown. It is the place where the Prophet Muhammed travelled in his night quest and led the prayers with all the Prophets of the past. It is the point where Muslims were first directed to pray towards before being instructed to change it towards the Kabba in Mecca. Whether you believe in the religion of Islam or not. These very beliefs are cemented within their principles, their fundamentals and their future beliefs (where Jesus (Isa) will arrive)- In the same fashion, Judaism believe it is their Promised Land from God to their people. The conquest of Jerusalem from both the Christian and Muslim world in different periods of history, had been the focal point of these beliefs.
For this reason for Muslims around the globe, the situation of Palestine ranks high and raises awareness than any other acts of war and oppression taking place in the Middle East or other parts of the world. Which is why every time a severe bombing campaign takes place, emotions take over rather than the mind.
However, the modern warfare and struggle which we see today reaches far beyond the fundamentals of religious ideology and exposes the tyranny, hypocrisy and double standards of the world governments. Leaders and politicians have failed to acknowledge a situation that stares them indiscriminately in their face. Similar situations in the past and present, carried out by any other government apart from Israel, has demanded (rightfully) these governments being faced with sanctions, embargos, arming of militants and even invasion. Syria, Iraq, Iran and Libya are just a few examples of the last decade.
Israel is an apartheid state, it has used and continues to use disproportionate amount of ammunition and sophisticated fire power (funded in billions year after year by the US taxpayers) to neutralise who they think are their enemies. They have a blockade at the border to minimise the amounts of medical supplies and food that gets across to Gaza for every day life. They arrest and imprison children, they are an imperialist nation and the only one in that region with nuclear weapons. Their crimes against the people of Palestine stretches far beyond religion- its an act of cleansing and an act against every basic human right. No human being can ever evaluate the situation and stay neutral, and that anger is only fuelled when world leaders and politicians (who we elected) do just that. People of influence who have always had an opinion and sides in global warfare and for decades have had the chance to facilitate a solution, stand idly by and hide behind the smoke screen that ‘Israel has the right to defend themselves’. Instead they focus on the few immature and isolated chants of close- minded idiots, to make it about Anti-Semitism, avoiding the real issue at hand. Their rhetoric and slogans are wearing thin, as we move toward a world where political thoughts and ideologies are no longer controlled by the box in our living room and newspapers owned by a few individuals. With the ever-rising power of social media and the different ways people receive their news. We have more windows to see the world for what it is. People in power should know, that hiding behind old wordings, just to keep the powerful lobbies of a few, are numbered.
Even though the placards, banners and rhetoric from the protest are the same each time, every year. One thing is for certain, it’s growing each time, it’s raising more awareness each time, it educates a new generation of people and the tides are changing in all aspect of global causes, not just one.
As we move on from this moment of radical, virtual and physical protests. There are some waiting and some hoping, that the 11 days of awareness around Palestine, will die out. History tells us, that is exactly what will happen. So, for those of us who took the time out to raise your slogans, attend the protests, fly the flags, sign the petitions, change our social media DP, share videos, get into internet debates. What else is there to do after this?
The real action comes from you own action, if the Pandemic has taught us anything, is how vulnerable the global economy and power structure is and how much influence we have, as collective powers. Government and big businesses who get involved in unethical businesses do so with the powers we give them and with our money.
Let us set aside the Western governments and businesses and look at the ones who should be closer to the heart and region of Palestine. I am talking about the Muslim countries across the globe. Its time we boycotted them where and when we can. Take United Arab of Emirates who had established a diplomatic relationship with Israel since August 2020. A place which has benefited and been the go-to place for Muslim tourists for nearly two decades. Knowing all too well how sensitive the whole Israel – Palestine situation is, went ahead against the wishes of the people and created a link for their own greed and power.
Its time to look at our moral compass, simply posting flags, poems and chants is not good enough. Emotions dies out, causes don’t. How long can we hold onto our anger and emotions? That is the pivotal question. It’s time to hit them with our minds and wallets, boycott those who fail to hear your voices, its only when they see the rising tides of unilateral voices, the changes really happen.
Are we willing to go beyond the luxury of our Frappes from Starbucks, our branded clothes from the likes of Puma, our resorted holidays and pictures for Instagram at Dubai and stand our ground. At the end of the day, this is all we can do. Raise our voices and take a collective stance against those who are complacent of the Occupation. If we cannot make those simple changes, ask yourself, what are we really doing and who is this for and our voices only left for the chat room and virtual world?
End the Blockade.
End the Occupation.
Liberate Al Aqsa
“Why are you eating chocolate ice cream? You will become blacker by eating that.”
Sounds absurd right? That comment. Hardly a joke? It will probably have you spitting the tea out from your mouth or falling off your chair from reading it. Now, imagine that was shouted at you by your mum, when you were 13, in a crisp hot summer day in August, in the middle of a busy park with you surrounded by people enjoying the blazing heat. It would probably be a defining moment for most people. But for me, it was another bygone comment, that was retorted back with another delicious lick of the gooey chocolate syrup covering my ice cream. I wasn’t even embarrassed, mad or angry. It’s the small things you get used to when you are born with dark skin and growing up in a Bangladeshi family and community.
Did my Mum say it out of hate, resentment or her own embarrassment that she was being seen with me? Did she do it out of spite or neglect? No, it was humour after all, it didn’t mean anything to her. She doesn’t even recall the day or the comment when I mention it to her sometimes, all these years later. Probably because she had said so many similar things, it had slipped her mind. Comments like that didn’t question her unbridle love for me or the high pedestal she has for me in her world. To her it’s an embedded teaching and attitude she was forced to grow up with and did not know any better. After all, being dark skinned meant that I should be used to being a target of humour and ridicule and regardless of age, I shouldn’t take it too much to heart, as it was my misfortune to be born with it, so therefore live with it.
Growing up, questions, jokes and taunts around my dark skin never evaded me. More so from my family and relatives than outsiders. My mum having to explain to everyone, why she as a beautiful fair woman, can have some multi shades of children rather than embrace the beauty of having such a diverse portfolio. The fair ones being the good-looking ones and me and my younger brother, of course not so much.
“Their uncles are dark, that’s where they got it from.” She would explain to everyone who asked. So, I would find myself searching my own roots and blaming family members who I have never met in my life, for inheriting their misfortune and gene. That’s the Asian way, none of this is breaking news. Another forced baggage to carry, growing up in an Asian family, an experience only another dark-skinned person will relate to and understand.
No regard to how the stigma of being dark skin, shapes a person and teaches them to see a part of their body as a curse rather than something to be proud off. You end up wishing, one day you will wake up and shed your skin into a fairer one. All the while knowing deep down that all this trauma you feel is being orchestrated by your own community.
Dark skinned women being judged as not being marriage material, not worthy enough, their accomplishments geared down to nothing, their features never beautiful, only because none of what they are, is coated with white fair skin. “She is amazing, but a bit dark though.” The common sentences we have come to associate with many descriptions around potential Asian brides.
Our first family trip to Bangladesh in the 90s, I remember my parents forced to explain to everyone, how we can be born in England and still be so dark. Being from colonial London should have meant, we should have been fair (imagine that mindset). My younger brother getting the most brunt of the jokes, he was only 7 then, too young to have grown the thick cloak of armour needed to defend his dark skin in our community. He would get extra sensitive. As an act of love and seeing his negative reaction to it all, everyone started calling him ‘the beautiful brother’ a tongue and cheek title, to imply that he wasn’t.
You can imagine the fun they all had when we came across a song called ‘Kala Maya’ – translated ‘Dark Skin Girl’. A song that plighted the struggle of a beautiful dark skin girl and how nobody saw her true worth.
So, this week, whilst the British public have had their jaws dropped down to the ground when Meghan Markle revealed how a member of the Royal, questioned how dark the skin tone of Archie might be. You could hear the pin drop of silence from the Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian community. A rude awakening for many 2nd/ 3rd generation Asians to contemplate some of the ideas and thoughts they still live with. Forcing them to look at their own thought process of the age old colonial idea that white represented beauty and power and how that it is still very much embedded in today’s Asian society.
Spoken words and dialogues may indicate one thing, but actions and attitudes tells us a different story. We see it in the way beauty products are promoted, sold and bought by social media influencers. Light skinned models being used in Asian bridal magazines, filters in social media that lighten your skin shade and euro centrify your features. The fetishizing of mixed raced children or the pride of being mistaken for a middle eastern or anything other than Bengali, cos after all being Bengali means you are dark and therefore not beautiful.
So as people drop their two pennies worth in the Harry and Meghan debacle, I wonder if Asians see their own hypocrisy staring back at their face in this saga? Are they able see the roots of colonialism that continues to shape their own narrative around the different shades and tones of skin in their own people? Will they learn to finally embrace the beauty of their ethnicity rather than uphold old ideas that has for centuries white-washed the roots of their pigmentation?
Lyrics from Kala Maya (translated)
‘The dark face has wisdom which the white face doesn’t have. Nobody wants to understand the pain of a dark-skinned girl.
Not much happens nowadays. Nothing exciting, no exciting trips to talk about, no funny stories that happened at work. No talk of meeting new people or things we have done. Everything is mundane really. So much so, you end up searching for things that don’t exist, in places where it shouldn’t.
Last Saturday night, I saw a bright orange orb firing up across the sky of East London. Levitating, glowing and then disappearing. It was silent as the night, not emitting a single sound. Seamlessly flying across the night skies. A beacon I had been waiting for my whole life, to be closer to the mysterious UFOs that have been reported throughout history. Answers to what really lies beyond this planet and being one step closer to find answers to why we are here and why we exist.
I never thought I would see one from my back garden, but yet here it was. Maybe this mundane life has me searching for things in places it shouldn’t exist? Why of all the places in this world, should an intergalactic orb be flying in front of my house and in front of me? I am not looking for an explanation, I much rather entertain the possibilities of what it could have been. Rather than to investigate and find out it was some sophisticated drone that belonged to some tech geek.
People around the UK linger on an olive branch of June 21st – a date handed to them by the government. The day all the madness of the past year will come to end. A full year into lockdown, no one knew it wasn’t going to take this long to be where we are. Will this be our modern VE day? For me, that remains to be seen, for others there is no caution to the wind. The young ones, ready to embrace the youth that had been taken from them without permission, they are already getting ready for the night clubs and bars. Travel agents reporting heavy traffic on their websites, people booking holidays, even though international restrictions lifting has not been announced. Talks of BBQ and parties being spread on social media and messages. The light can finally be seen in this one-year long tunnel.
But the global picture is different. Getting the UK through this is not going to be enough when the world around us is behind in terms of vaccination. Is June really the end? False dates and empty promises have been given to us before. If June is the end? why has Furlough been extended until September. As reports of new variants start emerging, what’s to say we are not going to experience a new pandemic lurking around the corner. A stronger strain that will leave us locked behind our doors for longer. It’s always best to observe what the government is doing, then what they are saying.
So, we remain mundane, making and creating narratives in our heads to keep control of the things we can. Maybe the orb I saw was an extra-terrestrial object or maybe it was pre- fragments of the meteor shower that took place the next night. It could have even been a military aircraft. The truth is what we make it nowadays.
But what if it all works out and June 21st is when we let the guard doors down? We are let out to wander the roads and streets with no restrictions and no barriers? Will we be able to run free or will we be too afraid and re-treat back to the only cocoon we know and have been building for the past year. Sometimes a cage is where we are the most free.
She called my bluff and she won the fight
I ran outside in the hot twilight
I had a lighter that didn’t light
Well I know I shouldn’t smoke
I was gone, I was free to leave
Walking fast down the Bowery
Tears in my eyes so I couldn’t see
But I made my way back home
It’s easy to lose touch with the World from within a city. The sun, sea, sand, hills and stars. The scaffolds that hold the Earth, they all fade in the background, when you’re wandering endlessly in middle of long traffic, surrounded by lights, noise and empty shells of people. Here in the city, we compress the world, put it through the compactor and produce a concrete, compact version of what we want, a cosmopolitan structure of our desire and lust with no regard for what we need. We filter the rest and scatter them around like crumbs, to give us a trickle of what is outside. A small garden in the backdrop of an office block to make us feel one with nature. Tiny water fountains to give us the sense of waterfalls. A rustic café to make us feel the village but not want to live in it.
This city hasn’t been the same for a while, it’s in a state of forced hibernation. I can hear its angry calling, wanting to be awoken from this deep sleep that it has been induced into. Like a caged bear, it’s fighting to get out. I cycled through Aldgate this week, in the dark hours of the early evening. I passed the haunting tall empty office blocks gaining dust, ghost of their former selves, lights still on, burning in rage to remind us of their might, but nobody is home.
I miss the city, I miss getting lost in the crowd, to be alone and immerse in a world within a world, but still have the luxury of people around you. Where you can wander for hours and not have anyone question why? Sitting down with a coffee and observing everyone. The old, the young, the couples, the tourists, the happy and the sad. Drifting in and out of through vehicles that never stop giving, onto the streets that never stop taking.
The world at my fingertips, with a simple row of street providing more food from around the globe then one would ever visit in their lifetime. A world where you can come out of your house with just a phone and buy everything you need. A world, not so long ago, where I was able to run in the streets, grab food and drink and sit through a whole new simulation everyday, not a single day the same.
I miss being lost. It’s in the middle of this sense of loss you find out who you are and your place in this paradox. I looked at the tall structures, if the walls could talk? I know what it would have said. It yearns for people, just like we do. It rages to engulf us all again, rip our souls and tear us to shreds. A sleeping giant- all rage, now on the verge re-awakening.
I feel its pain and get ready to be eaten. I just want to get lost again, jump into the abyss. Sit down on the curb and have my coffee. In this wilderness of the city is where I am the most free.
My neighbour’s new dog- Ruby, has started barking all hours throughout the night. The yelp of a puppy beginning to find her voice, drifts into my ear past midnight and through the early hours of darkness. Some nights she does not stop and continues throughout the day. They say pets have a sixth sense, that they smell things, see things and predict things that await us. I pause and divert my eyes away from my phone screen at 1am, listening to her bark blending in with the sound of the night. The nights are quiet now, apart from the odd Deliveroo cyclists you can hear peddling away in the cold, hurrying to feed the unquenchable midnight hunger of a mid- 20s renter, who had given up on their life and started gorging Uber Eats and Deliveroo for the past year. A £10 meal marinated with high fat content, salt and oil- their salvation through this year of living with a broken promise of a 2021 that hasn’t quite sufficed the way it should have.
Maybe Ruby, senses the aura of the people, the energy of the distraught, the boredom that inhabits us all. The loneliness, the uncertainty, broken hopes and plan. The poverty of our minds and the state that has engulfed us. Maybe she feels, sees or hears the spirit of the tragic souls that have all perished from Covid 19 – less than 500 metres away from me, down at the morgue of The Royal London. Maybe she sees a future less optimistic than the one we envision. What if it is a sign of warning to our overcompensating faith? Over 100’000 dead in the UK and over a million deaths globally, yet we rest our faith on the vaccine, even as new mutated strains are being reported.
I shudder to think, if the howls of animals are predicting of a worse yet to come or if it brings glad tidings. But the Cows prolong their Moos before a plague, the Crows circle the dead before they die. The Rooster sings at the sign of sunrise. Maybe its my imagination but the yelps of this dog, is not one that sounds like the beckoning of a new dawn. I look back at my screen, mindless hours of videos that do not make sense anymore. Short clips feeding into my nostalgia, that provide a sense of ease and comfort. Not wanting to sleep and questioning why I wake up? Only to turn around in my bed to switch on my computer 10 minutes before my time to sign in for work. Staring at the abyss of MS Teams and Zoom, talking to colleagues with their filtered profile pictures from their heyday, that doesn’t resemble anything of what they are or have been for a long time. Talking to them, as if to say life is ok. As if I don’t yearn to go out and see, feel and touch people.
The black coffee sitting on my desk next to my screen, only reminds me of the small things. How much I miss walking up and buying that coffee with a ‘Hello’ to the Barista from Costa. The walk, the pavements, the chatter, the traffic, the noise, pollution and the people. Somehow sitting at the desk of your home, behind the screen, with the noise of your children shouting in the back as they remote learn their way through education. You try to convince yourself first and then your invisible work colleagues, that you are fine, that you are ok and better days will return. I convince myself I will be back to feeling and look fit when the gyms re-open, that a couple of measly pulls up and a 2k run every other day is enough to keep me going.
The public are more cautious now, even the Government is, there is no urgency to open everything again. The dire talks of how a second lockdown would have destroyed the economy, doesn’t seem to have surfaced- we are in a third lockdown. We have been in lockdown for nearly a year, slowly killing our souls to protect our physical self and of others. The worst that had been predicted hadn’t come to materialise or maybe they have, we are yet to see it.
I wonder what the barking of a dog at 3am means? I swipe to the next video, the sounds of footsteps of my neighbours’ creep into my room like they are right next to me- ghosts walking inside my house. Lockdown has ruined time, walking around at 3am is not any more unusual than walking around at 3pm. Old pipes of our heating system creak loud, the type of sounds you get used to along the frost and rain tapping against the window.
My eyes get tired watching films and series, where people lead normal mask free lives with closeness and affection, whilst our lives are so different. The barking still haunts me and yet it soothes me too. Even if it is a warning of a danger yet to come- the fear and uncertainty of what it might bring, makes you feel alive at a time when we are anything, but.
This week has been highly charged, like none other time during this Pandemic. Even though we have seen the death count for Covid-19 gone down below a 100 today, the biggest news is the ongoing protests taking place in the USA, which has now found its way here in the cities of UK.
Thousands of people gathered around landmarks, majority peacefully protesting but also many destroying and vandalising statues of old controversial figures and throwing them deep into the cold dark waters. It’s as if those acts will rectify all the issues and erase the most hardest part of our history. None of these protests had any social distancing as if Covid 19 had disappeared, or that it will somehow exempt them because they are fighting for a social justice cause. What’s amusing out of all of this, is the amount of support being shown to protesters and excuses by the main left wing and unions.
Nobody is disagreeing with the level of injustice that took place in America in the past week and one can even get on board with the demonstrations taking place in the USA. However, I fail to see how in the middle of a global pandemic that has killed 40’000 people here in Britain alone, why people in the UK think they should be protesting, considering the global circumstances. This is not the time to come out and protest an age old systemic problems here, just to show solidarity to the USA.
What’s worse, are the excuses and comparison from the Left in support for it. ‘People have been going to the beaches’ ‘People are queuing up in IKEA’ ‘Dominic Cummings went and visited his family’ ‘Racism is a pandemic in itself’. Are some of the things the Left have been saying to justify the protests and the lack of social distancing. Some of these things may be taking place, but it has never been encouraged by anyone, actually it was frowned and criticised upon. And the last time I checked racism had not killed 400’000 people globally in a period of six months, like Covid-19 has.
One might argue, that systemic racism has killed more people than that. Which maybe so, but that issue has always been here, it didn’t pop out last week when George Floyd was killed. What is this innate need to encourage and support the protest at a time when we are just getting a grip on the Pandemic? What is this need to gather and destroy statues and further fuel and overshadow the real cause of Black Lives Matter?
What about the great NHS that no one has stopped talking about? For the last three to four months, all that the Left wing and the unions have been doing is clapping for the heroes, critiquing the government on lack of PPE, talking about underpaid and overworked nurses. Getting on the bandwagon of how the NHS is underfunded and under appreciated by the Government. Another spike in numbers, no matter how small or big from the protests, will not affect the Government, it will overwhelm the heroes that you have been clapping for. If you encourage mass gatherings in protests or any other form, how can you show sympathy or feel the needs for justice for the NHS? It is those hard working nurses and health professionals which will be the ones picking up the pieces. You just become empty placard protesters and fail to garner any support or respect for all the other causes you come to support.
No one is blind to injustice, but the actions of people are fuelling more of a division rather a voice being heard.
Ridiculous comparisons cannot be made to justify protests here in London, these can wait. We all know BAME People are the most vulnerable in this pandemic, our death rates are higher than most, another spike no matter how small or big, is likely to affect more people of colour. How ironic will that be? Black people protesting for their rights, which might make their communities more vulnerable in the process.
If anything is clear from all this support for protests, how little the left wing actually support and respect the NHS and the lockdown rules when it comes to their own agendas. And the same could be said about the other side too. It is clear many just want to protest to stay relevant and promote an idealistic version of themselves. And how little people really care about the impact of Covid -19.
Be sensible in your approach, so the message of the cause is not being lost. As, all I have seen in the last few days, is lefties going on a ruthless parade with their white anarchist fantasies, which has infiltrated and influenced the activities of Black Lives Matter.