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.

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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!

Let’s Talk About S**

Yoga, the Kama Sutra and Bollywood are three of the sexiest products of Indian culture; actresses in the film industry thrive off their internationally recognised sex appeal and ancient Hindus had penned a guide to maximising sexual experiences long before many other civilisations had discovered the written word. In theory therefore, Indians should be as sexually liberal as their culture portrays them to be. Yet earlier this year the Indian Health Minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan, suggested a new values-based approach to sex education which removes sex (or the more ‘culturally acceptable’ s**) from the picture almost entirely. Not only does his vision repudiate the emotional and social importance of sex but it brushes over basic scientific principles, virtually closeting the topic altogether.

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Thankfully his proposal was almost immediately dubbed as ridiculous and young professionals across the country formed a strong opposition. Parodies of ‘government approved’ initiatives appeared online and newspapers openly mocked his Victorian mentality. What many failed to acknowledge however was how poor the current level of sex education is. Here in England, children aged ten or eleven years of age are taught about the reproductive system and more information is disclosed each academic year regarding sex and relationships, based on what the Department of Education has deemed age appropriate. Although this in itself is controversial, this scheme was introduced in response to alarming (and now well known) statistics which showed that the UK has one of the highest teen pregnancy and teen abortion rates in Europe, thereby warranting a drastic intervention. It was justified to conservatives with the argument that if teenagers cannot be trusted to abstain from sexual activity, it is surely more sensible to prepare them for a healthy sex life by equipping them with trusted knowledge on contraception and answering their questions in a safe environment.

In India, this permissive approach couldn’t be further from reality. There are clear discrepancies in the delivery of sex education across schools in India; whilst some schools have followed the World Heath Organisation’s advice that sex education should be taught to children from the age of twelve in order to prevent increasing HIV transmission by promoting safe sex, very few engage in the same level of teaching that has been adopted in the western world. A common theme, which unifies the various Indian sub-cultures and traditions, is the importance of chastity before marriage. This underlying value helps sustain the rationalisation that sex education is wrong, as it may spur the youth to believe pre-marital sexual relations are morally acceptable.

This leaves the future of Indian society in a precarious position. It would be unreasonable to suggest that all of India’s current issues result from an aversion to discuss sex openly but it is interesting to consider just how many problems it might explain. Would the population grow as rapidly if women knew how, where and why to access contraception? Would women be seen as inferior to men?

Adolescence is as awkward a time in India as it is in Europe, however the difference in India is that there is a severe shortage of responsible adults willing to explain the changes your body undergoes. I presume it is still uncomfortable for parents and teachers here in England but there is at least an understanding that by holding these positions of power, you are morally obliged to prepare children for what will be an incredibly vulnerable time, both physically and psychologically. This does of course include that favourite talk about ‘the birds and the bees’ that every parent and secondary school teacher thinks of with fondness.

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Pornography, unlike reliable counsel on sex and relationships, is easily accessible and downloadable; and therefore the only source of information for many young Indians. It usually shows a woman (or women) following the whims of their partner and submitting herself to his every need, which can be crass, aggressive and undignified. Feminists would not object so heavily to porn if it depicted both the male and female parties as having equal power as they engage in whatever sexual activities that take their fancy. What porn actually does is add fire to the pre-existing gender stereotypes that tarnish social mentality.

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Pornography does not demonstrate real life but as we are often told here in the west, it provides an escape. It is by its nature a chance to live out fantasies. In a country where sex and the reality of relationships are not openly discussed however, should crude fantasies be the only way sex is portrayed? Women are exhibited as submissive sex objects, so young men are deluded into believing that women should embrace that role. Young women are not told anything different and are therefore deceived into embracing it. Porn is made by men, for men, and the lack of assertive females in the industry is painfully apparent. Even in mainstream Bollywood, Emran Hashmi – an actor with an infamous reputation for producing smutty films for the general audience – will star in film after film and engage in risqué scenes with a different C-list actress, who is taking her first shot at the big screen. Each actress eventually withers away following a torrent of controversy but Hashmi continues to pave his career, relatively unscathed from the negative PR that shrouds his films.

Pornography does not only entrap young women but it also fails to liberate young men, who spend more time alone in front of a screen than interacting with other human beings in a sensate dynamic. Both genders are allocated unhealthy roles in relationships and because there is little alternative guidance available in India, they may unknowingly adopt the example pornography gives. We often speak of the advances made during the digital age. It is possible however that instead of shifting towards gender equality, a fundamental lack of sex and relationship education is further engraining archaic gender clichés into today’s youth and consequently delaying social progression.

How Good Are Your Sperm?

I learnt a fair few life lessons during my visit to India. Hot water is a luxury (most of my morning showers could fulfil ice bucket challenge requirements), you should never start watching a three-hour Bollywood film on the TV as a power-cut is guaranteed ten minutes before the end and a deck of cards will provide universal entertainment for days on end. Some of the most interesting advice I’ve picked up however was during a clinical placement with a leading IVF specialist and, incidentally, applies worldwide. Both citywide and rural studies have shown that changing lifestyles have been detrimental to public health and sperm counts specifically are suffering as a consequence. Male infertility is becoming an issue of increasing concern in the Punjab – so why is it that in an overwhelmingly testosterone-driven state, this fundamental measure of virility is being neglected? Stereotypical punjabi men rarely shy away from opportunities to demonstrate their superior masculinity and in this agricultural province, it may often be the number of whiskey bottles you devour or the kabaddi tournaments to your name that will help you garner respect.

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For women, infertility is usually a mechanical problem that can’t be helped. Although lifestyle factors (such as promiscuity, smoking and extremities of BMI) may significantly impair a women’s ability to reproduce, the most common causes are diseases of relatively unknown origins, with endometriosis and uterine fibroids being common examples. Increasing age also severely limits a female’s reproductive capacity as women are born with a finite store of eggs, which is depleted with each menstrual cycle, and eventually concludes with the menopause. Men however could theoretically procreate from the onset of puberty until their death as there are no such restrictions on the male reproductive organs. Whilst rarer mechanical causes exist (undescended/absent reproductive organs, hormone imbalances), male infertility can essentially be considered as a dysfunction of one of two processes: sperm production and sperm delivery. The following factors (many obvious and some unexpected) may interrupt either of these processes temporarily or permanently:

  • Alcohol – drinking within the recommended limits of 3-4 units per day is unlikely to affect a man’s fertility. Drinking in excess however increases your risk of diabetes and diseases which effect your blood supply, both of which can lead to erectile dysfunction.
  • Obesity – again, a BMI of greater than 29 predisposes men to an array of diseases, many of which may lead to hormonal imbalances and, yes, erectile dysfunction.
  • Smoking – cigarette smoke places your body’s cells under oxidative stress (including those of your reproductive system) which, in other words, increases the risk of cell death due to oxygen starvation. Other mechanisms also reduce the production of nitric oxide (NO), which is responsible for dilating your blood vessels… including those which men hold most dear.
  • Unprotected sex – many STIs (chlamydia and gonorrhoea being the main culprits) are responsible for infertility in both sexes and as they can often be symptomless, lasting damage may occur long before you seek treatment.
  • Tight clothes – those sick skinny jeans in Topman may be sicker than you think and should perhaps carry a “genital-crushing” health advisory warning.
  • Poor diet – the unhealthy fats in fast food clog your arteries through a process called atherosclerosis and high sugar levels contribute to a risk of diabetes – both of which can reduce the blood flow to your reproductive organs, leading to reduced sperm production and more erectile dysfunction. Fruits and vegetables on the other hand are rich in antioxidants which stop cells from dying prematurely.
  • Mobile phones – a recent study carried out at the University of Exeter suggested that the electromagnetic radiation produced by mobile phones kept in trouser pockets can impair sperm production, thus reducing sperm counts by as much as 8%.
  • Hot water – sperm develop optimally in a cool environment, hence why a man’s testicles are situated outside his body. Too much time in hot baths, jacuzzis and hot tubs may relax sperm production as well as your muscles, leading to reduced fertility.

skinny-jeans-on-men1 Thankfully, breakthroughs during the last few decades have allowed miracles to occur on a daily basis; embryos are conceived for couples who would have once been told they had little hope of birthing their own child. As many as one in seven couples seek advice or treatment for infertility but despite this, it remains a sensitive topic that can be difficult to broach for either sex. Indeed, in 100 cases: 30 would be due to problems with the father, 30 due to problems with the mother, 27 due to problems in both parents and the remaining 13 cases would be ‘unexplained’. It is fair to say therefore that infertility is a reasonably common problem for both genders. With an expanding circle of clinicians taking the view that lifestyle plays a significant role in fertility, perhaps a fresh approach to infertility therapy is needed. invitro2 Prevention is undoubtedly the best remedy for any medical problem, hence the billions of pounds that are invested annually into research for vaccinations and public health campaigns. If this same concept was applied to educate the public on how to preserve fertility, the quantity of couples approaching their GP for fertility advice could slowly decrease and fewer members of the public would be subject to the financial and psychological burdens contiguous with infertility.

Although this is ideal in principle, too often we neglect our own bodies and discard own health in favour of the easier, gluttonous option. We make ourselves unnecessarily vulnerable to a host of ailments which, with a little self-motivation, could be entirely avoided. What is the point in government initiatives if no one pays attention? The slogans “use a condom”, “smoking kills” and “drink in moderation” have been plastered across schools, hospitals and social media – yet STIs continue to rise, smokers still go through a pack-a-day and alcoholics find themselves in emergency rooms unable to recall how they got there.

The next time you receive advice for your health or come across an NHS poster, take thirty seconds of your day to pay attention. You will soon realise that healthcare professionals understand that abstaining from guilty pleasures is usually unachievable and will only ever recommend it if they consider it to be worthwhile. The tools necessary to preserve every aspect of your health are widely available. Instead of ignoring them, utilise them and remember that by taking care of yourself today, you have taken care of your future self and perhaps avoided the loneliness of a doctor’s waiting room years down the line.

Great Expectations

It’s hardly a secret that some Asian parents have a notorious reputation for expecting a great deal of their children; it is a feature of Eastern parenting been parodied, persecuted and sometimes even praised. A catalogue of acceptable careers as devised by generations of Asian parents who ‘definitely know better than you’ includes:

  • Medicine / Dentistry / Pharmacy
  • Law
  • Engineering
  • Economics / Business / Maths / Accounting

The list for many Asian parents ends here. Telling your father that you wish to study music or the arts is often simply not an option and many children are indoctrinated with the idea that pursuing science or vocational degrees is the only guarantee of success. Languages are particularly controversial; I imagine that expressing a desire to study French or Spanish at university would have quickly been rejected with the reasoning that I could learn Punjabi free. Although many parents have adopted a more liberal approach and instead encourage their children to define their career paths by what they enjoy, in my personal experience only a rare and lucky minority can claim to have parents that fall into the latter category.

As parents pray that their children will forge careers in high-paying and highly-competitive fields, it leaves the younger generation under a great deal of pressure. As a child I never dreamt of being a ballerina or an astronaut (albeit for a while I was utterly resolute that I would one day be a dolphin); they were far-fetched careers without tangible benefits. Instead I focused on my literacy, numeracy and colouring in homework (always endeavouring to stay strictly within the lines) because I had been advised time and time again by everyone older than me that doing well in school was the only thing that would get me far in life.

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There’s no point denying there’s a certain credibility to this fact but I wonder how beneficial it is to give young children constant reminders of their need to excel in their education, particularly as many parents forget that straight A*s aren’t achievable by everyone, despite their best efforts. A well known joke of the child that rushes home to tell their parents that they got 97% in an exam, only to be asked what happened to the other 3% rings too true.  I, like many others, genuinely dreaded marks less than 90% and I almost pity the teachers that had to mark my work, as the high expectations I had of myself were clearly evident.

We all know how vulnerable, impressionable and susceptible to environmental stress children are but when it comes to education, this all seems to be disregarded. Government assessments now start from the delicate of age of seven and a wonderful letter penned by a primary school headteacher outlines just how little these tests tell us. Nevertheless the stage at which children discover stress seems to decrease with each generation. The highest priorities still lie with studies of course, hence the thousands of pounds many parents now invest into their three-year-old’s schooling but if acing exams isn’t enough, children are now expected to take up a musical instrument, play a county-level sport and have a burgeoning group of friends. Many of my youngest cousins seem to have busier schedules than me and while there are very real concerns of how much time some groups of children spend in front of the television, I worry more about the children who don’t even have time for television in between their extracurricular activities and supplementary tuition.

The pressure originates from our families and the competitive culture that made the four-thousand mile journey from sub-continental Asia with our ancestors. Cars, big houses and jewellery count for a lot but the absolute measure of success lies with how well you raise your children. Eventually parental pressure evolves into a pressure we place on ourselves. No one told me to revise for sixteen hours a day in the month before my last set of exams and indeed, my parents actively discouraged it as it became clearer that my health was suffering as consequence. Yet the need to do well has become so ingrained that I was willing to sacrifice basic requirements such as sleep and food and I found myself in a self-imposed exile from fun.

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These pressures are by no means confined to members of Asian minorities and without providing spoilers, Dead Poets Society explores these issues and demonstrates that there is much more to life beyond a classroom. It also depicts Neil – the film’s alternate protagonist – who is unable to bear his father’s hopes for his prospective career in medicine, when his enjoyment and talents lie in theatre. Society expects to hear and frowns upon stories of failed actors and musicians but we turn a blind eye and even offer sympathy to the numbers of medical school dropouts and failed investment bankers because it seems as though attempting to succeed in a the latter professions is worth more than in the former – a concept which confounds me. If your talents lie in the arts and not in a laboratory, who is anyone to compare the value of two entirely different sets of skills?

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I love my degree and I am pleased to say that I chose to study medicine despite my parents better efforts to discourage me from it but in truth, I only ever really considered vocations from the ‘Unofficial Asian Career Guide’. I expect that if there was a recipe for success, it would plainly state that equal measures of passion and ability are required. There is no assurance of success in anything but if your heart doesn’t lie in whatever you choose to pursue, then there is a great deal of potential for failure. Perhaps it would be prudent therefore to stop limiting the potential of the younger generations by ushering them along predetermined paths and instead encouraging them to forge a path for themselves in whatever their imagination conceives.

Do Gaysians Exist?

The “gaysian” – or gay asian – is a rare creature. Often seen parading through bazaars in eccentric and over-accessorised garments, you will frequently hear him use words such as “fierce” and “fabulous” to express his delight when coming across the season’s latest sherwani. It is widely accepted that their uncontrollable attraction to members of the same sex prevents gaysians from maintaining platonic relationships and it is likely that any gaysian you encounter will find his male peers irresistible. Beware, however, as a plethora of undisputed scientific evidence has shown that homosexuality is indeed contagious; you must therefore avoid too much close contact, lest you too wish to fall into an incurable pit of flamboyancy and emotional instability. 

The above is what many sub-continental asians would consider to be an accurate definition of homosexuality. It is of course absolute rubbish, fabricated by narrow-minded individuals with congenital homophobia. Yet a lack of exposure to openly gay and lesbian asians has prevented this perception from evolving into a truer image. Why is it therefore that so few people have come out? The answer is quite obvious but difficult to admit; it ultimately comes down to two factors:

  1. Sexuality is taboo – until recently, a kiss-on-the-lips would be verging on pornographic in Bollywood cinema. Parents rarely broach the topic of sexuality with their children but from their perspective, as these things are only relevant after marriage, is there any need? It seems as though asian elders are endemically prude, leaving little open to discussion for the younger generations.
  2. Male + female = baby – procreation is classically the main goal of life and marriage. As this can only occur in a heterosexual relationships, homosexuality is naturally out of the question. A man wants his wife to pop out sons (another issue entirely) to continue the family name and inherit his wealth. If those sons don’t want wives, the family line stops there and alas, they have failed to fulfil the asian paradigm.

1117702_EastEnders_Syed_christian     East is East     Bend It Like Beckham

These are old views often addressed in British-asian media (Bend It Like Beckham, East is East, Eastenders) and thankfully, the majority of our generation holds different opinions. Even our parents’ generation is demonstrating flexibility that we wouldn’t have necessarily believed unless we had been the subjects. Amusing stories of parents’ attempts at “the talk” have frequented conversations amongst my friends but given that their own parents presumably quarantined the subject, they deserve endless praise for even trying and simultaneously pioneering a much-needed cultural shift.

Despite moves in the right direction, homophobia is still rife. The reason I chose to adresss this topic now is because last week, I read a news article that made me furious. Jasvir Ginday, a 29 year-old IT specialist from Birmingham, strangled Varkha Rani, his 24 year-old newlywed wife, with a metal pipe and then cremated her remains in a garden incinerator because she threatened to “expose” him as gay. Of course, only a monster could be capable of such atrocities but the stinging reality is that his fear of being outed eclipsed any reason or moral sense.

Although attitudes are changing, they clearly haven’t changed enough. Last year the Indian Supreme Court overturned a previous ruling on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (which was introduced during British rule) thereby re-criminalising homosexual acts. Not only did this adversely affect homosexuals living in India but it had wider repercussions on non-resident Indians, who feel an obligation to uphold their heritage and culture whilst living abroad. Now that Indian society dictates that homosexuality is a criminal act, it leaves NRIs in an uncomfortable position where their decision to accept their child’s homosexuality in England may be met with backlash “back home”.

Thankfully the Indian Supreme Court has marginally redeemed itself. Across India in homes where celebrations are occurring, Khusreh (or hijras) – transgender individuals – are typically invited to attend the “after parties” and provide entertainment by singing and dancing, though many are also forced to earn income as beggars and sex workers. Earlier this week however they were recognised as a third gender, thereby granting them legal sanctity; a significant step to demarginalise them and improve their quality of life. This sort of progress is precisely what will give LGBT individuals the confidence to come out and have any hope of being accepted by their asian communities.

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As you may have noticed, I have intentionally avoided a religious debate. While The Bible and Qu’ran expressly forbid homosexuality, Sikh and Hindu scriptures do not address the topic and thus they are left to be interpreted as you wish. I can therefore understand that as the Guru Granth Sahib does not provide a clear direction on homosexuality, it is difficult for practising Sikhs to know whether it’s okay to be gay. Something a Sikh (or indeed any decent human being) cannot justify however is blatant homophobia. I have literally been repulsed by the opinions and sly remarks of some Punjabis and while they are happy to declare themselves as Sikh, they forget that the intrinsic principles of equality and inclusion make our religion beautiful and that shameless prejudice taints it.

For those of you still in doubt, let me leave you with this thought. “Gaysians” exist. Homosexuality cannot be “cured” or “corrected”. If we don’t choose to accept it, gay or lesbian individuals may be forced into heterosexual marriages by societal pressures. Not only will they suffer as they closet a defining part of their identity but their partners will suffer and question their abilities to maintain a relationship. Everyone deserves a partner in whom they find comfort, love and happiness and if that partner happens to be of the same gender, who is anyone to judge.

 

A Suitable Boy

“Husband-hunting” (or “partner-pursuing”, to be more PC) is something 99.5% of girls will be guilty of at some point during their lives, whether it be a conscious action or not. While (almost) everyone enters higher education to get a degree and secure a future of professional prosperity; stories of how friends, relatives and pets met their significant others at university will also linger in the back of many minds. Today’s culture dictates that in the average degree-length of three years, you should aim to: bash out a first, scoop up an elusive graduate-job, establish yourself as a BNOC and meet the love of your life. Expectations of the ideal student are as unlikely as they are absurd but that doesn’t stop anyone from pulling all-nighters or meeting that guy your friend says is “made for you”.

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As I’ll spend a grand total of six (yes, six) years plodding through my degree, I theoretically have twice as long to attain all of the above. Many of my friends have come to accept that three years are simply not enough and have wisely chosen to extend their education and thus avoid facing reality until further notice. For many of those coming to the end of their stints as students however, only two or three of the above boxes have been ticked.

The Asian Paradox

At the tender age of 22, for the majority of people this shouldn’t pose a problem. So what if you haven’t found a job, now is the time to find yourself. So what if you’re still single, now is the time to mingle. Reason, however, seems to evade some Asian parents in these circumstances. I am always wary of over-generalisation and I don’t want to offend anyone so please take everything I say with a pinch of salt. However with the end of their degrees in sight, a few of my friends feel they have “failed” in some way as they don’t have good, respectable boyfriends to introduce to their parents on graduation day.

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Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty. The title of this blog is inspired by Vikram Seth’s novel, which tells the story of a mother’s attempt to find “a suitable boy” for her nineteen-year-old daughter to marry. I think it is fair to say that arranged marriages are no longer the norm and while introductions are still commonplace, parents have come to accept that with their children “living out”, there’s a chance they’ll bring home a potential partner themselves. This is where things get a little confusing however and different categories of parents present themselves:

  • The Unrealistic Expectations these parents will only accept a son-in-law with royal blood… or this might as well be their only pre-requisite because chances are he won’t tick all the other boxes anyway. It’s not just caste that matters, it’s the side of the river. It’s not just a degree from Oxbridge that matters, it has to be a first. Superwoman’s video exemplifies these parents perfectly.
  • The Wedding Plans– these parents have a Hilton Hotel on hold and constantly badger their daughters about whether they’ve found a boy to fit into the proceedings. They want their daughters engaged the summer after they graduate, married a year later and will probably expect grandchildren nine months after that.
  • The Downright Denial– these parents are still stuck somewhere in the early-20th century and cannot accept that “love marriages” occur and for them, “dating” doesn’t exist. You could bring home Dr. Lawyer who models on the weekends and they wouldn’t look twice.

It’s not just parents who can be difficult. Some girls are so frantic in their attempts to find a husband-in-waiting that they forget to enjoy their time at university and spiral into a state of loneliness and self-pity. Their parents aren’t “wedding planners”, but they burden themselves with obscene pressure and fail to make the most of the time they have as free and single ladies.

If you have identified yourself or your parents as husband-hunters, then my advice would be to calm down. The average age of couples increases every wedding season and as you’re unlikely to find a guy who also wants to be married by 22, there’s no real rush. The best relationships and marriages I’ve witnessed began by chance – whether it was a well-timed introduction or a random encounter in a shopping centre. Communicate with your parents so you know what they expect and make sure you vocalise your concerns if you disagree. I am by no means an expert but wiser people than me have said the most important thing is to make sure everyone’s on the same page. Little things count for a lot and when the right man comes along, you’ll be glad you waited.