I’m sorry that it’s taken me an eternity to write this. My knees have been dug into the dirt for months over this mess I’ve made. I’ve been screaming at trees like they owe me something, and throwing leaves above my head to understand why beautiful things always die next to me. If I am not the victim, I will play it until the blood on my hands is seeping from your pores and maybe that’s why it’s not a bad thing that this knife is pointed at my chest. I’m sorry if this doesn’t make sense but nothing makes any sense. My thoughts flow freely until it comes to you and then I start choking on my sentences. I’m picking these words from in-between my teeth and slamming them on the paper as if they even mean anything anymore. I’m sorry that it took me so long to realise that I’m the monster hiding under your bed and the maker of your worst nightmare. I left you standing in the middle of a thunderstorm with nothing but steel memories. I just couldn’t bare to stand in front of you because the reflection of your eyes would turn into the type of darkness that even the moon is afraid of. I couldn’t see what you saw in me with that demon staring back. I thought running away would protect you from it because my touch is what ruins everything but I didn’t even have to lay a finger on you to destroy you. Lately, all I know is how to say I’m sorry. Your mind was already a war zone and I chose to fight against you. The sky was falling above your head and I insisted on throwing punches in the air. I’m sorry I couldn’t figure out that the reason you can’t sleep at night isn’t because you miss me. My walls are screaming your name in agony from every time I’ve shoved a bloody first through them for how wrong I was. I should have held your hand, cemented my feet to the ground, and put up a fight against the oncoming storm. Please stop setting fire to our house while you’re still inside. I will open the door and you can watch me burn.
‘The Kite Runner’ is most definitely the most powerful and profound novel I have ever come across, and that’s saying something as a literature graduate! I cried and cried and cried when I finished the book, much to my mother’s bemusement (so much so that she inevitably felt compelled to read the book herself.) This post will detail a lot of spoilers so please do not read ahead until you’ve finished the novel.
The character of Hassan is incredibly moving and my favourite element of the book – every essence of his being touches you. From the beauty of his innocence until the ill-fated event with Assef, to his unwavering loyalty towards Amir right through to the bitter end, the reader is inexplicably drawn to Hassan’s nature as a friend and as a boy. His character encompasses every trait we wish to possess as humans, and the tragedy of his demise is something which haunts me even after finishing the novel. We mourn not only the loss of his bright personality after victimisation by Assef, but the loss of a friendship, a brotherhood between Amir and Hassan as Amir realises he cannot live with the guilt of what he condemned his beloved childhood friend to. The beauty of it is captivating – Hassan continued to protect Amir as a brother and a friend until the end. We, as the reader, grow irrationally angry with Amir for betraying Hassan and Ali as they are inevitably forced by pride to leave Baba’s household. We shed tears as we learn of Hassan’s life and what it came to when Amir returns to Kabul. But most powerfully, we as the reader just as Amir, see the shadow of Hassan living within his son, Sohrab and that gives both us, and Amir, a shred of comfort during this journey.
After I finished the novel, I found myself analysing the incredibly clever and moving elements of the novel that make it a bestseller. As a reader, I naively accepted the friendship between Hassan and Amir to be that of beloved childhood friends, despite them sharing a brotherly love for one another. The affection Baba showed Hassan was something I mistook as a loving respect because of the relationship he had with Ali. How Hassan protected Amir and refused to blame him even after he was attacked by Assef. I marvelled at the implicit nod towards Hassan’s cleft lip scar as Amir is beaten by Amir to near death and is left with a similar scar on his lip, almost identical to Hassan’s. The shocking reappearance of Assef as a highly esteemed member of the Taliban later in the novel – which made absolute sense when thinking back to his inhumane nature and sadistic desire to torture for fun. The fact that Amir was never able to produce children but Hassan gave birth to a son, and the irony of that parallel serving as a metaphor in itself for the karma surrounding Amir’s actions as a young boy. And finally, the most moving scene of the book, the ending. How it so cleverly mirrors some of the happiest moments Amir spent with Hassan during their younger years, almost as if Hassan never left Amir’s life. I still have a lump in my throat as I think back to it.
There was one scene which affected me the most as a reader – the rape of Hassan. The fact that sexual violence was seen as a punishment by bullies is something which shocked me to the core. But the way Hassan is depicted to have handled it, resigned as he was, is truly disturbing. A boy who’s purity remained untouched by the harsh reality of the outside world until the sexual attack, and subsequently was now scarred and tainted for life for his being at the wrong place and the wrong time, ultimately for Amir’s sake. The fact that he never changed his attitude towards Amir, never resented him, makes him the most poignant character in the novel. His loving nature shines through until the end, through the mockery and the violence he was subjected to as a Hazara. I grew increasingly frustrated and pained at Amir’s expression of guilt through his acts of aggression, indifference and eventual coldness towards Hassan. As a reader, we become protective of such explicit and unwavering vulnerability.
I desperately wished for Amir to fight against the impossibility of adopting Sohrab towards the end of the novel, in the hopes of giving Hassan’s son the happy ending his family always deserved. Sohrab’s attempted suicide acts as a testament to the trauma he went through at the hands of the Taliban, grossly overlooked and undermined in today’s society. The fact that he, just as his father did earlier in the novel, did not speak for a year portrays the extremity of the trauma they were both subjugated to at the hands of oppressors seeking to control.
The novel’s ending is a bitter-sweet relief to readers. It allows us the hint of a possibility that Hassan’s son will live a better, safer, happier life than Hassan did, despite not being able to escape the tortures of living in Kabul under an oppressive, violent Taliban regime. It seems right that the novel ended the way it did, although that does not detract from how heartbreaking and moving this novel is. So many of my friends told me this book will change my life forever and they were absolutely correct. It will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I hope in some way I can incorporate at least a few of Hassan’s invaluable traits as a human being into my way of life.
As I mentioned in my previous post, my campaign for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is centred around self-love. Today I’m tackling the subject of body positivity.
At 17, I developed a rather unique eating disorder – it was a mixture of starving myself and binge eating. I used to wake up at 5pm just before my parents got home from work, eat 3 packets of crisps and loads chocolate, have a couple cans of fizzy drink and then wait for them to come home. Because I’d be awfully bloated from this binge eating, I never used to be able to eat dinner properly in the evenings with my parents, so I’d normally end up crying at the dinner table because I was sad about the eating junk food earlier in the day. It was a vicious cycle – wake up late, binge eat unhealthy food and then cry about it after.
I started to lose weight rapidly and my parents delicately suggested it might be time for me to seek help with my weight and food issues. After undergoing intense psychotherapy for about a year, I grew to understand that I was essentially punishing my body for battling against itself after I had my gallbladder taken out at 16. Because I struggled to recover from the surgery in time to sit my a-levels, I performed rather catastrophically in my first year of college. Thus, to retain some sense of control over my life, I decided to limit what I ate in order to control my weight. When I started seeing quick results from this awful diet of mine, I ran with it because it gave me a sense of achievement. The way I looked at it back then was, “maybe I failed my a-levels, but at least I’m one step closer to being a side 8.” I had a terribly unhealthy and negative relationship with my body which in turn affected my mental well-being detrimentally.
7 years later and I finally have a better relationship with my body. My eating habits have dramatically improved – I’m eating minimum 2 meals a day instead of 1! Breakfast is still a sticking point for me as I hate eating when I wake up in the mornings but I’m always eating something during the day, every other hour or so at least! I’ve learnt to accept that whilst I’m battling health issues with my body at present, and having done so since 16, I shouldn’t be punishing my body for its struggles. I should be celebrating my physical and mental achievements. Going through the pain, the surgeries, the countless procedures that I have over the years has made me a stronger person. It sounds incredibly cliche but it took being sick to appreciate how healthy I am now.
Since I started personal training in the gym, I’m also painfully aware of the bad habits that can be picked up from excessive and obsessive exercise. My personal trainer kept me in check every now and then, even in lockdown, to keep me motivated to exercise whenever my body allowed me to, and maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle has always been at the heart of our training together. Everyday I’m trying to ensure I don’t go overboard with my exercise routines – I give myself rest days every other day to ensure my body isn’t being worked into overdrive. With my current condition and the painful periods during that time of the month, I’m unable to move from my sofa let alone work out so I make sure I give myself a week’s rest, too.
My personal training sessions have taught me that it’s not about looking my best, it’s fundamentally about feeling my best. Whatever my reflection shows me in the mirror doesn’t compare to what I think of myself from the inside. In an era defined by social media which essentially only reflects the best moments of people’s lives which they choose to share, we find ourselves subconsciously comparing our progress to one another. With the rise of fitness content creators comes a dangerous need to look as good as they do, to eat as clean as they do, and to work as hard as they do at maintaining a conventionally attractive physique created by society, yet deemed perfect by our own selves. Even I find myself wishing I was as toned as a Gymshark model but I have to remind myself that I am not an athlete – I have not been training rigorously. Any progress I make should be celebrated, not belittled in comparison to that of others online. We spend so much time thinking about how we can improve our appearances when our focus should be on improving our state of mind, our perceptions of ourselves. I have good days and bad days just like everyone else, but I’m grateful to be surrounded by so many people who are such positive sources of light and encouragement in my life. They celebrate my successes, support my achievements and promise me a safe place to land if I ever fall into the trap of feeling low.
Your self-worth is defined only by how you see yourself, and the relationship you have with your body. If you want to exercise 7 times a week, you can but you don’t have to. If you want to eat healthy food everyday of the week you can, but again, you don’t need to. Listen to your body and work out what’s best for your mind. Our bodies are essentially vessels for the mind and we ought to treat both with simultaneous care, love and respect.
Happy Mental Health Awareness Week! Every year, I usually come up with my own focus areas within a campaign theme set by the Mental Health Foundation. My campaign last year consisted of eradicating the negative stigmatisation associated with mental health disorders in men. This year, I’m focussing on the fundamental importance of self-love not just as a woman but fundamentally as a person. The Mental Health Foundation’s theme for 2020 is kindness, and I think the two themes are heavily intertwined within one another so complement each other perfectly.
During these unprecedented times, I think it’s imperative now more than ever to highlight the detrimental effect of mental health on one’s frame of mind and their subsequent outlook on daily activities and life in general. Being under lockdown means having our daily routines which I’m sure most of us took for granted being stripped from us without any notice or foresight. For many of us, who suffer from mental health issues or not, being denied the normality of our day-to-day lives naturally results in some level of psychological turmoil, varying in its intensity from person to person.
As someone who has suffered from varying degrees of anxiety since my teenage years, a routine keeps me happy, busy and thus, sane. Working full-time is something I’ve done since I was sixteen, and being denied the opportunity to travel into central London, to see my colleagues and work hard to earn my money has thrown my daily routine into absolute chaos. My relatively new working environment is something I had become incredibly grateful for and proud of since it seemed everything I’d worked so hard for had finally paid off and materialised into this amazing job role. Saying that, however, it appears that now it is important to instead adapt to a ‘new normal’ and to accept wholeheartedly that whilst things might not go back to the way they were pre-COVID-19, that doesn’t mean to say we cannot regain some sense of normalcy in our daily routine, and in the weeks to come. I’ve mentioned in a previous post how I’m coping with my mental health during the lockdown, which you can find here.
Being unable to see extended family and friends unless from a two-metre distance can be overwhelmingly isolating when spending most of the time confined within the same four walls each day. As a result, we naturally have more time to overthink and overanalyse small scenarios in our heads which in turn transform into unbearable mountains we think we’re simply incapable of climbing. But this is entirely okay – once we can identify that we are in fact overanalysing a minor situation, we are essentially one step closer to tackling the foundation of our anxiety/fears and this acknowledgement may prevent further spiralling, an achievement in itself. That being said, it’s not always possible to identify by ourselves when we are overthinking something – sometimes, it just happens without our particular awareness. Whether that be because it’s that time of the month or the weather outside is particularly gloomy, sometimes we as humans have our bad days. And that’s absolutely fine, so long as we can find a way to push through the dark cloud of anxious thoughts no matter how long it might take, and no matter how difficult that push might be.
Over the coming days, the aim of my posts is to draw attention to the existence of mental health, to notice the signs however big or small they might be and how we as a society as well as individuals can do our bit to ease the pain our friends and/or family members may be suffering from, most of the time behind closed doors. It takes little to no effort to be kind to each other, to extend a hand (maybe not literally at the moment) to a friend or family member who feels particularly fragile, and to offer a shoulder to cry on to someone who’s maybe getting slightly overwhelmed by being indoors all the time.
Some of us have to fight a little harder to keep ourselves sane, and there’s no greater strength than that. I used to be incredibly ashamed of my anxiety, and angry at myself for feeling the way I felt sometimes because I knew my thoughts were irrational at the best of times, but I grew to understand that although these waves take a little longer to ride through, they make us absolutely no less ourselves than those who don’t struggle. It just means that sometimes we need some extra love and reassurance around us by those we hold closest – but then again, every single person on this planet will need some additional support every now and then, mental health issues or not!
[SPOILER ALERT: Please do NOT read this if you haven’t watched the film yet/wish to watch it! This article is an in-depth analysis of the entire film.]
I remember watching SLB’s ‘Bajirao Mastani’ for the first time on a plane to Dubai, and the cinematography captivated me at first sight. So much so, in fact, that I ended up watching it twice again on the flight home six days later! It’s been five years since the launch of one of Bhansali’s greatest and most critically acclaimed films and I still sob every time I finish the film, so I’m going to explain exactly why it resonates so deeply within me and how it has impacted me to this day.
Bhansali not only directed and produced the film but he was also responsible for the musical direction and choreography. For those of you who haven’t watched a Bollywood film before, they’re almost always musicals with three to five-minute dance sequences at pivotal moments during the film. The choreography within the film, emotional and intensely expressive, is some of the best I’ve ever witnessed, complimented by the incredible set design and intricately crafted costumes which are now widely recognized and associated with the film by viewers worldwide.
‘Bajirao Mastani’ details the historical love story between the Hindu Peshwa (Prime Minister and general of the Maratha Empire) Bajirao Ballad and the half-Hindu, half-Muslim soldier Mastani Begum, daughter of Maharaja Chhatrasal in Bundelkhand. Bajirao helped save Mastani’s homeland from annihilation and ended up falling in love with her in the process. Unbeknownst to her, Bajirao is already married to Kashibai, his first (and until Mastani’s arrival, only) wife. The story follows Mastani’s relentless, vicious struggles against marrying into a Hindu political regime whilst being only half-Muslim. She fights constant battles against her mother and brother-in-law, Kashibai, priests and many others who refuse to accept a Muslim woman into the Peshwa clan.
There is one particular element of this film that strikes me as controversial, first and foremost. This is not the first Bollywood film to cast a Muslim character in a negative light – essentially, the film depicts a Muslim being the fundamental root of the downfall of a political empire in Pune, as well as essentially being the cause of the Peshwa’s death. Padmavati, another hugely controversial film by Bhansali which drew intense simultaneous criticism and praise worldwide similarly portrays the exact same message. As much as I do love this film, that element of a Muslim being an antagonist never quite sits well with me. However, to counter this, Mastani herself is portrayed in the most desirable light – she radiates intelligence and unmatched beauty, strength in her valour as a soldier whilst maintaining an air of innocence and untouched purity. Her beauty intimidates those wishing to oppress her, her wit threatening to undermine those who seek to destroy her.
The reason I fell in love with this film is because of the poetic nature of its dialogue, which makes perfect sense considering the film is based on a fictionalised love story between the two historical figures. What still strikes me as incredibly profound to this day is how Bhansali paints the unconditional love story between Bajirao and Mastani. Despite being branded a mistress by his conservative family, his love for Mastani never once withered; if anything, it only strengthened. He fell in love with her knowing her religious background and took the risk anyway, following his heart instead of his pride. He devoted his short life to protecting her dignity and happiness, as well as ensuring their son would be raised as an equal to his other child.
The most gut-wrenching part of the film for me was the ending. The film ends with both Bajirao and Mastani dying in the separate locations at the exact same moment in time – this is foreboded from the second the natural landscaping changes to unprecedented storms and monsoon-like weather conditions. Earlier on the film, as Bajirao bids farewell to Mastani before departing for war, he speaks poetically of the day their two souls will reunite amidst the chaos of a chaotic intertwinement of natural elements. As this comes to fruition towards the end of the film in both characters’ locations, they seem to acknowledge the poetic speech Bajirao delivered and they become simultaneously aware they will be reunited almost imminently. The characters shortly after die peacefully with grace, without struggle or pain. They effectively greet death with open arms.
The dialogue between Bajirao and Mastani is predominately poetic and dense with metaphors of their undying affection for each other. Their love clearly transcends anything we could possibly know on this Earth. The film ends with a beautiful poetic analogy which made such perfect sense and was a heartbreaking but stunning way to close their story. The film itself casts itself in the shadow of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in that two lovers who are forbidden from being with each other fight against all odds to remain alongside one another. Yet, the cultural references distinguish a point towards the fictional tale and distinctly underline its powerful message – that love defies mortal constraints, and that when soulmates come together they become intertwined as one being.
The film is one of the greatest sources of inspiration for my writing today. The love the two protagonists had for each other is something I imagine not many will experience in this lifetime but it is beautifully poetic and artistic in its depiction. The poetic nature of the film doesn’t stop at the dialogue, however. Towards the end of the film, a song is played during a sequence called ‘Aayat’, which translates as ‘holy verse from the Qur’an’. There are a few quotes and lines within the song that are also spoken in the dialogue between the two lovers earlier in the film, adding to the remarkable nature of Bhansali’s clever cinematography. The song is recited in Urdu which leads me to believe that it’s a poignant tribute to Mastani, particularly Mastani’s devotion to her husband right up until their dying breaths.
This film is definitely one of Bhansali’s greatest achievements, I believe. It’s only when you watch the film a few times that you really appreciate the subliminal messaging which ultimately makes this depiction a true work of art. Below are a few stills and quotes from key powerful moments within the film!
Bajirao on reuniting with Mastani,
“We shall meet when the setting sun
and rising moon appear together in the sky.
The sky will change colour,
and all will be bathed in an orange glow.
Winds of desire will blow
And thundering clouds will fill the skies.
Dry leaves will murmur
and untimely rains will wash the earth.
All that will remain will be
the fire of love in our hearts.
On that day
we will become one
Narrated in the final scene of the film,
“On a day when fate and time stood witness
two star crossed lovers breathed their last.
They say witnessing a falling star
fulfils any wish,
but these two stars fell to earth
wishing only to belong to each other.”
Quote from the song, ‘Aayat’,
“I’ve memorized you like a holy verse from the Quran … now you will be mentioned like a prayer.”
Bajirao and Mastani’s final words to each other,
“Our hearts beat together … and they stop together as well.”
By far, Mauritius is up there with one of the most beautiful places I have ever had the privilege of visiting. From the unrelenting kindness and hospitality of the local residents to the pride of their culture and landscape, there is so much to appreciate when visiting.
Most notably, the landscape transcends everything I’ve ever seen – the tranquillity is like nothing I’ve experienced before. The hills are the greenest I’ve ever witnessed, the sea holding different shades of blue, it’s a nature lover’s paradise. We stayed in Flic en Flac, a village on the west coast overlooking the sea. With the ocean on our doorstep, the sunsets were truly one of a kind – every day was a different canvas of pastel colours.
An added bonus on our trip was being upgraded to our very own villas in the five-star hotel next to ours for absolutely no reason, and we were hugely grateful for the gesture. With an outside pool and seating area, to a huge walk-in bathroom suite and wardrobe, we were well and truly spoilt. It was something we never expected and to receive a perk like that really brightened up our trip – after all, the holiday was to celebrate my graduation from university and my parent’s anniversary so it made the entire holiday incredibly special.
In terms of activities, we actually kept this holiday very relaxed and spent most of our time on the beachfront soaking up the sunshine. During the ten days we spent on the island, most days were beautifully sunny with the odd overcast afternoon here and there. I personally love nothing more than sitting on a beach for most of my day, either reading a book or having a nap and it was so nice to be able to actually do that this time! My parents normally prefer exploring when on holiday but even they joined me on the beach, so it was lovely to wind down and just enjoy being present on a sunlounger. We did, however, do a bit of exploring whilst on the island. We visited a few waterfalls and took part in a waterfall hike – we were rewarded with stunning views of green hills, amazing waterfalls and the ocean as a backdrop.
One of the best experiences of Mauritius for me personally was the wildlife – in particular, the monkeys. They were surprisingly tame, patiently waiting on a roadside or on a wall for tourists to feed them. Naturally, monkeys, as with most wild animals, can become relatively aggressive if they ever feel under threat so some did lash out every now and then when approached by an overly-eager tourist wishing to capture that all-important Instagram shot. But overall, they were relatively gentle mammals who enjoyed nothing more than playfully fighting with each other over scraps of banana. Oh, and the babies were nothing short of adorable.
My trip was hands down one of the best travel experiences of my life, primarily because it was so chilled out. We were incredibly well looked after by everyone – from travel guides to hotel staff, they were warm, welcoming and keen to share their knowledge with us.
The holiday took a slight turn for the worst on our final evening when I accidentally ate a cashew-based curry (didn’t realise it contained nuts in my defence!). When the hotel staff realised I was having an allergic reaction, they quickly called for transport to escort me out of the villa to a nearby hospital. Long story short, after various scans it turned out my severe stomach pains were not just from an allergic reaction, but also from an ovarian cyst! I was given a load of pain relief and kept in overnight for observations before being discharged the following morning so we could catch our flight (within three hours of leaving the hospital!). But the hotel staff were very sweet, enquiring after my health when my parents came back from the hospital and apologising profusely before we checked out, despite it being no one’s fault.
I’ve popped a few pictures from my trip below to give a small insight into the beauty of the island. I cannot recommend it enough, and would love to visit again if the opportunity presents itself!
I see poetry in your eyes when the sun traces her fingertips over your face.
I envy her ability to caress so much of your skin at once when you turn your face towards her.
Almost imperceivable lines of hardship vanish, leaving you awash with the innocence of a boy who suffers in the grasp of Aphrodite.
You thought me foolish for falling in love with your eyes first.
But how do I resist being drawn into hazel-hued oceans so irresistibly deep, that I make peace with your waters choking my lungs if it means keeping a piece of you within me for eternity?