Bengali, Cuisine, UK

কেজরী – বিলেতি খিচুড়ি

কেজরী। না না, নাম শুনে ধরে নেবেননা দিল্লির কেজরির কথা বলছি। ওসব আপ ফাপের রাজনীতির ঘেঁষ না ধরে পাতি রান্নাঘরে ঢুকে পড়ুন। তবে এ নামের যা মাহাত্ম্য তাতে রাজনীতির ছোঁয়া বর্জন করা দুষ্কর। রান্নার নাম যেমন বিলিতি, রাঁধার পদ্ধতিও বিলিতি। আর ডালের চিহ্নমাত্র নেই এ পদে তাই খিচুড়ি বললে পাপ হবে। তবে আমাদের রোজকার হেঁশেলের খিচুড়ি কিভাবে কেজরীতে পরিবর্তিত হলো তার হিসেব আমার কাছে ছিলনা। তবে আমার উইকি সব জানে, সে দেখাচ্ছে খিচুড়িই ভারতে আগে প্রচলিত ছিল। সাহেবরা সব সম্পত্তির সাথে সাথে খাবারের রেসিপির ওপরও দখলদারি বসাতে ছাড়েনি। ধরে নেয়া যেতেই পারে ভারত ফেরত কোনো বিলিতি শেফের হাত ধরে খিচুড়ি আঠেরো শতকে পৌঁছে গেছিল সাত সমুদ্র পারে। ইংরেজি ধ্বনিতত্ত্ব এক আজব ব্যাপার, ক দিয়ে শুরুর শব্দগুলো এরা শুরু করে খ উচ্চারণ করে, কিন্তু খ দিয়ে কোনো শব্দ শুরু হলে তা উচ্চারণ করতে লেজে গোবরে অবস্থা। সেভাবেই অনুমান করা যায় খিচুড়ির জগাখিচুড়ি উচ্চারণের থেকে রেহাই পেতে খিচুড়ি পরিণত হলো kedgeree তে।

কাজের কথায় আসি। সেদিন দোকান থেকে কম দামে হ্যাডক মাছ পেয়ে ভাবলাম কদিন আগে খাওয়া এক অপূর্ব ফরাসি মাছের বড়া বানানোর চেষ্টা করবো। তা রেসিপি খুঁজতে গিয়ে হাতে হ্যারিকেন, তাজা মাছ নয়, চাই সল্ট কড জাতীয় শুকনো মাছ, খানিকটা আমাদের শুঁটকির মতো, তবে নুন মাখিয়ে শুকানো বলে তেমন চড়া গন্ধ হয়না। যাক, আবার শূন্য থেকে শুরু করতে হলো রান্নার প্ল্যান। শেষ রক্ষা তো ভাজা মাছ বা জিরে গুঁড়ো দিয়ে ঝোল আছেই। এখানে ব্রেকফাস্ট খেতে গেলে poached haddock পাওয়া যায় তবে বাঙালি হয়ে মাছকে দুধে সেদ্ধ করতে রুচি হলোনা তাই ভাবলাম হ্যাডকের আরেক নামকরা রেসিপি বানানো যাক, কেজরী।

বিলিতি মতে রান্না, তাই রান্নার আদ্ধেক উপকরণ বিলিতি, আবার ভারতের আমদানি খাবার তাই খানিক মসলাপাতি আমাদের রান্নাঘরের মতই। খানিক দোনোমোনার পর বানিয়েই ফেল্লাম কেজরী। আহা তার যা স্বাদ, টেনিদার খট্টাঙ্গ পলান্নর কথা মনে পড়ে গেলো। বেশি বাহানায় না গিয়ে বলেই ফেলি সেই কেজরী তৈরীর উপায়। পরিমান নিয়ে বেশি মাথা ঘামাবেননা, খালি নুনটা বাদ দিয়ে বাকি মসলা অল্প কম বেশি হলে মহাভারত অশুদ্ধ হয়ে যাবেনা। আমি বানিয়েছিলাম দু কাপ চালের সাথে, অন্য পরিমান রান্নার জন্য হিসেব মতো বাকি উপকরণগুলো কমবেশি করতে হবে।

প্রথমে বড় একটা হ্যাডকের ফিলে একটা ফ্রাইং প্যান জাতীয় কিছুতে গরম জলে সেদ্ধ করতে হবে। মাছের ছাল থাকলে ছালের দিকটা নিচের দিকে রাখতে হবে। ৪-৫ মিনিট পর মাছ আঁচ থেকে নামিয়ে জল ঝরিয়ে অল্পক্ষন ঠান্ডা করতে হবে। মাছ ঠান্ডা হয়ে গেলে কাঁটা আর ছাল টা ছাড়িয়ে একটা কাঁটাচামচ দিয়ে ছোট ছোট ফ্লেকে ভেঙে নিন। আর একটা সসপ্যানে ৩-৪ টে ডিম সেদ্ধ করে নিতে হবে। ডিমগুলো হার্ড বয়েল করলেই ভালো। ডিম সেদ্ধ হয়ে গেলে চাকা চাকা টুকরো করে রেখে দিতে হবে। এরপর একটা বড় সসপ্যানে বেশ খানিকটা মাখন দিয়ে একটা বড় পেঁয়াজ কুচি কুচি করে কেটে ভেজে নিতে হবে। পেঁয়াজে যেন বাদামী রঙ না ধরে যায়। ভাজা পেঁয়াজে এরপর ৩-৪ টে গোটা এলাচ, ১-২ টো তেজপাতা, ২ ইঞ্চি লম্বা দারচিনি আর একটু হলুদ গুঁড়ো ওই প্যানের ভেতর দিয়ে আবার খানিক কষাতে হবে। এবার ওই মসলার মধ্যে চাল দিয়ে অল্পক্ষন ভাজতে হবে একদম কম আঁচে। এই ফাঁকে এক লিটার গরম জলে দু-তিন টুকরো ফিশ স্টক গুলে নিন। ফিশ না থাকলে চিকেন স্টক ও চলবে। আর জলের পরিমান কতখানি চাল তার ওপর নির্ভর করবে। চাল বেশি যাতে না সেদ্ধ হয়ে যায় তার জন্যে প্রথমে একটু কম জল দিয়ে রান্না শুরু করাই ভালো। পরে দরকার পড়লে অল্প গরম জল দিতে হতে পারে। যদি ফ্রেশ স্টক বানাতে পারেন তাহলে তো কেল্লা ফতে, তবে আমি কিউব দিয়েই বানিয়েছিলাম, মন্দ হয়নি। এবার ওই ফিশ স্টক চাল আর পেঁয়াজ ভাজার মধ্যে দিয়ে আঁচ বাড়িয়ে দিতে হবে। জল ফুটে উঠলে স্বাদ মতো নূন দিয়ে চালটা ভালো করে নাড়িয়ে দিতে হবে, যাতে তলা না ধরে যায়। এবার ঢাকা দিয়ে আঁচ কমিয়ে ভাত রান্না হতে দিন। মাঝে মধ্যে দেখে নিতে হবে তলা ধরে যাচ্ছে কিনা, ধরলে চাল আবার খানিকটা নাড়িয়ে দিয়ে হবে, আর দরকার পড়লে অল্প গরম জল যোগ করতে পারেন। চাল যখন প্রায় সেদ্ধ হয়ে গেছে, তখন ঢাকনা খুলে মাছ আর ডিমের টুকরোগুলো সেখানে ঢেলে দিয়ে আবার ঢাকনা চাপা দিন। ২-৩ মিনিট পর অনেকটা কুচোনো পার্সলে পাতা দিয়ে দিন ভাতের মধ্যে। আলতো করে ভাত মাছ আর ডিম মিশিয়ে নিয়ে আঁচ বন্ধ করে দিন। কেজরী তৈরী। শেষে তাতে অল্প কুচোনো পার্সলে ছড়িয়ে এক টুকরো লেবুর সাথে পরিবেশন করুন। এদেশে এমনি এমনিই সার্ভ করতে বলে, কিন্তু হাজার হোক খিচুড়ির জাতভাই বলে কথা, সাথে ভাজা কিছু না থাকলে তেমন জমবেনা খাওয়াটা। ভাজা যা ইচ্ছে বানাতে পারেন, নিদেনপক্ষে আমার মত অমলেট হলেও যথেষ্ট।

কেজরী

যদি রান্নার মসলা বা অন্য উপকরণগুলো না পান তাহলেও এই রেসিপিটা রান্না করে দেখতে পারেন। হ্যাডকের জায়গায় যেকোনো সাদা কাঁটাছাড়া মাছ ব্যবহার করতে পারেন। পারলেই না পেলে ধনেপাতা দিয়ে দিন। হলুদের পরিবর্তে জাফরান দিয়েও বানানো যায় তবে সে মশা মারতে কামান দাগার মতো ব্যাপার হবে। আমাদের খিচুড়ির মতো এখানে আলু বা অন্যান্য সবজি দেয়ার কোনো নিয়ম দেখিনি, তবে চেষ্টা করে দেখা যেতেই পারে। নিন এবার ঢুকে পড়ুন হেঁশেলে, আর ব্লগ পড়ে কাজ নেই।
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Labour, Politics, UK

Tories out: A last minute guide for tactical voting

Last year when the UK delivered its shock verdict in EU membership, I was in Normandy. I had already done my bit, I voted IN through postal ballot, did some Facebook canvassing, slagged off and ridiculed the UKIP buffoons and Cameron’s brochure. I thought that was enough to stay in. It was not. The VOTE LEAVE banners stuck on bushes and little bridges seemed to have a louder voice. This year, after a year of drama and pandemonium, we are yet again heading for another election, apparently to a stronger and stable UK. A day after the results, we’ll be on our way to a France again, where the people overwhelmingly voted for a pro-EU leader, shutting down the threat of a protectionist and nationalist regime. Our visit would be quite symbolic, either going in as equals, with a progressive government in the Westminster working to damage control the Brexit outcome. Or going in as laughing stock, with a government still fooling its people with no deal is better than a bad deal, Brexit means Brexit and all other mouthful nonsense. The 8th June will definitely change the future course of the British politics; it’s just waiting to see if that’s for better or worse.

If you survived this far and not pissed off about another remoaner, and you haven’t much time, read this concise guide that gives you much insight about tactical voting. How to vote the Tories out: a newbies’ guide to tactical voting. You don’t need to know the rest unless you’re still undecided, where this might help you decide why you can’t let the Tories another reign.

The biggest dilemma about this election is whom to vote. On one side, you have Theresa May and her cronies, constantly changing their stance on every single policy, and already showing the horrors of the Thatcher era politics with cuts on every imaginable public service. And there is another party which shouldn’t even be considered a mainline party after the Brexit vote. UKIP lost its relevance, although unfortunately, the supporter base of disillusioned working class hasn’t yet moved back to mainstream parties. It’s to see if 2017 will see the obliteration of UKIP like 2015 was for BNP. On the other side of the spectrum, there is Labour. Or Jeremy Corbyn. Like it or not, he is the face of Labour, and based on where you are and how old you are, you either like Labour because of him, or you won’t vote Labour because of him. It is undeniable, however, that despite the mass walkout of mainstream Labour politicians, Labour led by Jeremy Corbyn has done very well to cut the Tory lead to a minimum. But surveys aren’t accurate. I’m still apprehensive. Then there is SNP, set to win all their seats with bigger margins after Theresa May quashed the call for a second referendum. At times where Labour was expected to rip the Tory bills and arguments apart, they were surprisingly very reserved, and it was SNP did that job. But they don’t have a manifesto for the entire UK, and while you agree with them, and may form coalitions, their interest will only circle around Scottish public, which accounts for only 8% of the population. And about Libdems, seven years after they made the collaboration with the Conservatives, and virtually wiped themselves out of the UK map, their popularity is on the rise again, mainly to urban young voters based on the Brexit renegotiation issue. You have the Green Party as well, but outside Brighton, they only appear to have a niche voter bank, not large enough to swing any seat. And the Women’s equality party. But these parties, although they have a credible agenda, this is not the Election to undercut anti-Tory supports. Who can you trust then? The choice that appears to be available to the general public, not just this time, but for most of the elections, is the best of a bad bunch.

It is hard to support a particular political party these days. This is partly because they moved away from the party hardline and gradually taking a centrist approach. It is quite possible to find that various parties are promising to fulfil your expectations on various sectors, and you end up choosing the party meetings most of them. For the generally capitalist economies, this offers a middle ground for the oppressed middle and lower classes, but from a socialistic point of view, this means that the changes are not drastic enough to ensure that the income gap is decreasing and everybody in the country is offered a minimum level of lifestyle.

The other deterrent of voting is the lack of leadership. Despite all other negatives, Margaret Thatcher was the last credible leader the UK has seen. The PMs after her lacked any kind of leadership. They were suave men, great in appearance and eloquence but that’s how far their skills went. They hardly knew the country or its people outside their boys club spheres, and failed to understand the challenges and hardships faced by the working class. Outside the PM club, Nick Clegg was one such leader who showed great promise, but ended up committing political euthanasia for the Libdems by joining with Tories in 2010. Looking at Theresa May, she often tries to emulate Thatcher but fails miserably. Most of her answers in the PMQ ended up making personal insults to Jeremy Corbyn, or other opposition MPs or members of the public. A leader who shows no respect for the opposition and no empathy for the harsh realities faced by the working class today including most of the public servants, it is unimaginable how people can trust her to be in charge of the country. All she has got is strong words and no actions to follow through. On the other side of the bench we have Jeremy Corbyn. Much has been said about his appearance and leadership qualities, but over the last two years he had shown extreme resilience when he had to withstand challenge from his own party rather than the opposition. Granted he made rushed decisions within the Labour camp, reshuffling shadow cabinet every month or so, but that wasn’t a failure of him, but the Labour MPs who chose to leave the party in tatters rather than stand behind Corbyn. People who think Jeremy Corbyn isn’t the suitable leader, let me remind you the terrible handling of the home office by the now PM, including the UKBA vans and the cuts in police that is to some extent responsible for the failure to intercept recent terrorist attacks. If her track records prove she is a better leader based on void arguments like enough is enough or Brexit means Brexit, then it begs the question of legitimacy of such claims.

So, whom to vote for then? Looking at most or all sociopolitical events happening over last decade, or longer than that, I repeat to myself one simple phrase, “Know your enemy”. The more problems I witness, the more I’m convinced that there’s so much hatred and so much tension between humans, and one root cause is that we are always fighting a shadow war with an imaginary opponent but the real perpetrators always get away unharmed. It does sound like a communist manifesto, but wealth is the main underlying factor in most of the crises faced today — austerity, terrorism, tax evasion, immigration — the list is endless. It is like watching the butterfly effect unfurl in front of your own eyes. Considering the vote is not decided by the 1% of the wealthiest people, but the working class people, the phrase “know your enemy” is actually understanding who they are actually exploited by. The enemy is not the Polish construction worker next door who you think is taking up your jobs, the enemy is not the Muslim neighbourhood that you avoid because it doesn’t feel like Britain there, the enemy is not the disabled person having to prove every week that they are unable to work, nor are the children fleeing their war torn countries waiting in Calais jungle for yet another dangerous attempt to cross the channel. The enemy is not the EU, taking away billions of pounds from you, because you don’t know how much it’s putting back in. The enemy is not the children and people in countries with natural disasters, famine, political unrest because you think all your tax ends up there doing charities. The actual enemy is who led you believe all this red herrings so you are not disgusted by things that are actually robbing you in the daylight. About protecting the interests of the rich, about making Britain a tax haven, about sending away doctors and nurses who’ve been legitimately working here for years by raising the threshold, by cutting pensions and disability benefits yet funding millions for the clowns in Buckingham palace. You must be disgusted learning how imams tell the Muslim communities whether to vote and for whom to vote? I am. But you don’t see it the same way when The Sun, Daily Mail and The Express urges on its front page who you should be voting for! The media who led you believe all the trash deliberately, by Rupert Murdoch & co is our enemy. You don’t really need religious hate preachers in this country, but the media is doing exactly that right in front of your nose. The societies are being divided thanks to media scapegoating. Yet, you choose to spend you hard earned money reading that trash and get agitated that this country is going down. And there are politicians. You’re not disgusted that a PM is saying enough is enough after repeated terrorist attacks, yet she was the person in charge of the home affairs for last six years, cutting police and surveillance numbers. You are worried about letting Syrian refugees in case they are terrorists, yet you don’t flinch when picture of May appears with the king of Saudi Arabia. You still know where most of these terrorist outfits get their funding from, don’t you? You just chose to ignore and rather shout for Burqa ban! You see smug Jeremy Hunt smile sheepishly when he’s asked about the chaotic situation in the NHS, Iain Duncan Smith burst out in cheers when a cut is mentioned, we have a buffoon of a foreign secretary that people should be ashamed of allowing representing Britain to other nation. And that the fox hunting would be brought back doesn’t bother you, nor does Theresa May’s warning about throwing out any human rights laws to prevent terrorism, uncannily idiotic and dangerous as the Muslim ban proposed by the orange faced batshit across the pond. Yet your derision is only directed towards Diane Abbott for getting her figures wrong, and your anger towards Jeremy Corbyn for his supposed IRA link.

So really, you need to think whether you should be more worried about Labour raising tax for people earning more than £80k and the Bolshevik rhetoric suggested by the right wing media, or issues that have been plaguing the country for much longer? Britain needs a new government, a government that puts its people first and treat all as equals. And a government that draws away from US led foreign policy framework about the Middle East and think how the country can constructively contribute to the peace process. Guns didn’t work there, it’s evident now. All it did is bring the enemy home. We need a government that ensures that our public service is protected and public servants are recognised for their amazing service working unreasonable hours for pittance. You need a government that will ensure Brexit happens with a close tie to the Europe, by agreeing free labour movement so the access is not lost to our biggest market rather than grovelling to counties that are undemocratic. You need a fairer society where the minimum wage lets someone have a decent lifestyle unreliable of the food banks, people who earn more are made to pay more tax, closing loopholes that the Tories have been enjoying sharing with their crony pals. Can Theresa May promise all these? Heck no! Can Labour deliver all this? Heck no, but they made the first move by thinking about it. And they say “You’ve actually failed when you stopped trying”. But more importantly, you need to keep the Tories out. So, look at many tactical voting sites and see if your constituency is marginal. If you’re Libdem and Labour is marginal, your best bet is to vote Labour, rather than allow another closely won conservative seat. And above all, VOTE! Make sure you had your voice heard. I still wait to see the day when it will be liable to fines if you didn’t vote. So turn up and don’t moan later.

Here’s one last word of caution though. If you’re thinking voting Libdem where they are close to win and Labour is not in contention. Remember 2010, when you were betrayed by them. So, don’t make an assumption that Tim Farron will side with Labour if there’s a hung parliament. But I’d still think if there was alternative voting available, Labour would be the second choice of Libdem supporters than the Tories. And if you voted Libdems, you have a fair chance of a coalition; voting Labour and losing the seat to Tories will mean another seat will have to be won somewhere to compensate. In either case, make your vote count towards making a difference. It’s your choice, for a better tomorrow…or worse. Just remember, “Know your enemy”. All the best to your future.

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Politics, short story, UK

A Remoaner’s Parable for Brexit

A good friend once told me this story:

There was a devout man. He prayed to God every day and thanked him for his existence on earth. He always believed that if he was in any kind of trouble, God will help him out. And so God did. One time when his child had fever, and he prayed and prayed. The next morning his child was cured completely; he even went to school. Or the other time when he ran into debt and after praying to God, he had the dream and found an untouched scratch card lying inside a book, and he won enough money to clear his debts.

One day our devout man was working in his office. It started to rain heavily around the lunch hour. The people thought the rain would stop soon. But it carried on, and the water started to rise. The banks of the river nearby had burst, and a flash flood followed. There was a TV at the pantry area in the corner. In the middle of share price displays, there was a woman on screen with an angelic face, making an announcement that everybody should leave the area straight away. Everyone in the office packed their bags and rushed to leave the building. Everyone but our friend. He started praying, so the disaster would stop. Colleagues tried to dissuade him, but he was firm in his belief. His colleagues thought he was mad, but he knew God will help him.

Half and hour went by. The water is gushing inside the building. The devout man is still asking God to put an end to this awful weather. There was a loud honk outside. A rescue truck is rescuing stranded people to take them up to high ground. Our friend looked out of the window.

“Hey there! Come downstairs, there’s nothing to worry. The water isn’t deep. We got you”
“Thanks, but I’m fine here. God will save us. You should pray as well“
“What nonsense! Come right now, we got other people to rescue and the water is getting higher”
“God will make it all stop. You’ll see. You carry on, help the others“
“You moron!“

And the truck drove away. The man went back to his prayer. Half an hour went by. The ground floor is under a waist deep water. A big siren and flashing lights outside. A fire engine is passing by. It comes to a halt as the fireman noticed the man looking out of the office window.

“Hang in there fella, we’ll get the ladder to you!“
“I don’t need your ladder. The God almighty will soon put an end to this.“
“What a load of rubbish! Get on the ladder now. We can’t stay here long, water will get in the engine“
“You save yourself my friend. God will save me. He always had in the past“
“Good luck to you on that.“

And the fire engine went away. The man was feeling a bit anxious now. Is God not happy with him? Has he done something wrong? “I promise I will pray more, dear God! It’s just the thoughts about work and family distracted me lately. But I will, once again, be your true servant“. He started praying more feverishly. Half an hour…then an hour went by. It’s getting dark, and there is no sign of the rain to stop. The water has come up to the first floor. Our man went to the roof, so god can save him. “Ah I see. He probably wasn’t planning to stop the rain. It must be a boat, like Noah’s, that will save me. I know now why God waited for so long. He wanted the water to rise so he can send the ark“. The man suddenly felt that God hadn’t forsaken him, and he was too blind to see it. He watched out for the boat, but was disturbed by a very loud whirring noise again—

A helicopter is circling over the buildings. Our man is suddenly flooded with shining light from the helicopter. They lowered the rope ladder, to rescue the last few stranded people. A booming voice came from the copter

“ Hello there! Grab the ladder carefully and climb up inside”.

The man thought that wasn’t the way he expected the help to come. And he refused. The pilot explained that he won’t be able to come back and he must escape. But our man refused. There will be a boat soon. The helicopter flew away.

The man started praying again. Minutes went by, then an hour. The water has risen to the roof. He is standing facing the sea of water that engulfed all buildings around. He is suddenly panic-stricken. That God wouldn’t help him this time. He started wondering what sins he had committed that God is annoyed with him. The water is rising fast. It’s up to his ankles, then waist and in a few more minutes he was standing with his chest under water. He held on to the handrails, knowing it’ll all be over in a few minutes. Faces of his wife and son flashed in front of his eyes. And that all his prayers didn’t manage to move God, that was more hurtful. He felt betrayed. With water almost up to his neck, he lets out a desperate howl, “Why dear God did you abandon me? I have always been faithful to you. What have I done wrong? Please help me!“

Suddenly there was a bolt of lightning. And a few more. The dark sky was lit up with electric blue flashes. Then, as our man looked up, silhouette of a man appeared, and the God spoke,

“Fucking idiot, who do you think alerted you of the flood, and sent you the truck, fire engine and the helicopter? I thinks it’s better to have no followers than the blind ones like you!”

He disappeared in the clashing and colliding clouds. The water isn’t rising anymore. The devout man gazed at the sky, awestruck.

“I was right! My lord has saved me again. I saw his face! I’m glad I waited until the very last moment” – he thought.

And then, there was a loud sigh, then out came a big wave, and the man was washed away into nothingness. Even the God had had enough of this delusional moron.


Over 17 million people voted for Brexit out of 46 million electorate. Within the first hour of the shocking morning of the 24th June, it was clear that all the promises and dreams of claiming back the glory land was a farce. The first lifeline was the desperate call for a second referendum. The second, the utter chaos that followed in the Tory and UKIP camp, as their bunch of lies came to light one after another. Then there was the High court and the Supreme Court ruling for giving MPs a vote to trigger Article 50. There were options for a soft Brexit with access to single market and free movement. And then the vote. The final say before it was all over. And it was. Thanks to the deluded 17 million, thanks to the jokers Farage and Boris, thanks to the scheming Daily Mail and Daily Express, and finally thanks to the bloody three-line whip from Corbyn, the fucking show is finally over. There’s no more lifeline; only the grim future with a racist molester as the main ally for UK. Or possibly the only ally left. The road to perdition starts here…
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Immigration, Migration

Global refugee crisis: catalysts, stereotypes and challenges for rehabilitation

Prologue: As I am near finishing writing this article, France witnessed the worst ever terrorist attack on its soil. As an immediate reaction, the borders have been shut and there is a public outcry in Europe – not only in the nationalist parties, but amongst general public, to stop Syrian immigrants entering Europe. Rallies held in numerous Eastern European countries as well as in France and the UK, for sending back the refugees waiting to be resettled. The Italian speaking province in Switzerland banned the burqa or niqab. Donald Trump in the US spoke about creating a database for Muslims in the country. Several states in the US revoked the pledge to accept refugees. Greek coastguards were witnessed to be trying to sink boats filled with refugees. The abject discrimination against the Syrian refugees is just one of many examples of the persecutions of the refugees in today’s apparently modern world…

An obituary to Aylan Kurdi

Aylan Kurdi. The entire world now knows the name of this child. His limp innocent body on the seashore of Turkey made us all realise what the refugees are going through, and what losses they are suffering just to give a safe life to their offspring and families. Aylan’s death brought our world to a standstill, and it dawned on us how insensitive our values have become, when it took death of a three year old boy, whose last words to his dad was “Papa, don’t die”, for the world to empathise with the miseries of the refugees and react to the crisis. After a few days of online philanthropy, Aylan’s little body will fade away from our memory, the world will become an indifferent, fragmented place again, where we don’t know and don’t care how lives of other human beings are constantly put under threat in other corners of the world. But I won’t forget you little Aylan Kurdi, your angelic smile, and every time I’ll think of you, I will have tears in my eyes, for your death that was so unnecessary, so cruel, and I will be angry at the world, who watched by as your little hands lost the grip of your father, until the waves carried you to the shore. I don’t believe in heaven or hell, but I will say rest in peace little Aylan, you are finally safe, to eternity…

Aylan

Aylan Kurdi’s body found on the Turkish cost Source: WSJ

I am fascinated by anthropology and a recent visit to the Natural History Museum in London opened my eyes to time — the most important dimension we never have the full appreciation of, and the scale of it. When we think that our planet Earth is 4.5 billion years old with geological periods lasting millions of years, during which, dinosaurs have ruled the world and became extinct, and the first human beings only appeared one million years ago — putting that time into perspective, the earliest discovered human civilisation around 8000 years ago means we humans are only a microscopic part of a jigsaw that is our universe. Since the first human beings appeared in Africa, they were eternal ramblers, always looking to voyage for great unknowns and finding pastures green. Driven by the carnal desire for a better habitat, abundance of food or simply evading the conflicts of leadership, these early humans dispersed from Africa to Central Asia, Americas then through Bering Strait into Far East. The stories of migration and exploration of our ancestors fascinate us and make us marvel at the phenomenal progress of the human civilisation since time unknown. Yet, standing in the 21st century, where mankind achieved exponentially since those prehistoric times and pushed the boundaries of human capabilities beyond belief, on the humanitarian front it is shameful that we have not extricated ourselves from the vices and superstitions characteristic of those ancient times. The shameful manifestation of anti-migration views in world’s most advanced countries is a stark example, whereby with these malicious feelings, people are denouncing the very existence of their evolution. Rather than wonder and encourage it, migration has become a stigma of our time. 

Writing about migration is quite contentious as the public opinion seems to be bifurcated — half the population is usually against it and nearly the other half does not know much about it — only leaving a small fraction of people, who actually understand the situation and care about crises. The definition of migration is the first stumbling block. There are so many different words used in the media — migrant, immigrant, refugee, émigré. Without trying to open Oxford dictionary, the broad definition of immigrant denotes a generic term referring anyone living in a foreign country; it does not depend on the reason. On the other hand, popular connotations of an émigré exude a sense of superiority, belonging to the upper echelon of the social tiers of a country, but in real terms they are opposite of immigrants, citizens of a country emigrated abroad mainly for career prospects. The remainder two — migrants and refugees, are the most widely used terms in the context of migration. They both refer to the people leaving a country or region, mainly the places where they were born, in order to live in another country. Although both of these terms can be classified by the noun Migration, the fundamental differences between these two terms have been largely overlooked or purposefully misused by the world media. Whilst migrants are affected by the present situation of their country, the catalyst to move to another country or another part of the world is mainly economical, driven by their ambitions to achieve something for themselves or provide a better future for their future generations. Refugees, on the contrary, are forced to abandon their habitat and move to another country for a safe haven, that their country cannot provide. Migrants are driven by an aspirational issue, whilst refugee or asylum seeking is existential — the survival depends on escaping the habitat — be it from genocide, autocracy, religion, famine, endemic or militias. The burning example of the purposed or erratic misuse of terms referring migration is the context of the Syrian crisis, where the refugees are often referred as migrants. The bias of right wing press is obvious, but the liberal media often followed the bandwagon quoting the millions of homeless victims of religious crossfire between the Assad regime and ISIL as migrants, not refugees. 

Migration and asylum is an issue very close to my heart as my entire life has circled around listening to stories of migration — forced and consensual, or witness the post-migration impacts on refugees’ lives. Both my parents were born in the Indian provinces in post-partition East Pakistan, to be later called Bangladesh. Threatened by the religious genocide between 1947 and 1971, like millions of other Hindu families, my parents fled their troubled homes to India, then struggled all their life to make lives of our generation better. Thus, the stories of their struggle and sufferings made one detest the factors that incited the migration, but on the other hand kindled hope and optimism, provided us a raison d’être to give a meaning to their fight. My parents risked their lives to flee a region becoming exponentially volatile for the sake of their lives and subsequently sacrificed rest of their lives — trying to make our lives free of such trauma, once they found a safe livelihood in India. HOME became a sacred word; my father always wanted to have a house of his own that he could say is home — a sense of belonging to a piece of earth, a dream that has eluded him all his life, and now that I have migrated to the UK pursuing my aspirations, he always asks me to have a home of my own. Like him, I have uprooted myself from the place where I was born, leaving behind everything and everyone known. However, I am a migrant, whilst my father was a refugee, and our account of moving from our country is completely different — I can reminisce the past days through rose-tinted glasses, but for my father, it probably was a time he rather forgot or wished never happened to him. This essay is therefore like a lens, looking through my entire life and building up the hypotheses based on anecdotes, information and experiences gathered along the journey so far.

Refugees from Bangladesh leaving for India Source: muktijoddha.org

Refugees from Bangladesh leaving for India
Source: muktijoddha.org

From time immemorial human migration has been taking place, as our ancestors continuously strived for better living conditions. The modern civilisation in its current form would not exist, had the primordial men and women not migrated. However, limiting our focus only on twentieth century would show what factors instigated migrations and socio-political unbalance. The biggest contributor to the social unrest are two — politics and religion. In most cases these two factors are intertwined, perhaps politics of religion could aptly include the two causes. Regardless of the semantics, politics and religion, the invasive nature of both these factors are incited by wealth. Looking at the single biggest incident that destabilised the entire world — from Middle-East to Americas and Far-East, is Communism. But at the heart of the Communism debate and the Cold War lies the capitalist world’s fear of mass movement of the oppressed to demand their share of the profit. It is Wealth what incited the Cold War and the resultant arms race, that contributed the complete destabilisation of the political system in the Middle-East, the home of the biggest refugee crisis in recent times or the breeding ground for the cause of it — religious fanaticism — through obliteration of any working liberal governance in the region. On the other hand, fall of Soviet Union saw collapse of entire Eastern Bloc countries especially the complete dissolution of the Yugoslavia, creating religious factions all trying to have a land they can claim their own. 

The other biggest component is of course Colonialism — its spectre plagued the entire world. Like politics and religion, colonialism is also fuelled by wealth, perhaps with a more overt correlation. Starting with the Spanish and Portuguese, the hunger for power and wealth soon spread to the rest of the Western Europe during the middle ages. In the modern post-Renaissance era, the worst perpetrators are still the British, but not far behind will be the French, Dutch, Flemish/Belgians, Germans. Whilst many scholars recently argue about the benefits of colonialism to the developing countries, it is without doubt that any such supposed benefits came at a much heftier cost the countries didn’t deserve or choose to pay. There has been mass exodus during these colonial regimes with people trying to flee the atrocities and famines. After WWII, with the cost of running the colonies skyrocketing, the resources thoroughly exploited and depleted and finally the ghost of two great wars haunting the developed world, the rulers left the colonies in ruins having plundered all the resources over hundreds of years. The colonised countries, with the skeleton of infrastructure from their exploited past, became breeding grounds for class division, corruption, nepotism and racial/religious fission. Africa was one of the worst hit continents picking up pieces together to form countries, but managed to be embroiled in bloody tribal wars that has possibly seen the most number of mass migration. Famine, endemics followed suite as a result of unsustainable exploitation of natural and human resources. The Middle-East, already waged into turbulent sectarian conflicts amongst member states were further destabilised by formation of Israel, and the west’s pledge to sponsor its atrocities later on. On the other hand, the sub-continent was scarred forever with religious conflicts. The wave of religious hatred even engulfed the far reaches of Myanmar, where the Bangladeshi Rohingya tribes are forced to migrate to as far as Malaysia to avoid the violence. The Divide and Rule ploy not only split countries, neighbourhoods and families into pieces, but also fuelled the conflict amongst them, in order to profit from the arms deals. It is the biggest mockery of our times that the G8 countries are purported as harbingers of world peace, yet all of them are the biggest arms dealers in the world, responsible for most of the armed conflicts in one way or another!

These are some of the underlying factors that coerce people to move out of their homeland, abandoning their habitat and familiar surroundings for hundreds and thousands of years. Looking at the other side of the spectrum on the refugee crises — regarding the rehabilitation and integration of refugees in the countries they seek shelter in — the situation is much worse. Although not for the reasons we see in today’s world, human migration is an undeniable and unavoidable phenomenon — it will never stop, as the end of it will mean people stopped dreaming and aspiring. It will mean that we have become a defeated race on earth and a superior species will rise to throw us down the precipice of anthropological oblivion. Hence, considering human migration is an unequivocal fact, it would be a completely different story, if people at different corners of the world wanted/was forced to move at another region and their exodus did not encounter any resistance. Looking at the legendary settlers, they moved to barren lands and built civilisations. The nomadic nature of our ancestors is completely undermined in the present society, more so in the so called developed world than the other parts. In an ideal situation, these people need not flee their habitat, but if that can’t be prevented, the next best scenario would be that they all found a safe refuge, and if the countries in the developed world can boast about their social infrastructure, they should be the forerunners in providing shelters for these refugees. 

 Instead, the refugee crises across the world paints picture completely in contrast with what should have happened. The biggest instigators of the migration crises are the ones who are most vociferous against immigration on their land. The hypocrisy of the US, UK and Saudi Arabia in mitigating the Syrian refugee crises are at best shocking, at worst abhorrent. Considering US is not directly affected by the Syrian migration as is Europe, and their pledge to receive some of the Syrian refugees is commendable, the US foreign policy in the Middle East especially backing Israel in the Palestine conflict has long destabilised the balance of the region. UK, the sidekick in the US affairs, has become a myopic xenophobic state under the Tory regime, but the roots go much deeper. Against what is commonly purported as quintessential British values, the public psyche has done a complete volte-face and suddenly became nationalist, utterly intolerant and devoid of any compassion or empathy. The Syrian migration crisis was a perfect platform for the government to prove that it there is still a voice of reason within the party whip, but the decision to take a paltry 20,000 refugees over five years simply quashed that expectation. When millions of Syrian refugees fled the country — being caught on the crossfire between autocratic Assad regime and the ISIL terrorists, the gulf nations played silent bystanders sitting on their petro-dollars. On the other hand, rather than taking refugees or at least sending aides, the astounding decision by Saudi Arabia to build mosques in Germany defeats all reasons. Australia, on the other hand puts any asylum seekers or refugees to other oceanic countries to make them receive financial aid from Australia. With an enormous, albeit not entirely habitable landmass, passing the responsibility to another country is equally brazen.

What the refugees are facing, especially trying to move to a country in the developed world e.g. Europe, US, Australia etc, is extremely inhuman. Their fate is met with the cold calculating political impasse by the countries they seek refuge in or use as an entrepôt en route their final destination. These governments believe in the economy of war, and the politics of fear. Keeping people misinformed and fearful of the refugee situation would then justify armed action, thriving the economy of war. This is why, accepting 20,000 refugees took Britain to think about it for a week, whilst the decision will probably be taken in unison about sending troops in Syria, which will cost millions of taxpayer money. Helping the refugees settle could have made lives of thousands more refugees waiting to be accepted more bearable after the horrific spell they have been through. During the temporary phase of public outcry to support Syrian refugees, there was one banner that became much circulated — you don’t put your children in water if the land was safer. The desperate situation these people are put into, caught in a complicated web of power, politics, religion and wealth; yet, other than countries like Germany and Sweden, with reference to Syrian crisis, what the other developed nations are doing can be termed as tumbleweed.

However, there is a more sinister twist in the situation that will need unveiling more urgently. Governments, and on much wider terms, all mainstream political parties, are the mirrors to the public psyche, and they hardly take a stance for the greater good, when the majority of the population is either unaware or misinformed about the actual situation and are against the policy. Looking at the reluctance of the governments to provide help to the refugees, it is merely a replication of the unwillingness or even the antipathy of the public against the migrants. The rising levels of nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiment is not only witnessed in my present residence in the UK, but it is observed everywhere else, where there is a migrant influx in the country. In the UK, it has become a very clichéd practice now, to blame the eastern European migrants as root cause for all problems. Treatment of Syrian refugees in Eastern European countries in recent times was absolutely diabolical. How the men were separated from women and children is a stark reminder of the biggest genocide against migrants in Europe since WWII — Srebrenica — a lesson in history that was pledged never to be repeated. In India, there is a growing voice against people fleeing communalism and religious persecution from neighbouring Bangladesh. Even within the country itself, migrant workers from other states are often targeted by the right-wing local hooligan parties. A common trend emerges from all these snapshots from a wide geographical span — that it is the common working class people, the majority of the population, who are against the refugees migrating to their country. This makes one wonder, why are so many hard working people, who are often characterised by the brother’s keeper mindset, antagonise their counterparts from another part of the country?

The answer lies in the panic-mongering of the political parties and migrants often prove to be the perfect red herring, a scapegoat to divert people’s attention from real issues. In very few societies across the world would one find working class keeping abreast of the current affairs and form their opinion on those issues. In absence of an alternative voice of reason, the capitalist led media diabolically steered the attention to all the crises their economies faced, to migrants. Housing, education, employment, economy — migrants are portrayed as bloodsuckers on all facets, purportedly depriving the citizens of the benefits. This antagonism is served with a twist of past glory — jingoistic nationalism, where everything was hunky dory when the countries/regions were made of indigenous people of same colour, language and religion. With a barrage of such twisted media representation, the working class begins to think that their predicament is somehow attributable to the migrants, not the actual perpetrators in their high citadels. These reportings are bolstered by statistics to make them appear more authentic, whereas the figures are at best misrepresentative at worst fraudulent.  Duped by these statistical figures, the general public saw the data in front of their eyes, and in absence of critically analysing the information or the lack of time for it, a different and alternative image of the refugees starts to build in the eyes of the working class of the country. Refugees are demonised to let the political parties and their cronies in the high echelon of the society continue to carry out more sinister plots to rob the poor. 

There are more to blame than just the media and the politicians. The working class people in any country tend to show tendency of prejudices — be it racial, sexual, cultural or lingual. It is the prejudice of the common people of a country — people the refugees are most likely to interact with — that makes the integration of the immigrants into the society much difficult. And here, the difference between an migrant and a refugee becomes starkly visible. Migrants often possess skills to offer to the host country, and with an income source, although social ostracism couldn’t be avoided, they can ignore it and lead a normal life. On the other hand, refugees — although depending on the crisis they can be from any class in the society — consist of mainly the working class to unskilled class of the population. They are expected to re-educate, retrain and all at the same time whilst they try to resettle in a completely alien land and culture. Remembering tales heard from my dad, to the story of a Hungarian cleaner in London or story of the first Romanian arriving in Britain or the harrowing mistreatment a of the Syrian refugees in Eastern Europe — they all spell the same story of mistrust, vilification and discrimination of the migrant/refugees by the common people in the host country. Apart from being discriminated for being different from the country’s indigenous population, there is also a pressure on the refugees to become like one of the model citizens of the adoptive country — prove their allegiance to the host country at every instant. This is why a Muslim is expected in western world to constantly denounce and castigate any acts of Muslim extremism, whereas no one no one heard a similar plea from every Christian during the Anders Breivik massacre. Likewise, all migrants are expected to don a poppy on Remembrance Day, a Bangladeshi refugee in India is expected to say jal instead of paani for water, a Romanian migrant has to declare to the camera that he is there to work and not to live on benefits.

Also there is another dimension in this conundrum regarding the refugee crisis, which is the racial bias of people — direct or subconscious. The sad and cruel demise of little Aylan Kurdi can never be included for a political justification, but the arrival of Syrian refugees in the doorstep of Europe posed another challenge for the local authorities. In one side there was religion, where communities that are not coherent with people from different religion and cultural background. On the other side there is a preference for race. This is why Syrian refugees have received a much warmer welcome than the ones still waiting in Calais.  One would not fail to notice that despite the threat of extremism, Syrians lack a stereotype image, as opposed to the black African migrants from war torn east Africa. The fact, that the refugees in Calais have been waiting for asylum much longer in inhabitable living conditions, has been completely overlooked by the populist media and politicians alike, due to stereotyping and character profiling of African immigrants. A similar approach was observed during the last Indian general election when the would be prime minister Modi proclaimed that the Hindus in neighbouring Bangladesh are more than welcome to rehabilitate in India if they faced communal violence, but the Muslims won’t be allowed in, despite India being a republic. Even in Europe, the discrimination against Roma tribes are well observed and the lack of media/social uproar exemplifies that the media only broadcasts sensationalist news. The undercurrent of racism against migrants became blatantly obvious during shameful veto in EU by the Eastern European countries, during the discussion of the quota of refugees each member state will need to take. Statements coming from Slovak prime minister that they (Muslims) won’t be welcome in Slovakia because there are no mosques or the Hungarian right wing photographer kicking and trying to trip a Syrian refugee, to Daily Mail likening the refugees to rats as did the Nazi campaigns in 1939, to David Cameron referring refugees to swarms — the hostility of the recipient nations became clear either through action or the choice of words in the context. 
Refugee camp in Calais "Jungle" Source: Independent

Refugee camp in Calais “Jungle”
Source: Independent

There is a counter-argument by various countries against immigration. Why would a country accept refugees? A country has limited resource, living space and social infrastructure that cannot be widely altered within a short time span. Based on the resource constraints, a country cannot take more refugees beyond a sustainable number. However, this needs to be measured as a direct difference between the people arriving in the country and the citizens emigrating — not the net value of the immigration. “We are full, there is no more space” may be a compelling argument for the UK for the limited habitable landmass, but certainly not for the US or mainland Europe or the subcontinent. But answering why a country should provide refuge to the immigrants, the focus cannot be the based on just geography and economy. The first question to be asked is whether any recipient country is directly or indirectly responsible for causing or aggravating the situation. If the answer is yes then it becomes a direct responsibility of that country to help out the refugees sacrificing their entire life. For example it becomes a direct responsibility of the US to support the Palestine refugees caused by Israel, empowered by a divisive US foreign policy. Or in case of Syria, although Turkey is involved indirectly, they are also the home for the biggest refugees with the numbers surpassing 1.5 million. However, beyond such examples, all countries should reach out for helping the refugees on humanitarian grounds alone. Without being directly involved, Germany will accept close to a million refugees being a responsible member of the EU to stop innocent people die. Sweden’s pledge to receive hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees also demonstrates that despite the dismal turn of events the refugees went through, thanks to countries like Germany, Sweden, Turkey or Jordan, a large number of displaced immigrants have found rehabilitation and a new beginning to regain the rhythm of life back. On the contrary, the gross ignorance of the governments of UK and Eastern Europe as well as the mistreatments by the authorities in Greece and Hungary paints a dire picture, where countries either not taking up the responsibility or totally indifferent to the trauma and persecutions faced by these refugees. 

However, as mentioned above, there are silver linings in this dreary situation, by looking at the positive message portrayed by actions of various countries. Apart from Germany and Scandinavia, whilst the government reaction was otherwise abysmal, general public welcomed the Syrian refugees with a lot more generosity. Despite a large part of the population in every country being sceptical about migrants, a considerably large part of the population in every country in Western Europe welcomed the refugees with open arms, and went to great lengths to help them. Starting from a welcome message of solidarity across football stadiums to people sending essential necessity goods to the refugees in their van driving thousand kilometres — the extent of help received was spellbinding. Apart from general public, the charities and non-profit organisations have been tirelessly working to provide the basic necessities such as water, tents, warm clothes, medicines. In the UK, wherever the right wing groups attempted to convene a rally opposing the intake of refugees, their malicious voices were doused by considerably large contingents of the liberal members of the society, the #refugeeswelcome movement filled in the entire Trafalgar square with equal spontaneity as it did in the social media. Whilst the western Europe is still ignorant on other refugees waiting for months, even years, in the camps in Calais, the aids extended to the Syrian refugees will certainly provide more impetus on other countries around the world. Despite being in a much weaker economic situation, a parallel could be observed in the subcontinent during past few decades, where the Bengali society in the Indian part of Bengal has long been supporting all the refugees coming from eastern part presently known as Bangladesh. As I witnessed throughout my life, despite the cultural dissimilarities, the members of the society created a space common to all, making everyone equally welcome.

So, what will happen to the millions of refugees, uprooting themselves from the land of their origin, setting off to a far flung place? Will our ever expanding horizon of knowledge and humanity eradicate the utterly unfair marginalisation of the unfortunate refugees? Will the precursors to the forced human movement across the globe be eliminated, so the existential migration become an antiquated phenomenon? Part of the answer is held in the history. Looking back in history, it paints the most optimistic picture on the crisis. History is a greatest leveller. In essence, it proved the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest, whilst creating a human race superior to the previous generations. Human race, since time immemorial has fought many battles for survival and it became stronger with every conquest. Old civilizations perish away whilst the new ones flourish. The melting pot of the Syrian refugee crisis  — the Middle-East, has once been the prosperous place where the entire western and Indic population originated from – Assyria, Persia, Mesopotamia, Sumer – these places have been decimated to rubbles. Past glory of Roman and Greek empire faded away over thousands of years. Now, Greece is a state asking for handouts from the IMF whilst Italy is not far behind. On the other hand, the rise of the East in the recent past was phenomenal, after a long hiatus. And during all these periods, human civilisation never stalled, and it survived. There is already a tendency for the skilled workforce to be emigrating to the East from the western world, contrary to the trend observed previously. Although this is not overwhelming, the movement is palpable. As for the refugees, who are forced to migrate influenced by other determinants, the biggest obstacle amongst their way is religion and illiteracy. And the lack of wealth. Even in the 21st century, we are divided as we have been 2000 years ago. Unless UN plays a big part in bringing all countries under one umbrella and have a holistic plan on how to tackle the problems globally, the situation will take a long time to stabilise. The UN motion in recent past to eradicate ISIL was a landmark step forward to reinstate some balance and equilibrium in the Middle-East and North Africa, the source of the biggest refugee crisis. The answer lies with us, the rest of the world. If we play a role of mere spectators, this will take decades if not centuries to stabilise and elevate the living standards of millions of refugees. Those who survived the perilous passage to a safe abode, their life  has just began after passing through the numerous barbed wire fences we call borders, overcoming the threats of sea, deserts and mountains. Their new life perhaps consists of a suitcase full of clothes and a heart full of hope — hope to make a new beginning. 

Human migration is a tour de force, an unavoidable phenomenon. This is how the world is shaped to the world we live in — a connected entity from pockets of civilisations sprouting at different corners of earth since prehistoric times. Migration has taught us to be resilient against all adversities — natural or human. It taught us to be adaptive, to innovate and evolve. We pushed our boundaries with every voyage made, every new land found, every civilisations formed. Remembering a  documentary about the Sentinelese people, bolstered the fact that if the first humans did not migrate, we would still be living in Stone Age— being hunter gatherers. Not blinkered by countries or religions – these tales of eternal explorative nature of the human race makes us proud of our lineage. Although the persecutions suffered by the refugees are inhuman, their stories are not short of a modern day version of the fairy tales, exemplifying their grit and sacrifice, their courage under fire. As much as their sufferings make us angry, and helpless, their tales rekindle our hope on humanity. It reinforced a belief that the humans will progress, eradicating all evils. Like Huns or Nazis, ISIL will be history, intolerance will be history, boundaries will be history, as will our language and religion  following the path of human development. We will not witness any more lifeless Aylan Kurdi’s floating ashore. This fills us with hope for a better tomorrow, for we are the perpetual nomads. We can stand together for the refugees, as we are the migrants ourselves. Ignoring this would be tantamount to abnegating our human existence.

Post Script: If one ever wonders how they could support refugees in their locality or remotely, the options are limitless. Perhaps the short list below would provide some ideas how they can be helped and showed solidarity and compassion.

•  They need essential supplies – food, clothes, sanitation. Send money or buy items they require. 
•  Preferably use charities or non-profit organisations for sending money, and GiftAid it to make the contributions bigger.
•  Send used clothes through charities.
•  If possible, do volunteering work in shelters.
•  Donate books for children, and toys.
•  Share the spare room to house a refugee until they are offered asylum.
•  Sign petitions for the governments to act on them and spread awareness on social media.
•  The last but not the least, if you cannot do any of the above, at least show solidarity towards the refugees as fellow human beings. They might not be aware of cultures and custom of your country yet, and with the trauma of being uprooted, it takes a long time to acclimatise. Be courteous to them at social surroundings when you come across the refugees, and be patient. A smile can make a massive difference on how welcome they feel to your society.

Further reads:

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Politics, UK

A ‘Bolshie’ review of UK general election 2015

On the eve of the UK general elections 2015, I hoped a much awaited Labour led coalition government after five years’ dismal rule by the Conservatives. Eight hours later, that hope was shattered by a Tory majority. All the myths, predictions, analyses were proved wrong, including a number of hypotheses I had drawn in the past on British politics and its future. Being a dress down day at work, I wore a t-shirt with a bold statement, which showed the flag of the UK with a skull at the background. In my opinion, nothing better summarised the outcomes of the general election than that t-shirt, the coming five years will be tarnished with disaster, despair, poverty, death. This is an attempt to analyse the build-up to the election and its aftermath with a historical and social context.

• Campaign and fallacies in 2010 elections 

Although the Conservative agenda always circles around championing the individual excellence, which is the cornerstone of the capitalist world-view, in practice, this meant further inequality in an already fragmented Britain. In 2010, the coalition came in power due to the follies of Blair government in Iraq war, as well as widespread mass hysteria regarding migrant workers from EEA taking over jobs from British working class. During 2010 elections, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats also blamed the previous Labour government of excessive spending, resulting to an increased national debt, as well as of a slow recovery from the recession of 2008. Also, the fiscal policy adopted by the then labour government to recover from the recession was in direct contrast with the capitalist ethos of monetary corrections, and it was apparent to common British voters that Labour spent a lot of money, and in the way, lost its credibility to run the country to the road of recovery. 
 
It was only after the election was won that the devious and untrue nature of the Tory campaign, backed by the Rupert Murdoch funded British media were becoming clear. The economic recovery in the entire western world has been sluggish, and Britain was no exception. The recuperation of the German economy was cited many times during the election campaigns, but the recovery came through the fiscal reforms, by making people spend their way out of the recession, not by introducing cuts. Labour tried the same method as well, but was only let down by the British public due to risk-averseness and not taking the incentives offered by the government. Also, the national debt that was proved to be another downfall for Labour, it was proved that the national debt inherited by Labour government at the end of John Major government was already high, but the media represented the figures as though the debt was incurred only during the Labour regime.

• Synopsis on Tory rule 2010-2015

Although the Lib-Dems were part of the government, and they attempted to implement a number of policies they have pledged for prior to the 2010 election, it was clear from the outset that the Conservatives will start the austerity and cuts to social services straight away. It was evident when within a year in the government, the highest earners’ income tax was lowered to 45% from 50% that previous Labour government introduced. If this was not a clear indication of which sector of the population the government is protecting, nothing ever would. Not only benefiting the higher earners — be it through tax reductions or offering tax havens to non-domiciles, it did not stop there. The working class has been squeezed through reduction of the child relief thresholds or proposing to increase the working age. NHS saw further privatisation whilst the practices were to be controlled by a trust, redundancies for nurses and stretching the already stressed system to its breaking point. During previous Labour regime, a maximum time limit was set for the consultants to offer treatment to their patients within three months from the first appointment. Under the Tory rule, these time limits were disbanded, hence achieving a saving in the  running cost, but at the expense of patients’ health and recovery. Then came the damned bedroom tax rule. Admittedly benefits were there, but no exceptions were allowed, hence leaving people with disability needing carers paying for the extra rooms or move to a house where there would be no room for carers to stay. In educational sector, struggling schools were bullied into becoming Academies, managing their own budget or be threatened to stop all funding. Between 2010 and 2015, the employment sector has improved, but this was more attributable to the recovery of the global economy rather than positive contribution from the government. Thus time will be remembered for the much maligned Back to work scheme where people without work have been encouraged to go and work for employers without any form of payment, hence, effectively working for free. 
 
The ultimate evidence of Tory connivance and their cronies and the extent of corruption in media, governance and juridical system during the Conservative regime was brought into daylight in the News of the world controversy. Andy Coulson, who worked closely with David Cameron was the prime suspect of the phone hacking scandal and was jailed, but News of the World being a Tory mouthpiece, the involvement of the phone hacking during the previous general election was exposed. The same goes for the acquittal of Rebekah Brooks, who was a close friend of David Cameron as well. News of the world went out of publication, but the full extent of Tory involvement in the phone hacking is yet to be known. 
 
From these and numerous other similar examples, a general observation was evident; the Tory regime had paved the path for big businesses and staunch Tory benefactors to increase their wealth, whilst punishing the rest of the 99% of the population. The number of food banks opened have been quadrupled, poor people got poorer, heading towards a precipice. 
 
The only unambiguously praiseworthy action taken by the previous Conservative government was legalisation of gay marriage amidst scathing criticism from Tory backbenchers through insistence from David Cameron. 

• Nationalism and Britain 

With the financial interest of the 1% top earners ring-fenced, the Tories have then managed, not only to distract the downtrodden 99% from their woes, but they did it so discretely that it left the nation divided into many fragments. On one side, there was the vilification of the poor working class, often referred as “feckless”, and on the other side they have created a red herring in the form of EEA migrant workers and the concept of all minimum wage roles going to the foreign workers. This second ploy led to thriving a number of right wing nationalist parties, mainly UKIP. In 2014, Britain was swept by a spate of nationalism, first, during the Scottish referendum, and then later in the celebration of the centenary of the First World War. Scottish referendum not only affected Scotland, the dichotomy also resulted in strong nationalist sentiments at the south side of Hadrian’s wall as well. The Scots were divided in opinion almost equally between Yes and No for an independent Scotland, and finally managed to stay within the UK by a whisker, as the uncertainty of being outside the aegis of UK and EU outweighed the hopes to break free of the shackles from the controls of Westminster. However, this instigated a strong feeling of Scottish nationalism as a large number of people, who voted No only did so to think of their immediate financial situation, despite the urge of breaking were felt strongly. On the other hand, the big brother England felt a different sense of nationalism, the English nationalism, whereby the public saw Scotland as an appendage to the English state, a partisan and not contributing to the government by an equal proportion. The view of the intelligentsia may have weighed up or down the benefits of gaining independence from the situation, the public opinion hovered around seceding from the Scottish union, and “let then grovel back to us for funds in six months”. This was a situation reasonably reaped by the nationalist right wing parties and the popularity soared for then and UKIP became a major threat in realising Labour’s aspiration of forming a government. Although the UKIP policies  would have sent the nation teetering back, the white working class that saw Labour as their saviour from Tory atrocities so far, saw a change of heart as UKIP offered them more tangible benefits — no foreigners taking jobs, cheap beer, no EU. 

• The Labour opposition 

The Lib-dems were almost out of the fray the day they joined the coalition government as the long standing supporters felt compromised from their anti-Conservative position. Hence, it was only down to the Labour to oust the coalition led government, unlike in 2010, when Lib-dems proved to be a potent adversary to the incumbent. Labour’s ascent since the failure in 2010 was not smooth, within months from the election, the leadership vote became a fierce encounter between Miliband brothers, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and others. Then a Labour member, I voted Ed over David expecting his trade union background would prove more belligerence in character than the suave Blairite David. On Ed’s election saw the Miliband brotherhood broken, and it took a long time for Ed to gain credibility amongst Labour’s most loyal supporters, let alone winning over the Conservative voters. Personally, with my left wing visions, I saw Labour gradually becoming a quasi-Tory entity, especially during London mayoral elections — the policy offerings were not different enough to sway the voters, and I gradually became disillusioned during the mid-term of the Tory government. Then came 2013, as Ed Miliband delivered his most fiery speech since the ascension to leadership, and the Labour proposed the most ground-breaking proposals  — the bring back taxing the highest earners at higher rate, increase inheritance tax, or the free rein of energy companies and create a new bank from British Investments — offering the most radical changes to the British economy and governance. A clear lurch towards left, and the everybody was anxious — the capitalist market, the investors, Tory British media, and the government. Some argue that that’s what the Conservatives always wanted, a left wing Labour so they can oppose it with the old communist line of attack. Ed Miliband was immediately branded Red Ed, and it was not a contest between Conservatives versus Labour any more; all other stakeholders to be affected from the Labour government weighed in. Labour’s popularity soared as they won council elections by a large margin, but the English nationalism element in the British psyche saw a number of votes poached by the UKIP. People were swayed, but the stigma of immigration and Eastern European workers still haunted Labour, as did their propensity to support minorities, with the horrid details of Lee Rigby’s murder or the recent rise of ISIS still alive in people’s memories, they didn’t trust Islam, nor Labour as the mouthpiece for minorities and equality. With UK fragmented from various counts, it was absolutely important to launch an election campaign that offers some dividends to all such segments, for a re-unified country and government. Treading on eggshells, Labour had to offer a proposal alluring all segment of voters, and what interest one faction would drive another away from them, keeping a knife-edge balance on its election campaign. 

• Election campaigns 2015

The election campaign started with the usual hype in the media and the Middle-class and the casual indifference from the working class. 2015 was going to be the year of the women, with Nicola Sturgeon of SNP, Nicola Bennett of Green Party and Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru took the centre stage. There was only one clear winner emerging from the first debate, and it was Nicola Sturgeon. With a clear Scotland-centric agenda and a number of policies veered away from the safe grounds of central left or central right, SNP already offered something for the Scottish people that would have been a part of Labour’s agenda. This should have raised alarms on Labour policy makers, as it wood have, when Nick Clegg stole the show during 2010 debates; and last minute alterations were needed to offer equally bold policies to steer the Scottish nationalist votes back towards Labour. Instead, seeing the election results of the previous year, Labour leadership trod on the side of caution and published a manifesto that, without the Labour logo, is hard to guess which party they were from due to its lack of USP. All the hard work over two years, all the hopes it kindled in the minds of the followers were all undone in a moment of hesitation and panic. The legitimacy of the Labour election campaign was hard to make credit due to the leadership issues, but the poor manifesto possibly alienated the voters willing to change their view. Labour’s stand on immigration, austerity, debt, spends on defence especially trident, sustainability, employment and social security failed to convince the British working class that they can offer a star government capable of resolving all the hardships the families face by the Tory regime. In issues like environment, SNP in Scotland and Green Party across UK took much more firm position than Labour and it perhaps disillusioned the environmentalist lobby, which makes a large proportion when the election results will show that Green emerges as the fourth largest party in the UK. Similarly in governance, SNP proposed reforms that was expected fro Labour, and even they were identical in areas, a Labour vote meant devolving power to Westminster whilst an SNP vote would see the poets and policies staying at Holyrood and being implemented in Scotland. In fact if it were not for the female trio, ration debate would have been a lacklustre event as none of the other parties manages to set themselves apart, excluding the conflagrating opinions by Nigel Farage. From that respect, David Cameron has been the most consistent and credible contender, backed by the continuous vilification of Ed Miliband in the Tory biased media and the Conservative election campaign, arguably funded by the wealthy Tory donors, with a possible return of favours following the election triumph. The Conservatives have even featured themselves as working people’s party, but the basis for such incredulous claims were not established, as was the fact with no details on funding cuts but showing additional investments based on these funding cuts.

• Poll result Analyses

At 10 PM on the election day, the exit poll figures on BBC were surprising, and with the benefit of hindsight, analysts with political astuteness should have guessed such an outcome if the trends were followed in recent months and their reason were not clouded by feelings. The exit poll results were pretty devastating for all parties except Tories but people kept their heads high. By the following morning, it was all over, the Conservatives even improved the exit poll predictions, even though not by large amount, but significant enough to provide absolute majority to form a government without coalition. Geographical division of seats were even more interesting and thought provoking. Whilst in 2010, all Scotland was painted red, Labour lost almost all the seats in Scotland. Wales was still a Labour majority but looking at England, the picture was catastrophic. Barring some spots of red in North of England, and London and Birmingham, Labour was obliterated everywhere. The reds have lost their appeal to Scottish people as they did to English population. Lib-dems were decimated, the much hype about UKIP was proven to be non-existent, but a trend was clear — the sweep of nationalism on both sides of the Scottish Border. The SNP emerged as strongest party to lead and defend Scottish interest whereas for England, fear and greed has swung the election in the favour of Conservatives.
 
In my opinion, there are no better weapons for winning the election than hunger and fear. With the number is homeless destitute persons on the rise, and all the austerity measures in place, it was a simple deduction that the people would want to see the tides change, they want this desperate time to be over. But there were two factors that prevented the full effect of hunger factor to be reflected in the results. Due to Lib-dem interjections, the Tory austerity measures were not as severe as if would have been had they won the absolute majority in 2010. Also, the average voters hovering around 70% mark, perhaps the worst affected part of the population was not interested in taking part of the election when the food for the next day has to be thought of — change in government wouldn’t change that fact overnight. And then there was the fear factor. Evolution of mythology is a proof that we want to know what we are afraid of; and this gave rise to millions of various depiction of monsters, ghosts, demons. In this election, a fear was instilled in the voters’ psyche, a fear without a shape or form, presented with the back up of data. From the fateful day in 2013 at Labour Party conference, the capitalist biased media has been trying to infuse fear in the minds of English population — be it direct demonising on the tabloids or subtle connotations in The Telegraph — media made it a private vendetta against Labour and its leadership. They feared. They feared of a liberal centre-left government would spell doom for the Conservatives, give voice to the Tory backbenchers already questioning the leadership of Cameron, a regrouped Conservative party will have long roads of reform. Amongst the people feared were the big businesses and Tory donors, whose tax evasion and preferential treatment would have come to a halt as well. The media turned this fear into a fear that the working class could relate to, hence the reasons were changed to immigration, jobs, economic reform, whereby keeping the facts clouded under vague predictions did help Tories turning the public against Labour’s ethos. Britain’s ageing population also meant that there is a huge Conservative royalist support base, who would see the large changes as a threat to the state, an anarchy in the development. Looking at election result, this fear of unknown and unseen regime that is purported to stop all businesses working, open doors to all EU workers, harbour radical Islamists under the name of ethical treatment, let EU interfere in all interim governance matters — threats of a communist state, has driven the voters especially in England, where people chose to opt for the incumbent. Looking at the possible results with a proportional representation system makes the situation grimmer with UKIP winning 82 seats based on its number of votes polled. This is a failure of the mainstream political parties when popularity of right wing parties like UKIP soars up, which is a real threat to unbalance the British society, its rich multiculturalism and liberal values. Too much was and will be said about Labour policy ignoring English voters as well as the middle class, but if Conservative approach to tackle challenges faced by the middle class is more acceptable by the society than Labour’s, this must be a major concern on society’s view on politics, ethics and governance. It’s not that Labour failed to rise up to the expectations of the British public, it was rather the public became risk-averse on the prospect of a radical reform to the political system, which is essential to avoid the society heading towards a state of static inertia. At the beginning I mentioned that the results proved some of my views on the electorate wrong. I assumed that since 2010, a trend was created that all future governments will be coalition and no party will be able to meet demands of every different combination of factions. The results showed I was wrong. However, the Conservatives seem to take no risk in terms of targeting its agenda biased towards its biggest support base — English middle class. And this is where Labour failed, as they put more focus on UK as a collective identity than to be populist. This is where my second hypothesis went wrong. I expected the British electorate to be progressive, embracing the new values and changes, but it turned out that the public were anything but that entity. This is a protectionist, risk-averse, myopic state that people would rather want to be a part of. 
 
On the other side, Labour’s failure and rise of SNP in Scotland was shocking but imminent, the leadership must have felt the change in the tide. Referendum on Scotland left the Scots divided on opinion but unified them under the same Scottish flag, realise the potential of a political party fighting for the priorities for Scotland and its people. A very regional approach, contrary to a one UK concept, but limiting the target audience helped SNP secure the record number of seats, leaving all other mainstream parties almost obliterated in Scotland. 

• Aftermath of the election results

As an immediate aftermath of dismal performance by all major parties but Conservatives, there was a public outrage amongst party backbenchers to remove the leadership. First to step down was Nick Clegg, who, with the decision to join coalition in 2010 had already done a political hara-kiri to the reputation and trust for Liberal Democrats, yet managed five years of reflected glory being in the shadows of David Cameron. Ed Miliband followed suite during the midday when he took the full responsibility for Labour’s calamitous results. It was a gracious speech, delivered in his typical automaton fashion, eyes hardly lifting off his notes. But his eyes said it all — looking beyond the vacant stare, there stood ask struggling to control his emotions, perhaps hundreds of questions were going through his mind but without any answers. And finally, in a very dramatical manner Nigel Farage cast his resignation as promised, but gave a hint that until August when he might even be re-elected because without him, UKIP had no identity. With all three leaders of main opposition parties resigned, UK is a dangerous situation, as nothing is stopping Tories spearheading with their harsh cuts and other measures of austerity before even the oppositions have regrouped and chosen their leaders. It’s not only the leadership that pushed the parties on the back foot, but also the party stalwarts, who would have led the opposition during parliament question hours, have fallen as well in their bid to win a seat at the House of Commons. A first Tory majority government in 18 years, brings bitter memories from Thatcher era. The government is hardly going to be working people’s party as it preached to be, and the austerities will be brought about straight away. This will be an advantage being incumbent, as Cameron once claimed business as usual from first day. The Conservatives have also got Boris  Johnson elected as an MP from a safe seat; doldrums in the other parties will give Boris to settle down fast and pave his way to possibly become the next Tory party leader after 2020. The 2010-15 reign might not be classed as the worst the Conservatives could be, that period has definitely paved the way for a more stricter, hardline Tory rule, breaking up the British society into further class divisions. This will also give them time to achieve an agreement with Bruxelles on the issue of EU referendum. The situation on the other side of the fence is getting worse. Labour leadership elections have always been fraught with fierce rivalry amongst candidates, exposing the internal fissures in the party. The MPs already declaring their willingness to stand up for the leadership position is similar to, as someone aptly put, taking jewellery off the dying relatives. The ex leaders have been too prompt to criticise Miliband as leader, but failed to acknowledge the fact that Labour lost the election due to their Thatcherist compromises in the party command. Adding further woes, Allan Sugar resigned from Labour membership. I am not personally as much concerned with this at one level, because in the end he is a businessman, trying to make a profit, which Labour policy curbed. His defection however is crucial for the party as the election is now won outside the leaders’ debate and speech, or the candidates knocking on the doors of the voters, it is a battleground for business houses, media, and to fight fire with fire Labour do need funding, and they have lost a valuable donor. I still hope they don’t grovel back to him once the new leader is elected, trying to compromise policies for funding. However, all in not bleak and gloomy in this crucial juncture of British politics. Green Party has evolved substantially and nearly annexed Lib-dems in proportional representation analyses, showing a growing trend for the future general voters to choose more radical liberal and social reforms orientated parties. This is also a period with highest number of female MPs. And the most unifying news in the end, BNP which has been in the surge during last general election is obliterated from the arena of British politics, proving a point that people don’t tolerate the right wing politics, and the fate of UKIP will follow the same trend, it’s just a matter of when. 

• Future of British Politics 

The next five years of Tory rule will be earmarked for its atrocities on the lowest strata of the population. The food banks will be on overdrive, more people will be homeless, further cuts will drive struggling families to fall apart or into desperation, cuts will continue to happen in all public services — stretching them further to the breaking point. The NHS, although promised to be ring fenced, will see longer working hours in the name of providing better service, yet without any extra resource. Zero hour contracts will be the only way one can secure s job, thus making it impossible to have a stable income when companies can exploit the system. The Labour will still have another bloody leadership battle, and the leader will either face the challenge of going back to neo-Labour coined by Tony Blair or continue the work Ed Miliband has started. A politically pragmatic move would be a more centrist Labour to win trust fro working class across UK, before going into more radical socialist reform, although that long-term goal should be set from the day the leader is elected, so the party works towards the same goal as they have in 2015, but with more caution keeping in mind that British population is still not mature enough to embrace the reforms Labour was proposing to bring about.
 
This brings to the conclusion, a look on the future of British politics. More crucial questions to be raised, that parties like Greens and SNP already started to ask, such as the future if the trident programme — why is this still being funded, which goes back to the question of fear again. A nuclear Armageddon is an American ploy used since cold-war era which they need as the biggest arms dealer in the world. Questions need to be raised on the relevance of House of Lords, with their pompous red ornate seats, and the hereditary peerage. Also the relevance of the Royal family and the monarchy. Free the Queen, rest of them will probably still live their life as celebrities, but what relevance is there of their role on British politics than just the term constitutional monarchy? What does the royal goodwill tours achieve that the businesses and politicians can’t? It is reassuring to find that the Buckingham Palace has to run on its own budget, nevertheless this is a huge outlay when the government is trying to claw back every penny being wasted, what is more important 500 NHS nurses/policemen/public service operatives or a bunch of people leading a lavish lifestyle on public money without any contribution to the economy. We are too quick to use terms like feckless scroungers on poor people, but the family supposedly at the helm of this “constitutional monarchy” (sounds as mouthy and vain as balderdash and hobgoblin) are no different either. There is so a public outcry for stopping foreign aid and immigration. Contrary to popular belief, foreign aid merely constitutes a minimal percentage of the nation spending, and a country with a long and dark history of colonialism should rather start by looking at the past before blaming all developing/ undeveloped nations for the misery of the Britons. Apart from all these contentious questions, a close look is needed on the electoral system as well, firstly to encourage and as the next stage penalise people for not voting. The role of media in making the nation is also questionable. At present, there are the tabloids, crude and distasteful cheap tack, yet the working class have not rejected this type of populist reporting. On the other hand, the broadsheet newspapers retained their snobbish reporting only targeted at the business leaders, academicians, bureaucrats and similar higher echelons on the social strata. The extreme bias between the Labour and Tory orientated newspapers are nauseating, where one news would be reported in completely different tones. Media will have to be liberal, arguably it is the fourth estate, but rather than snide and vitriolic attacks on anyone with a different perspective, the space for constructive criticism needs to be created, and media’s role during the election should be of a unbiased adjudicator, challenging ideas of all political parties and praising for changes for a better future. Also, the election mechanism starting from using electronic voting machines to dissolution of first past the post system — a lot needs changing and this will be a pithy challenge on any party running the government. Liberal parties will have to find the solution and convince the British public that the changes are essential to live in a synergistic compassionate world of tomorrow — expecting this from Tories would only result in frustration and desperation as they are only interested in culling foxes and the poorest of the poor into extinction. 
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London

London, as seen by a quasi-Londoner outsider

London, Paris, New York, Mumbai, Beijing, Tokyo, Rio — the biggest cities in this world: not only are these cities the economic powerhouses of the world, but they also represent a rich cultural heritage, a diverse demographic, a confluence of humanity from all corners of this earth. Above all, these cities have a character — a strong demonstration of resilience to forge ahead in times of despair and never giving up. Having lived most of my life in Calcutta, I was tempted to put Calcutta on this list as well, but then refrained from it, avoiding a faux-pas. Despite being a big city with a rich cultural legacy, it would not be just to assume Calcutta belonged to the same echelon with the rest for two vital reasons. It does not have the same effect on world economy and hence the demographic, although diverse, is not by any means comparable to the other cities. Secondly, it has never been challenged to test its steadfastness and even with the lack of it, the city is in the way of fading into dilapidation and a decadent oblivion. This test of character marks the biggest anomaly why Calcutta cannot be put within the same bracket with the other big cities. These musings are not either on the city of my dreams, the cultural capital of the world — Paris, as I have never experienced Paris, and going by Le gens non-Parisiens, Paris isn’t that spectacular! Rather, this is a collection of thoughts on the city, which has in fact toppled Paris in recent years as the cultural capital of the world, London.
 
Before arriving in the UK, London, like any other big city, was a collage of landmarks and famous people, more than anything else. My uncle, who was a sailor, used to tell tales on London, especially the rain. In my mind’s eye I had a picture of London, covered with a dusky blanket of smog and drizzling rain, the faint light from the gas lamps shining on the wet cobbled streets. Perhaps this was an imagery created from Sherlock Holmes books more than anything else. With time, more images were added to that vision, especially the landmarks I became accustomed with — Tower bridge to Buckingham palace to Big Ben, and of course Lord’s cricket ground. And holding all these pieces together like a thread was Thames, running from west to east supplying lifeblood to the city. Another image permeates to the mind, of a dark river swarming with merchant ships importing and exporting merchandise from all corners of the world, a very busy docklands strewn with some sacks here, leaking barrels there and an overall sense of urgency all round. 
 
As the adage goes “putting a face to the name”, I had all these visions in my mind but they were distant dreams, of seeing London with my own eyes, which possibly never meant to be materialised. The opportunity came when in 2007, I got the score I expected in GMAT, and knew everything else going as per plan, I’ll be either in the UK or “the other side of the pond” studying. I was due a holiday after all the hard work and decided to visit UK for a week in December. Although I have not seen much of London and mostly stayed in Oxford, London was en route between Heathrow and Oxford and back, as I went to central London on arrival to see a friend who’d accompany me to the coach station afterwards. 
 
On that very first encounter I felt London was enormous and congested, yet full of life and urgency all around me — people running past in the escalators, bikes whizzing past the crowded streets, people reading books or newspapers in the packed tube where they could barely stand. The vastness was apparent, when I realised it took much longer than anticipated to arrive at Central London. As the slow Piccadilly Line tube trundled through the suburbs, I was in a way disheartened to see stumpy little houses all the way, not the skyscrapers I thought would block my view. Little did I know then that on that aspect, Europe is so different compared to the rest of the world, where the burgeoning population has already driven people to expand upwards. In a way I felt reassured as the train approached the inner part of the city and few tall buildings with bright coloured panels would catch the view, that we are getting closer to the main city. The images have completely transformed, when I arrived at Holborn, the heart of central London, with the amount of people almost overwhelming. Despite Calcutta with about 15 million people was much denser than London, the streets there are never so crowded, yet function without any chaotic disorder — a regular sight in Calcutta. A sense of order was immediately visible, whether it’s commuters standing on the right hand side of the escalator to let the ones through on the left side, pedestrians stopping the moment the signal turned red or queuing up keeping a decorum, it seemed to be working like a clockwork. A plethora of memories will stay etched in my mind — visiting LSE, London’s answer to Oxbridge, a vague recollection of going to Elephant and Castle, spicy chicken wings from a local shop, an eerie walk to Victoria bus terminal…But if there is one that highlighted my first glimpse of London, it will be the escalator out of Holborn tube station, the nigh vertical ascent with a sea of people around, the daylight filtering through at the end of the escalator which seemed far away, and there was I, waiting for the ascent to the end and witness the city I have been longing to see for two weeks! That ride up was surreal and every time I nwent up that escalator since then, I always remembered that very first moment I was there. 
 
I was back there in less than a year, heading to a new destination, Cranfield. Getting my room keys I headed off to London the same night to meet a friend, with a plan to do all necessary shopping the day after. I went to the Southeast London, and that was the beginning of an acquaintance, seeing London from various shades of light. That part of the city in the southeast was not the most desirable of the places, and there were news of knife crimes, murders, burglary; in the vicinity of the tower bridge road area. Every time I went to that area, I was always alert, anxious of something to happen, but nothing ever did. During the year I was in Cranfield, I came to London many times for many different reasons, be it spending new year break with friends from Calcutta, attending MBA job fairs, job interviews, Crystal Palace to watch Usain Bolt in British Athletics Meet, many landmarks with day trips arranged from Cranfield. The more I visited London, more I discovered and each visit painted a different picture and London to me was an endless process of superimposing these pictures one by one to be able to fathom the true character of the city. 
 
A new chapter started in 2010, when I started my new job that took me to all corners of London; and it was amazing to discover how old infrastructures are fitted with cutting edge technology to keep abreast of the 21st century. This is the true beauty of London, it keeps evolving, as if in a constant flux or plasma. More places were added to the areas I frequented, with work or after work hours on the way back, in search of comic book shops. Places on both banks of Thames around Houses of Parliament, china town, Shaftesbury avenue or Holborn — the map of inner circle of London was becoming quite clear, just like after long hours of toil, a jigsaw finally starts to show signs of the pattern one looks for, the picture one is trying to find. There were little discoveries made along the way, like the comic book shops on the great Russell street opposite British museum, an exquisite Indian restaurant in Shaftesbury avenue named Malabar, sudden realisation of a concert by my favourite Spanish group Amaral at a Scala theatre near St. Pancras, a Bengali bookshop near the BT Tower. All these findings marked experiencing something personal, that I discovered in the process of knowing the city. 
 
However, it took a lot longer to have an appreciation of the size of London, the suburbs and their location with respect to centre of the city, apart from the extremities of south-east where I lived. The size of London, in a way, can be easily defined by the M25 motorway. Even if I’ve driven all around it on endless number of occasions, it’s the radial roads that joined M25 at various junctions that held the key to knowing all precincts. It’s only lately, when my confidence in driving in a busy city like London overcame the worries, that I started going to places using the car rather than take the same train to London bridge. It’s during those precise moments, around the end of last year, when the collage of pictures, structures, sounds and faces started to come all together to a complete landscape of London. Through my projects, I have better appreciation than ever, of the geography of the city and the localities. 
 
I often had a feeling about Calcutta that the city had many layers, with a degree of separation in between, just like particles inside an atom — each with its own path but hardly any are changing their orbit. In one layer you have the celebrities, politicians, business leaders, people who are face and ambassadors for the city, and are often in the news. Then there are millionaires who we hardly know but can still marvel at their houses and posh cars. There are academicians and artisans, in their smaller spheres of specialisations. Then there are common people — ranging from high earner executives and directors to penniless beggars — with a plethora of strata in between. The curious fact is, to some extent we all come across these people every day, either directly or via media, but we have no appreciation of what the life is like for the people in the other strata, we can’t even imagine. The metaphor of an atom seems quite apt, with proton and neutrons forming the nucleus whilst the electrons keep running in their own orbits completely unaware of the other orbits. After coming to London, that feeling was much bolstered. It’s a city where we can’t even think of identifying the number of layers — commuters from suburbia in their mundane attires day after day, construction workers from Eastern Bloc countries, Tamil eatery owner in Newham — these are all unique and one’s daily routine is diametrically opposite to the other’s, but the great city of London is the only commonality amongst all these strata. 
 
So what makes London a great city? Will it be the marvels of british engineering that built all infrastructure that are essential even now for the daily life? Or would that be the large conglomerates in modern day London, especially at the plush reincarnated docklands at Canary Wharf, that made the city the financial capital of the world — the financial empire that was built with the wealth amassed from its dark colonial past? What about the numerous picturesque landmarks, a hallmark of fine Victorian architecture strewn across the city, which makes London one of the biggest city destinations for tourists all round the world? Undeniably all these are contributing factors that made this city evolve over decades and centuries to become one of the biggest metropolises in the world. However, above all, what I started this writing with, it’s the character that defines the city and what else can best depict the character of the city than its people themselves? From plagues in the Middle Ages to the terrorist attacks of 2005, the city rose to threats posed on its existence, regrouped and reinforced and mutated even stronger, like a Phoenix rising from the pyres. I did not witness or read a lot on any of the events I mentioned, but I was there during the riots of 2011, the Olympics in 2012, the student protests of 2009 and occupy movement in 2011 — and in all these occasions, London has risen up to the challenge and shown its mettle, the strength of character, and its people, irrespective of their background, nationality, colour or religion were at the forefront at this.
 
London is multicultural, it is a confluence of perhaps the most number of cultures across the world into a harmonious coexistence. Starting from restaurants serving all possible cuisines across the globe, to a feeling of arcane at the public places with a mix of languages — recognisable and unknown — strikes the eardrums even without trying to listen — the symbiosis of altitude of cultures, languages, custom, attires is easily palpable. From the carnivals like Holi, Chinese New Year and Notting Hill to an artist playing along flutes and selling Bolivian folk tunes to a man walking in Haringey with an antelope horn — the contrast of sights and sounds only reinforces the fact that this city has welcomed all communities of the world with open arms, as it understood the value of widening its horizon, learning and flourishing from different cultures and communities — much to the dismay of the ‘Little Englanders’, who wants their little kingdom nation back, where the sun never set (it still doesn’t, worth checking an interesting article in XKCD). Irrespective of whether people came to work, study, travel, party, make a future or seeking asylum after all the roads to live in the country are ceased — London has something to offer to all, shelter, career, education, entertainment. All these cultures, ethos, values all add to the complex identity that defines today’s London where it’s not only a window to the UK, but also to a harmonious world of tomorrow. With exceptions that all cities have, London is a shining beacon of the individual excellence and humanity. 
 
I also wonder at the awe-inspiring speed the city is evolving. London is a vibrant city, with a multitude of activities happening every hour that reshape and reform the city beyond recognition, be it new skyscrapers or new look buses and trains, to new ways of commuting in bike highways and skyline or a new art form. All these changes, however insignificant, paves the future of the city of tomorrow, where it can offer something to the whole gamut of people who visit, work or live in the city. The changing face of London is also uplifting the areas or suburbs that it conveniently ignored or even exploited before. This brings in question of the leadership. The man at the helm of spearheading success of London is its charismatic mayor Boris Johnson. I do not support his political allegiance, but no better person could have led London in the twenty first century. He is flippant, and at some point obnoxious because of his insensitivity, but he is avant-garde, a maverick who runs his own show what London needed, away from a quintessential politician, it needed a crossover between a heretic and a businessman, and Boris wears both these hats with equal aplomb. 
 
Despite all positive energy that London exudes, it has never ceased to be criticised, mainly by the rest of the people of UK rather than people from other countries living in London. Rest of the UK feels the image of the UK is too London-centric and all the infrastructure investments are around London whereas other places would need more funding. And then there are NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) who would rather cherish all benefits of all such changes but is extremely reluctant to assist authorities in getting the change implemented. Then there are moaners who would pick fault without any reason, be it immigration, too many people, increasing crimes, too little personal interaction. Usually none of them are any valid reasons — the benefits of multiculturalism has truly been reflected as the youth have more understanding and mental agility than anywhere in the country. Crime rate is high but that is unavoidable in any major city, for London, the figures were going down, promising a better future. London is a thriving, burgeoning city and it can’t be devoid of any problems, it’s just the question of how they deal with it, which reflects the strength of fibres of its character. Also, being constantly under focus blow minor things out of proportion that go unnoticed elsewhere in the country. In fact during my early years in the UK, I disliked coming to work near London, I wasn’t very keen on going to central London at peak times. However, after a few years of living away from London and then going back there quite often made me in a way miss the hustle and bustle of a big city, see so many people at the same time, have a sense of haste and feel a part of this juggernaut that’s hurtling itself to the future with an amazing élan. 
 
To summarise, London is not just its parks and Victorian architecture, nor is it the multimillion pound houses at Mayfair/ Regent’s Park or the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, nor either the stark contrast of central London in the outskirts Acton, Haringey, Tottenham. It’s like a kid’s fantasy out of sweet shops, a pick and mix of the widest variety of sweets, but most likely to have at least one of each type. However, with all its grandeur London is still just another city, what makes it unique is its people — the visible and invisible ones, who make the city lovable, lovable and above all, add the personal touch to the feeling of people who are coming in London, making a fond place in their memories. London, to me, will remain as the sterling example of a place championing the differences in humanity and thriving from it, which, sans its exploitative capitalist background, will be a perfect unified world of tomorrow…
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