Dry January

I live a dry life. I stopped drinking alcohol a few years ago (for many reasons that I’ll go into a bit later), so I suppose it intrigues me why people resolve to have thirty-one alcohol-free days. I should clarify a couple of points before I go any further. My decision to go teetotal was entirely my own. (As was my decision to become a vegetarian when I was a teenager). Many people assume that I changed these aspects of my lifestyle for religious reasons. At the time I certainly didn’t, although I can now see why Sikhism advocates sobriety.

I dislike it when people say that I’m a “good girl” for not drinking – because one would conclude from that statement that I would be a “bad girl” if I did drink – and that’s not fair. When I was growing up in my British-Asian bubble, drinking was frowned upon and girls were certainly not allowed to be seen holding an alcoholic beverage; to the extent that at weddings, the bar would be an exclusively male area. I’m not exaggerating when I say that a rush of whispers would spread like wildfire amongst the aunties (aka random relations with no significant ties to your family), if a female was to approach and order a drink. Some of these archaic sentiments have unfortunately persisted, and many young people would still be scared to drink at a family function, lest they be unkindly judged by more vocal elders.

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On the flip side, I’ve also been told by people my age that I’m boring for not drinking – which makes me wonder if I’ve committed myself to a no-win way of life. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with drinking and I would certainly never judge anyone for choosing to drink, as I made the choice to drink once upon a time too. I had a great time then and I have a great time now. I suppose I just want to explain why I don’t drink alcohol and why I like being sober, in the hope that it might stop you from dreading nights where sobriety is a necessity (e.g. designated driver) or a choice (e.g. dry January).

I’ve seen a few different approaches to dry January. Some people give up as soon as a worthy opportunity to drink presents itself – and that doesn’t really bother me because I also happen to object quite strongly to “New Year’s resolutions”.* What irritates me is when people choose to go into hibernation in order to achieve a dry January. By avoiding social situations altogether, there’s no risk of succumbing to temptation and thus the thirty-one-day challenge has been conquered. But has it really? Have you succeeded in anything, if you’ve not met up with friends/family/colleagues and had a laugh. At most, all you’ve achieved is sitting at home on Friday nights bored out of your mind, affirming the belief that being sober is rubbish. You’re also not particularly testing your resolve. You’ve said no to attending a social event, but the real test comes when you politely decline a drink.

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There are obvious reasons for not drinking, so I’ll summarise those in brief clichés because I’m sure you remember them from PSHE in Year 9:

  • It’s bad for your health – “no s***, Sherlock”. We all do lots of things that are bad for our health, so drinking just seems like another guilty pleasure. Melting into the sofa is also bad for us; but that doesn’t stop anyone from bingeing on Netflix.
  • Drink driving is dangerous – life is valuable and taxis are expensive.
  • Beer bellies are real – as are the fatty, disease-ridden livers that are prevalent in the > 50 years, Sikh/Punjabi male population. Research the calories in a pint of Guinness and despair.
  • It’s bad for your bank balance – fairly self-explanatory.
  • It impairs your judgement – so you enter a vicious cycle of continuing the self-destructive, alcohol-fuelled behaviour… and might eventually wake up next to someone you don’t remember meeting (hello herpes) with credit card receipts for drinks you don’t remember ordering (farewell financial security).

An important part of life is making mistakes and learning from them, but I feel like when alcohol is involved, the same mistakes can be made time-and-time again. My sarcastic tone in the bullet points above does not intend to undermine their validity. There’s an uncomfortable truth to each statement – but as a society, we’ve become desensitised to the impact that alcohol can have on our wellbeing. Knowing that alcohol is expensive and unhealthy doesn’t deter us from drinking, or make abstinence any more attractive. Some of the reasons I stopped drinking do fall under the above categories, however I’ve mostly been guided by personal realisations.

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What made it easy, was understanding that alcohol in no way guarantees that you’ll have fun. You’ll have good nights and bad nights when you drink. You’ll have good nights and bad nights when you’re sober. Having a drink does not correlate with having a good night; and being sober does not correlate with having a bad one. Therefore, if you’re looking forward to a night out, you’re likely to have a good night irrespective of your alcohol intake. The people, atmosphere and music matter much more. There’s also the fact that people chat a lot of s*** when they’re drunk, and if you’re drunk you’re more likely to believe it. That’s fine sometimes – but it can also form fragile foundations for friendships. In my first year of uni, I went out more than the average fresher and met a lot of people. We were best friends on a night out but had very little to say to each other in the sober light of day. Initially, this wasn’t an issue, yet as the year went on, I became less certain of who my friends were; as most people felt like acquaintances.

Fortunately during this existential time, I got to know some of my closest friends at Bollywood dance rehearsals. We had met each other on nights out, but we bonded at sober practices… and I’ve since had a revelation that alcohol never contributed in any substantial way to the experiences or relationships for which I’m most grateful. Alcohol is very superficial, which is perfect when you’re in the company of people you know well, because it adds a layer of fun to what is already a very deep and wholesome thing. (This also taught me that very few things – least of all alcohol – compare to the feeling I get when I dance; it brings me immeasurable happiness, enjoyment and fulfilment. Lame but true.)

Yes, Dutch courage is useful when you’re faced with a room of people you don’t know, but it’ll also hinder your BS-filter. I was recently at a Christmas party where I didn’t know anyone, and I managed to make conversation with drunk and sober people alike for several hours. This isn’t something I’ve always been able to do and at times I felt quite awkward. Overall however, I had a wonderful night – firstly because I wasn’t doubting my opinions of people and secondly because I realised the next day, that I have definitely been happier since I stopped drinking.

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I don’t worry about drunken behaviour because it doesn’t exist. I’ve become a more confident person. I can instantly tell whether I’m likely to get on with someone, unlike my tipsy self who naïvely loved everyone. Talking to drunk people is entertaining. It’s nice to maintain a degree of control, which can be quickly lost after one unwise round of shots. My immune system is stronger. I’m more productive as I don’t lose a day to dehydration/headaches. My skin is healthier. I can get wonderful calories from Nutella without guilt, as I’m not getting empty calories from vodka with a hangover. Etc.

This doesn’t mean I’ll never drink again, as I’m fully aware that sharing a bottle of wine can be a simple but perfect way to spend your evening when you’re in good company. For now however, I’m more than content drinking Shloer and I hope that you’ll give it an open-minded go too.

 

* The start of a new year seems to be an arbitrary and weak source of motivation for making significant changes to your daily habits, so why set yourself up to fail.

Happily Ever After

Last year, Kenneth Brannagh successfully channelled pure Disney magic into a live-action adaptation of Cinderella. Whilst paying homage to the original version, he somehow managed to bring a distinctly period family drama into the 21st Century. The 1956 film was stunning in almost every aspect, although it created distressingly unrealistic expectations of men and left many young girls yearning for their own Prince Charming. Brannagh’s script depicted our heroine’s happiness as being rather more independent of the man she eventually marries; instead the focus was on the values that lend to her strength of character (to “have courage and be kind”).

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This change in theme reflected the changing attitudes of modern society. The persona of a classic Disney Princess can be summarised in Daisy Buchanan’s famous words: “that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” These archaic Princesses were charming, graceful and (regrettably) quite boring. Snow White, Cinderella and Aurora had little depth to their characters but their superficial beauty was a predominant factor in their appeal. All three also boasted the ability to conduct a range of domestic chores, interact with gentle woodland creatures and conduct themselves with the graces expected of “the fairest maiden in the land”; thus fulfilling the ideal social construct of femininity at the time and fuelling their popularity.

The Disney Renaissance in the 1990s bred somewhat powerful heroines – but still with fundamental flaws. Belle found enjoyment in books and intellectual pursuit but her rationale succumbed to Stockholm syndrome. Ariel was inquisitive and non-conforming, however she sacrificed her voice for the love of a man. A shift (as small but momentous as continental drift) came with the introduction of ethnic princesses – Jasmine, Mulan and Pocahontas – who, as daughters, exceeded the expectations one might have of a son.

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When compared to their predecessors, the Disney heroines of the “noughties” have been considerably more progressive. (Major spoiler alerts, beware.) It was perhaps Pixar’s “Brave” that paved the way. Directed by Brenda Chapman (Pixar’s first female director of a feature-length film), the story centred around a Scottish Princess who defies custom and refuses to marry the man of her parents’ choice. The film explored the relationships and experiences of a young woman, whilst maintaining some distance from fairytale romance, for which Disney films are classically known. It truly was a brave pursuit, as Disney produced the film despite warnings from market research that a female lead may bomb at the box office.

The stupendous success of “Frozen” disproved this theory. Yes, there were romantic subplots but the film was carried by its central theme of sisterhood. “Tangled” almost mocked the notion of “Prince Charming”, as the plot revolved around Rapunzel’s journey of self-discovery and autonomous disposal of a feature that had become synonymous with her beauty. And what does the future of Disney hold? I suspect it is entirely intentional that Belle is to be reinvented by Emma Watson, whose oratory escapade at the United Nations last year quickly went viral. As an international ambassador for women’s rights and figurehead of the UN’s #HeForShe campaign, I’m intrigued to see what the new live-action depiction of “Beauty and The Beast” will offer in 2017.

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When you next hear your six year old cousin belting out the lyrics to “Let It Go”, consider it a reminder that Disney have provided her impressionable generation with the role models they deserve. Girls are no longer being raised to be delicate little flowers. Yes, each Disney princess has remained exceptionally beautiful; however it is the leading lady’s tenacity, audacity and dash of theatricality that now leaves a lasting impression with her audience.

The Abortion Act: Fundamentally Anti-Feminist?

Abortion has long been a contentious subject that has divided opinions – in both Parliament and the general public – into two conflicting camps, with each placing greater emphasis on one of two interrelated issues: the foetus’s moral status and a pregnant woman’s autonomy. Whilst the UK is deemed to be reasonably progressive in its attitudes towards abortion, the Abortion Act 1967 does not in fact grant women the right to terminate a pregnancy – it is technically at the discretion of registered medical professionals alone. Although this is largely a better set-up than that recently demonstrated in Paraguay – where a ten-year-old was denied the right to end a pregnancy forced upon her by her sexually abusive stepfather – it is fast-becoming obsolete in a society, which has shunned paternalism from the doctor-patient relationship.

In R v Bourne (the bedrock of modern abortion legislation), a surgeon was acquitted of the criminal offence of ‘intending to procure a miscarriage’. He was justified in assisting a fourteen-year-old victim of rape, as the judge observed that the young girl would be spared of ‘great mental anguish’ by terminating the pregnancy. This unprecedented ruling provided a defence, under which abortions could be carried out lawfully: for the greater good of preserving a woman’s mental health.

It would be incorrect however to assume that the founding spirit of the Abortion Act 1967 was to empower women in asserting their reproductive rights. Following R v Bourne from 1939, doctors were given a loophole in common law that partially decriminalised abortion, however the extent to which a doctor perceived an unwanted pregnancy to threaten a woman’s mental health varied greatly. The fees for ‘legal’ abortions were consequently unaffordable to most, as there was still a perceptible risk that doctors may face criminal charges, and thus access to safe abortions was restricted.

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The lack of accessibility to abortions resulted in a dangerous rise in the number of ‘backstreet abortions’. David Steel, who first introduced the Abortion Act 1967 as a Private Members’ Bill, has since admitted that the introduction of the legislation was motivated by ‘revulsion at the damage caused by criminal and self-induced abortion and the hypocrisy of available subterfuge abortion on payment’. This was confirmed by the Lord Chief Justice in R v Scrimaglia, where he stated that the purpose of the Abortion Act 1967 was to ‘get rid of the back-street insanitary operations’ and reduce the associated mortality rates, which placed a heavy burden on the young NHS.

The 1967 Act was further based on two assumptions, that doctors: (1) will act in the best interests of their patients and (2) are most able to determine a woman’s best interests. Harold Shipman infamously succeeded in disproving the former assumption, whilst the latter has been criticised by ‘pro-choice’ advocates for its intrinsic paternalism and indeed, patronisation. In 1967, both Parliament and the medical profession were dominated by the male species, and thus the Abortion Act was conceived on archaic social constructs of women and doctors. Women were depicted as irrational, selfish or desperate; whereas doctors were responsible figureheads of society – i.e. everything a woman was not.

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Thus the purpose of the 1967 Act is arguably to provide ‘registered medical professionals’ with lawful grounds to perform abortions, if they are shown to form an opinion ‘in good faith’ that an abortion meets the set requirements. Interestingly, it is difficult to prove instances in which a doctor has not acted ‘in good faith’, as there has only been one successful prosecution under these charges since the Act’s introduction. There are however dubiously vague grounds on which an abortion may be carried out, as more specific definitions were rejected by medical professional bodies in the 1960s. The wording of the statute would also suggest that even if the grounds for abortion do not exist in reality, the abortion remains legal if the doctors honestly believed that the grounds had been satisfied. This leaves the legality decidedly at the doctors’ discretion – creating ‘medical control of abortion’.

Female autonomy has thus been trivialised to a strong degree in both statutory and common law. Although there are concerns that misinterpretations of autonomy have created a healthcare system in which ‘the doctor must deliver what the consumer-patient demands’; it has long been accepted that the negative freedom to refuse treatment, as entitled by the principle of autonomy, cannot be translated into a positive freedom to demand certain interventions (despite the wishes of the patient). This was echoed in the case of R v Sarah Louise Catt, in which a judge stated that it was wrong to assume that the provisions of the 1967 Act made abortion ‘available essentially on demand prior to twenty-four weeks with the approval of a registered medical practitioner’.

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I have failed rather spectacularly in hiding my distaste towards the Abortion Act’s ethos. Not only does current legislation neglect the changing role of a doctor in medical practice but it fails to acknowledge the medical advances, and subsequent changes to fetal viability, that have occurred since the Abortion Act 1967 and Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 were each introduced. Reform is long overdue; whilst there is no harm in continuing to preserve the integrity of doctors, a woman’s right to self-determination is now equally deserving of legal validation.

This post was based on a law reform proposal I wrote this summer. If you’re interested in reading about the changes I would implement, my justifications for these changes and/or have time to read a 5000 word essay, feel free to get in touch!

The Quarter-Life Crisis

If you’re 20-something years old and consider yourself to be on the verge of an existential crisis, I can assure you you’re not alone. In the last few months, I have had identical conversations with entirely different people and, having ruled out recurrent déjà vu, I have reached the conclusion that the season of self-neglect is well underway. This blog is an amalgamation of advice I seem to be recycling, inspired by a scenario recounted by the fictional and brilliant Leo McGarry:

This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey you, can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”

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This time last year I was in the thick of my exam-induced meltdown. Those that have read my previous blogs or were unfortunate enough to be in my presence during May/June of last year, will know that I’m referring to the self-inflicted torture that was Intermediates revision (Intermediates, by the way, are very scary exams). My appetite was non-existent, sleep was a fond but distant memory and my studying habits became obsessive. I was overwhelmed by an irrational yet unwavering fear of failure that had become so engrained that I was functioning as merely a fragment of my former self. This perhaps sounds exaggerated but I was, in essence, a miserable robot – incapable of self-belief and entirely dependent on the confidence of others that I would get through these exams. This was anxiety in its purest form but even though I had textbook symptoms and a certain degree of insight, I did absolutely nothing to help myself.

I am now far from the person I was a year ago. Having been through January and summer modules with only a few minor blips, the obvious importance of perspective has finally become clear to me. I started thinking about this blog over a month ago, when everything seemed to be going well and I was, for the most part, achieving goals that I had set myself. Since then, my blissful existence has wavered and my confidence in both friends and family has been tested for several reasons beyond my control. The former Harleen may have allowed this to affect her own self-confidence but I haven’t imploded (yet), for which I can only thank this recent revelation.

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When we are in the midst of a stressful or unfortunate event, it is difficult to remove yourself from the situation or consider it with hindsight. Realistically however, what troubles you now, in a year’s time may be something you feel embarrassed to have given so much consideration. And here lies my first piece of practical advice: take the advice you would give a friend in similar circumstances. If that fails you, take comfort in the fact that life has proven repeatedly that everything truly does happen for a reason. Without negative experiences we would never learn to appreciate the happiness that we too easily take for granted and indeed, there is nothing to learn from a perfect life.

This leads onto my second concern, which is that far too many young people expect to have everything worked out by their early twenties. We are, at this point, only a quarter of the way through our life expectancy and will have spent a sizeable proportion of this time playing in mud or with fairies.

As a university graduate, you are – for the first time in your life – responsible for yourself. Your days are no longer determined by government-approved curriculums, assigned holidays or commitments of any sort. Yet limitless freedom can be overwhelming and comfort is often found in structure, so many graduates begin forming a life based on what they think is expected of them. They pursue further education because they are told that it’s what’s best, or they look for a graduate job because they are told that they should.

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I see the merits of both but I have also seen my friends struggle to meet the standards they set for themselves and consequently suffer. Without grades and exam results to provide markers of progress, people become their own harshest critics – with a frequent tendency to compare themselves to others – to their own detriment. Ambition is healthy and I firmly believe that we should always aspire to be better versions of ourselves, but not if failure to acquire these ideals results in self-punishment.

Yes, you are accountable for yourself and yes, it is terrifying. In a few years however, you’ll also be responsible to a partner and with time, perhaps even to tiny humans who will rely on you for everything. We spend the rest of our lives meeting obligations to other people and making sacrifices and compromises to keep others carefree. You have time for yourself now, so why not be self-indulgent? The only responsibility you should have is for your own well-being, as that is one thing you should never have to find in others. If your “pursuit of happiness” involves working for six months at £7/hour to fund a trip around South America where you “find yourself”, so be it – you might even avoid another crisis twenty years down the line.

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Organ Donation: the Ultimate Service to Others?

The prospect of having your organs harvested within moments of your death isn’t a particularly pleasant thought, so it’s a hardly a surprise that conversations about organ donation don’t crop up regularly around the dinner table. It is normal and natural to become preoccupied in the daily minutiae of life and I think most people would be concerned if ideas of death frequented your thoughts. However human nature is such that our responsibilities as members of society can often be disregarded in favour of our responsibilities to ourselves. Considering organ donation is therefore challenging for two reasons: (1) you need to think about dying and (2) you need to think selflessly.

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I am a fierce advocate of organ donation for many reasons, a few of which I’ll touch on here. Trying to acknowledge all the moral, ethical, religious, scientific and philosophical arguments in support of or against organ donation would however take far too long, so instead my focus will be on a statistic that fits in better with what I understand:

“66% of Black, Asian and some Ethnic Minority (BAEM) communities living in the UK refuse to give permission for their loved ones organs to be donated compared to 43% of the rest of the population.”

This is fairly logical if you take organ donation to be a Western concept. In first world countries, where access to healthcare is presumed rather than fortuitous, organ or tissue transplants are within the realm of possibility for patients in whom other treatment options have failed. In less developed healthcare systems however, diagnosing the severity of a disease and assessing a patient’s prognosis are not as easily achievable and opportunities for transplantation are as rare as surgical resources; hence those of BAEM nationalities are less likely to have previously encountered organ donation. Indeed a lack of knowledge about something so ‘unnatural’ would possibly inspire fear rather than altruism and thus, this statistic can in part be explained.

The diversity of religions within BAEM communities may also account for the lack of enthusiasm towards organ donation. As such surgical techniques are modern revelations, significantly older religions did not specifically address the issue, leaving holy scriptures open to interpretation. The idea that your material body is merely a vessel for the immortal soul applies in both Sikhism and Hinduism, as does the notion of service to others; both of which strongly support organ donation. Buddhism states that whilst great care should be given to a dying person, if it is that person’s wish to relieve someone else’s suffering, there is no injunction against organ donation. It is less clear in Islam, as the human body is seen as inviolable both in life and in death; however the idea that ‘necessities override prohibition’ (al-darurat tubih al-mahzurat) may be applied in this sense to promote the preservation of other human lives, if the personal cost is bearable.

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Although it is therefore easy to assume that following a natural course of death is what your religion would permit you to do, in some cases scripture arguably suggests that the principles of selfless giving and conservation of life should play a greater role in your deliberation. Donating your organs is ultimately a personal decision but the lack of debate within religious forums, coupled with a wider lack of education on organ donation across the country, has prevented well-informed opinions from being constructed. Organ donation is also far from glamorous and a British preoccupation with propriety has (more often than not) blunted awareness of important issues. I am confident however that if you approached a doctor or religious leader with your questions or concerns, they would be more than willing to help. Not only would you be equipped with the knowledge to formulate your own opinion but you would be in a better position to help others come to a decision they’re also comfortable making.

And why is it that I think organ and tissue donation should be something that everyone considers? I am the first to admit that I can be selfish and spoilt but there is a quote by Muhammad Ali that encompasses the ethos I want to live by: “service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth”. I imagine that every person reading this blog, if given the choice, would do what they could to alleviate suffering and help those in need. It is however difficult to think of things in an abstract way; I have seen from my own experiences that it is not until we are forced to deal with disease in the context of someone we love, that we consider how we could prevent others from bearing the same burden. Yet we forget that we are all composed of materials that could save another person’s life. Donating your bone marrow could save a leukaemia patient. Donating your blood could save a mother from fatal complications during childbirth.

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Without wading too far into the murky waters of bioethics, there’s also a strong socio-economic argument to be made. I would never condone the Hunger Games-esque organ lottery proposed by the consequentialist John Harris but I do believe that our contributions to society should extend beyond the taxes we pay. We are fortunate enough to live in a time where medical advances have rendered many diseases obsolete and in a society where access to healthcare is free. We do not hesitate to use that which is available to us, so it seems fair to ensure the same is available for others.

Instead of rounding this post off myself, I’ll leave you with a few links so you can draw your own conclusions:


On 2nd May 2015, I’ll be taking part in the Isle of Wight Challenge with members of my Bhangra team. We’re fundraising for Delete Blood Cancer UK, a charity which aims to find a bone marrow donor for each person in need of one. Any donations would be much appreciated, no matter how large or small – thank you!

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

2014: My “Year in Review”

Every other post on my Facebook News Feed during the last week has been a ‘Year in Review’: a random assortment of pictures with the statement, “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” Although I was tempted to share mine, I soon realised that a few photos (of me looking markedly more attractive than I do on a daily basis) barely broke the surface of what 2014 has meant to me. My closest friends and family in particular will testify that I have changed more over the last twelve months than anyone could have anticipated, so here are a few of the lessons I’ve learnt along the way:

  • Bhangra is not just a dance – I’m starting with this because virtually all the photos that Facebook considered worthy enough to summarise my year were Bhangra-related. When your captain or choreographer tells you that in order to do a routine justice, you need to be able to sprint for eight minutes… they’re not kidding. Although I look back on my first performance with disappointment for not pushing myself more, I do not for a moment regret any of the time I spent with the beautiful girls on our university team. Having joined a team in London later this year, I quickly learnt that the sense of ‘family’ I felt during the run up to my first competition wasn’t exclusive to our team in Southampton. In just a few short months I’ve danced better, laughed harder and received more support than I could have predicted – because the tears, sweat and pain that characterise a Bhangra journey also happen to forge stronger relationships between people than one might possibly expect.

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  • My sewing machine gives me more joy than Oceana – 2014 was the year that I outgrew nights out. Whilst I will always be up for dancing like a fool with my favourite people until 4 a.m., I’ve realised that chit-chat with borderline strangers who I’ll likely never see again just isn’t my cup of tea. As a fresher I would be out on most days, talking to everyone and fully enjoying the freedom university gave me. I would often be complimented for ‘knowing everyone’ but as a fourth year, I’ve only stayed in touch with a tiny fraction of the people I once spoke to regularly. In my own experience, clubbing brings new people together but in a very superficial way. These days I would rather sing-along (out of tune and as loud as my lungs will permit) to Disney’s Greatest Hits in someone’s living room, than pretend to understand House music in a dress that doesn’t sanction any kind of movement.

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  • Sometimes you have no choice but to cut people out – this has probably been my most selfish year. I have always been a people pleaser, prioritising someone else’s happiness over my own and obsessing far too much over what people think of me. I have learnt however that if you show a person kindness but they cannot reciprocate the effort when you need it, they aren’t worthy of your time. If they actively hurt you but lack the courage to apologise, they aren’t worthy of anyone’s time. I often used to blame myself for the misconduct of others but now I appreciate that some friendships do sour and it is occasionally better not to attempt fixing something beyond repair.
  • There is no shortcut for hard work – throughout my degree, I put in minimal effort and gained average results in return. This year, I worked myself to the bone and my exam results reflected it. Although I went too far and alienated myself from both my friends and family for two months, I know now that natural ability and talent are simply a starting point. The only way of guaranteeing success in anything is by devoting sufficient time and effort to an individual goal, whether it be your studies or a sport.

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  • Family is the only constant in life – I think this has been the biggest lesson I’ve learnt this year. I often used to focus on the faults of different members of my family and I definitely took people for granted. In difficult times however there is no greater comfort than a hug from your mum, regardless of how old you are. Drifting from friends is a natural part of growing up and bears no reflection on either of your personalities. Indeed, people often say that the best friends in life are those with whom you can pick up from where you last left things – regardless of how much time has passed. In this sense, my family have been the best friends I will ever have. I might not speak to my aunt/brother/cousin for a week or two but I’ll be able to ask them for advice without any need for formality and they’ll give me an honest and valid response at a moment’s notice.

As a self-confessed master of procrastination, I shall end this post here and attempt to get back to my work. I’ve only really touched on the little path of self-discovery that I unknowingly paved for myself as 2014 progressed. Having shared a few of the details however, I can at least confidently declare that it really has been a great year and I would like to thank you all for being part of it.

Mean Girls (& Guys)

Hollywood’s portrayal of high school convinces us to push through the drama, bitch fights and angst that afflict teenagers because matriculation promises us sunshine, rainbows and maturity. We are led to believe that with the end of our secondary education, we will be liberated from the less glamorous aspects of adolescence we’ve all had to endure. As I’ve grown older however, I’m slowly beginning to realise that we never really graduate from bitchiness. This world is plagued by pests and parasites who feed off the happiness of others and jealousy is a beast that can consume even the kindliest of people.

On several occasions this week, I’ve listened to friends and family discuss events where pettiness and immaturity have caused more hurt than the perpetrator could have possibly envisaged. Insecurity is burden that everyone deals with; whether it relates to physical appearance, confidence in relationships or belief in one’s own ability. Part of growing up is confronting the issues that breed insecurity and in overcoming them, you develop an intrinsic confidence that paves the way for maturity. I was often reassured as a teenager that many of the difficulties I faced, which often arose from cliquey behaviour, were perfectly normal. These problems would fade with time and eventually the Regina Georges of the world would disperse.

Film Title: Mean Girls.

To an extent, this was correct. I was blissfully content in my final year of school. Having spent seven years with the same year group, we collectively exhausted all means of drama and with the knowledge that we would soon be replacing our perfect little Buckinghamshire bubbles with the big wide world, we made the most of each other’s company and even now, I look back on those times with nothing but nostalgia and fondness. It has occurred to me since however, that it was only truly when we realised how lucky we were and how quickly this would pass, that we put juvenile theatrics aside in favour of wishing well for each other. It seems as though an absence of this time pressure stops people from embodying positivity and instead, they digress into the same trivialities that we would rather leave behind. The darkest characteristics of human nature (jealousy, unhealthy competition, spite…) become woefully apparent and as opposed to focusing energy on their own well-being, people drift into the affairs of others and create trouble unnecessarily.

This holds true throughout our lives. The most fearsome of personalities seem to subside with age, as the greatest form of time pressure presents itself. Although the eldest generation cannot deny an interest in the latest gossip, they seem to have a wider appreciation of what is worth discussion and what is insignificant, whilst younger generations may be engrossed by it all. Eleanor Roosevelt quite rightly said, “great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Many young minds are, in this sense, small minds. We will often take simple situations, blow them out of proportion and then assign blame to those involved rather than taking a step back and looking on with even an ounce of perspective. We are also drawn to other people with similar interests and dislikes and bitching is often used as a conversation starter. I know I am guilty of discussing individuals when I shouldn’t have but I now wonder how mortified I would be if I knew that a mutual dislike of me was bringing two people closer together.

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I realise I’m being rather vague. Details may identify individuals, which isn’t what I want, and whilst my blogs are usually commentaries on things I’ve observed, I realise this is turning into a bit of a rant. Of everyone I know, there are only two individuals who have made me this cynical – but the past few years have shown me that the actions or words of just one person can destroy the trust, security and confidence of another with far too much ease. What you think you say in confidence can quickly spread (as many of us have learnt the hard way) but I find a lot of comfort in the concept of karma and a staunch belief that what goes around, comes around.

This blog hasn’t amounted to anything really and there isn’t a particular conclusion to be drawn, so instead I’ll leave you with (1) a plea to inject more thought into any words and actions that relate to others and (2) the cleverness of someone infinitely wiser than any of us:

“If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it. A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” – Roald Dahl, The Twits.

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