Varun: Vision Board 2016

Finally managed to get my vision board up for 2016 and beyond!

My board represents all the things I want to be, have and do.
Every single second is an opportunity to change your life, because in any moment you can change the way you feel and the thoughts you emit to the world.

visionboard

My 2016 Vision Board up on my wall!

The trick is to see the things that you want as already yours. Know that they will come to you at need. Then let them come. Don’t fret and worry about them. Don’t think about your lack of them. Think of them as yours, as belonging to you, as already in your possession.

Every morning and evening, look at your board and visualise your life as already having them and show gratitude for having them. The universe will correspond and begin to rearrange itself accordingly.

That is The Secret.

 

 

We are Living in the Greatest Generation for Entrepreneurship

I originally published this piece in The Huffington Post.

It is no secret that this very moment is perhaps the most fortunate time to start a business in recent times, in Britain.

The working Britain that I graduated into after university is certainly a very different creature from that when I was growing up. One only needs to take a walk through the many co-working spaces set up across East London, to see rows of 20-something techies thumping away at their keyboards, impetuously trying to become ‘the next big thing’. It is impossible to walk through a train station or shopping centre without now seeing a new “pop-up” something: onesies for your baby, Brazilian coffee you can roast at home, or that innovative new banana slicer you probably don’t need. Even aunty Annie who used to make cupcakes for the neighbours has put up a Facebook page with a growing fan base of customers. This is Britain in business 2.0.

Over the last five years, the country’s business landscape has changed irrevocably and I believe there are 3 key reasons for this.

Firstly, access to funding has been democratised. When the banks were turning away first time entrepreneurs and career changers, the government set up the Startup Loans Scheme.

Under this programme, over £145 million in small business loans have been handed out to everything from high-end sportswear makers to these guys who converted a double-decker bus into an office. Even Richard Branson has jumped on board by launching Virgin Startup; perhaps the first time the private sector is playing catch up with the government.

The result of these programmes has seen a new company born every minute in 2014, adding jobs and raising tax in the economy. The Conservative’s small business manifesto released last week aims to generate a further 600,000 new businesses every year by 2020.

Secondly, the way we think about ‘small business’ has changed massively. For the first time, top graduates are shunning the well-trodden path into the City and instead going to work for smaller, high-growth startups. Organisations such as EF and Escape the City are ‘re-educating’ young people to show them there is possibly a more rewarding path forward in the world of entrepreneurship.

Initiatives set up by Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey, to plug the digital skills gap as well as new university programmes by Cambridge and UCL have helped to stabilise small local businesses and modernise the labour market in line with digital needs.
For example, Shakira Chanrai quit her high-flying investment banking job to learn coding and develop Grappled, a hugely popular wine-pairing app. Schools have begun teaching web development and Young Enterprise competitions have produced smart ideas such as EmergyPower, co-founded by 16-year old Aman Sharma.

However, the founding of Tech City in 2010 was probably one of the biggest turning points. From what was just 85 tech businesses in existence then, to around 15,000 new startups now being formed every year, London is now only third to San Francisco and New York as the largest tech cluster in the world. Indeed, Google, Facebook and Amazon couldn’t open a UK office fast enough. This has been replicated across the country such as the development of Cambridge’s Silicon Fen and the Chancellor’s 2015 Budget provisions for tech entrepreneurs’ hubs in Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.

Lastly, the recent initiatives around ‘scaling-up’ has shown that the commitment is more than just about getting people to “start-up”. There is a genuine desire to foster and maintain the companies of the future for the long haul.

The recent white paper on “Unlocking the Sharing Economy” has emphasised how anyone should be able to monetise parts of their life. Currently, you can rent your parking spot out to strangers, rent your excess desk space to freelancers, rent your sofa out to travellers, and even let your neighbours pay to babysit your dog.

An easing in regulations which hindered such business opportunities previously has thus helped enable venture capital investment to pour in, resulting in an overall record £460m in the first quarter of 2015.

The innovative Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) has opened doors for small businesses that could never have existed previously. Anyone can now become an investor in a small business by portioning off some income tax towards a startup investment, which could produce multiple returns. Without such opportunities, recently successful startups like Hubble who help creative businesses find and share flexible offices to work in and WeArePopUp who help monetise empty retail space, would never have got far off the ground.

Furthermore, London has been touted as the crowdfunding capital of the world with Crowdcube and Seedrs leading the way. Anoo Rehncy, who recently quit her corporate job to co-found a luxury fashion line, BAW London, feels that such inventive methods of raising money could be really encouraging to a capital-intensive business.

But perhaps the greatest contribution of this government’s plan for business growth has been to give greater meaning to what it means to be in the pursuit of an ambition. An ambition driven not so much by money but driven by a sense of purpose. A belief that owning and directing a business is not just for fusty corporate suits or for the brash characters you might see on The Apprentice, but actually for people like you and I. People who have sacrificed their jobs and people like aunty Annie too.

You can see some of the UK startups that have backed the Conservatives plan here.

Is Narendra Modi actually Steve Jobs’ Indian reincarnation?

Could it be possible, at all, that a campaign strategist for the BJP, or PR adviser or even the newly elected PM of India himself was present at the 2012 Coachella Valley Music Festival in California? The famous year when the deceased hip hop legend, Tupac Shakur made a return on stage in 3D hologram format. Or could it be that the BJP have a secret penchant for Gangsta rap and contacted the tech team behind the feat to see how Modi could appear as a hologram on more than 90 different stages in India?

Probably not.
But that is what Modi – the technocratic leader did. He may not be from California’s Silicon Valley, but he could be seen as India’s Steve Jobs incarnate, who is as of last Monday, the CEO for digital-era India. (He also shares a resemblance with Jobs which I have merged in the pictures above!)
As the ramifications of the 2014 election play out, Modi’s understanding of the power of tech will be regarded as one of the key advantages he held over the Gandhi-led Congress challenge.

He knew that to reach the largest electorate in the world, in a country that is 9,300 miles in length, he would have to use the disruptive force of tech and do something that had never been done before. And even if he were to fall short, he knew the increasingly tech-proficient middle-class of India would appreciate his aspirational efforts. Like some sort of utopian sci-fi film, he assembled a team of up to 40 technologists in 120 different truck-based teams which enabled him to virtually “appear and disappear” at 1450 rallies, unlocking a further 14 million voters. V for Vendetta meets Rang De Basanti perhaps? A first in the world of its kind.

Jobs, Apple’s visionary, saw the market potential that others could not, for a highly productive and aesthetically beautiful techno-boutique of products. He examined the different needs of the digital world and positioned the iProducts to exceed those demands. Modi, who started life as a teaboy, will now find himself in a similar position. Except, he now has to develop innovative policies that will meet an ever-changing and increasingly prosperous nation that will help facilitate and accelerate it’s change for the future.

This is by no means an easy task. India is a country with different centuries happening at the same time, with an antiquated, traditional, rural class melded amongst an increasingly modern and digitally-sophisticated middle class. India need a tactful and shrewd politician to be able to appeal to both. Indeed, Modi was early to engage social media. His daily tweets and facebook posts have been going for years and his tweet: ‘India has Won’ was the most retweeted in Indian history. His selfies may not have topped the Oscar’s record-breaker but certainly struck a chord with the young. What a contrast from the outgoing mute Prime Minister Singh and his competitor Rahul Gandhi who refused to engage such forms of modern, social media. His Snapchat to Obama is yet to be sent however.

With 5 years on the clock, the new PM has a huge task in front of him and will have to re-invent the party and government policy even faster than Apple’s iPhones update themselves! Despite the flurry of criticisms launched by the opposition and Western media in particular, few would doubt his leadership capabilities after his local successes in Gujarat. His style of leadership can be likened to the Apple leader: authoritative and visionary in the boardroom, even if at times uncompromising. A showman on stage, with flashes of passionate and eloquent oratory. And though heralding from different parts and professions in the world, both leaders expertly have won over the hearts and minds of their subjects.

Modi now has to deliver on the economy where growth has slowed to below 5%, curbing corrupt tendencies from the grassroots to parliament, shunning inequality and discrimination and propelling India’s infrastructure. India experienced the prologue with his extraordinary micro-socioeconomic achievements in all these policy areas in Gujarat; and now these must translate into a full national story.

Like Steve Jobs, being at the top does not come without its challenges and critique. Modi will need to pay meticulous attention to building India’s foreign relations with the West. This is particularly so as he is viewed with suspicion by some, which could be counterintuitive as India goes through her most transformative years. This will be especially crucial to America whose diplomats have in the past dejected Modi. But with enough political prowess and story-telling charisma, this shouldn’t be too difficult a task for the new PM. After all, the last time America’s Hollywood heard a story of a teaboy from the Indian slums who achieved mighty riches, they gave the story an Oscar.

10 Things I learned after leaving an investment bank and working for a startup.

nb. I originally wrote this post for the startup Spacious blog – check us out!

1)  No one cares about your shiny new suit at a startup.

In fact they will probably be more interested in the curry stains on your new hoody. It is imperative to wear a hoody at least once a week if you claim to be a techie. Wearing your own startup clothing with a personalized logo (probably just a single letter) is far more important than Hugo Boss (or Cedarwood State in my case) imprinted in your inside jacket.

2)  Competition is still severe amongst your co-workers.

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Although rather than competing on trades on the FTSE (footsie) 100 table – we now compete on just the foosball table. Or ping pong if you prefer. Who said us computer geeks didn’t play sport?

3)  You are still basically chasing investors – except you now want their money in your pocket.

Yep you realised now that you actually need to take a real interest in who you are dealing with. You can’t just feed them the usual investment bank waffle down the phone, if you want their moolah. Especially if it determines where your next meal is coming from. Investors can put in hundreds of thousands, even millions of pounds as you know from looking at their portfolios at the bank. You now need to convince them to squander it all on you.

4)  The office coffee isn’t actually the worst thing you can drink in the office.

Nope startups take it a step further and have introduced craft beers nearby or at your desk on Fridays. You know, the beers which JF_shmaltz_bottlesaccording to definition are “distinctive, independently manufactured brews produced in exclusive quantities” aka overpriced dog drool. I usually down a tub of Marmite to cover up the taste.

5)  You realise what real gender inequality looks like.

Women are underrepresented in professional services – you already knew that. But they are virtually non-existent in the startup scene. Be prepared for an office with no perfume or cupcakes.

6)  Your new name will be Jack.

You might as well rip up the job description on your first day; your new name is jack. Jack of all trades. If you thought being able to ‘manage a range of banking transactions, or several systems of bonds’ was multi-tasking genius, just wait till you join a startup. In a single breath you will be driving business development, have blog posts and tweets coming out your ears, clients and potential investors dancing on your phone, all whilst probably trying to balance a plate of gluten-free, vegan Bacon on your head.

7)  Clean shaven is only for real CEOs.

Ditch the Gillette and hang free – you are not the sartorial king you once were in the bank. Time to let the hipster beard flow freely. Your fancy pants breast-pocket handkerchief and waistcoat need to be sent back to your dad. You will also need to invest in some skinny chinos and t-shirts with slogans of questionable morals.

800px-Mark_Zuckerberg_-_South_by_Southwest_2008

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

8) The rudest word you can say in the office is the ‘W’ word.

To be fair, foul language is commonplace in both banks and startups – anywhere which gets your blood pressure up. But don’t ever, ever mention the ‘W’ word – Windows. You are now a slave to the Apple Corporation. If you do not use an Apple Mac, prepare to be ostracized. Much like little Johnny who used to turn up to school forgetting it was non-uniform day, prepare to be the king of uncool with your Blackberry and Dell laptop.

9)  It’s not about how long it took you to get into work. It’s about how.

It’s not all about the tube delays these days. Cycling to work is in style again as well as wearing all the accompanying cycling gear to make everyone aware of how super health/environmentally-conscious you are. Not to forget the slim-jims who think they’re doing the London marathon every lunchtime – calm down mate you just ran around the block and bought a Starbucks on the way home.

10)  If you are running your own startup, the hours are just as long.

You probably became an expert at making it look like you are in the office all hours in an investment bank. But with a startup, chances are it’s incredibly difficult to convince people you aren’t in the office all day and night. Now come on, you didn’t leave your super job in the city to join the startup scene so you could work more sensible hours. Chances are your friends will see you less, you have forgotten your marital status and your dog will probably be cooking his own dinners by now too. But it’s all worth it to chase the dream of course! Good luck!

Taking a step into the unknown: My blog’s first year!

Well, this is a short annual post where I get to pull the blanket a little bit about my blog on it’s 1 year anniversary this week.

2013 was an amazing year for me and especially because I finally got my blog off the ground and bought the http://www.varunbhanot.com domain name.
I was inspired by a number of friends/acquaintances on my social networks who had blogs and realized it would be an incredible platform to discuss my views, opinions, hopes, dreams, failures and successes.
I have to admit it was daunting and scary hosting my own page especially in today’s climate where everyone is so cautious over their digital footprint. But it’s amazing what happens once you take a leap of faith and give yourself a platform to post to. The ideas and themes start flooding into your head, now you have forced yourself to open up to the world.
I have a new found respect for people who blog and write because it is not easy to open up in such a direct and personal way. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram only give little nuggets of words and images to your followers, whereas I feel a WordPress blog (such as this) strips you bare. You’re naked in your words and posts, and the world is your audience.

I have a confession that I have actually more unpublished pieces sitting in my drafts than the mere 9 posts that I have put out in the last year. But those of you who write will know that every piece is a little seed, and you have to wait till it’s fully developed and ripe before you can hurl your fruit into the cybersphere!
Well, 2014 means that I will get those pieces out – no matter how controversial or personal they may be.
Starting this blog lead to many wonderful things in 2013 such as several pieces commissioned for The Guardian, numerous guest blogs for companies, most notably ACW Marketing firm, as well as acquaintances coming out of the woodwork just for a chat. If you open up, I believe others want to too.

I have been so impressed with the reach of this site over 2013 and hope to use it as a force for social good and interaction.
So here’s the stats!

My blog to date has been read in 53 different countries across all 6 continents!

Including (from most views to least): United Kingdom, United States, India, Malaysia, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Spain, Singapore, France, Mexico, UAE, Switzerland, Uganda, Denmark, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Romania, Slovenia, Morocco, Serbia, Germany, Argentina, South Africa, Sweden, Cambodia, Finland, Brazil, Thailand, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, South Korea, Nicaragua, Algeria, Indonesia, Hungary, Qatar, Philippines, Austria, Pakistan, Cyprus, Norway, Saint Lucia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Italy, Bangladesh, Croatia, Fiji, Malta, Poland and last but not least, Israel! 

Here is an infographic showing the spread of countries my blog has hit (darker shade = higher views). I hope to expand my reach even further this year.

Blog stats

Thank you to all my international followers for giving my site a chance! I most certainly have to thank my Facebook friends for being so enthusiastic towards my posts, as well as my Twitterati for the retweets, and my LinkedIN pros who have been re-sharing and droping me likes. Thank you – filled with so much gratitude for helping me along the way. Not to forget those who commented directly on my posts (including my friends just taking the piss as usual lol).
If you know me, you know how much I love ‘likes.’ If you do not have a blog, take a leap of faith for 2014 and open yourself up to the world. The world has a way of reciprocating the wishes you broadcast into it.

THANK YOU FOR MAKING ONE OF MY DREAMS COME TRUE. VB.

“Chase Your Dreams”

“When Sachin Tendulkar travelled to Pakistan to face one of the finest bowling attacks ever assembled in cricket, Michael Schumacher was yet to race a F1 car, Lance Armstrong had never been to the Tour de France, Diego Maradona was still the captain of a world champion Argentina team, Pete Sampras had never won a Grand Slam.

When Tendulkar embarked on a glorious career taming Imran and company, Roger Federer was a name unheard of; Lionel Messi was in his nappies, Usain Bolt was an unknown kid in the Jamaican backwaters. The Berlin Wall was still intact, USSR was one big, big country, Dr Manmohan Singh was yet to “open” the Nehruvian economy. It seems while Time was having his toll on every individual on the face of this planet, he excused one man. Time stands frozen in front of Sachin Tendulkar. We have had champions, we have had legends, but we have never had another Sachin Tendulkar and we never will.” – TIME Magazine.

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20 things a Londoner needs to know to survive in New York

Ok, well I wanted to write something of my year in New York especially as quite a few people do ask about it, but thought a travel blog would be too boring.  You would probably fall asleep just reading about how many different homeless bums accosted me in the street. I haven’t written anything on NY since my first serious and reflective post here: New York: the Beautiful Struggle. So instead here is my complete rip off of something Buzzfeed would do. Enjoy!
ps. Major credit to Amandip Panesar for taking the awesome photo above.

1) Manhattan is smaller than you think!

12 avenues across and 215 streets up. (2.3miles x 13miles). If you superimposed that onto Central London, the total width is Bank to Leicester Square. How big that makes London compared to New York! They also have just 5 ‘boros’ (Manhattan, Queens, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island) rather than 32 boroughs like we do. In fact, geographically and in terms of population, New York City is smaller than London. Bet you didn’t know that!

2) Gratuity is not very gratuitous.

Tip jar I saw on the highline

Tip jar I saw on the highline

A customary 18% tip is necessary for everything from restaurants to ordering a drink at a bar to haircuts to cabs.
Once upon a time it was for encouraging good service. Now it’s a must if you do not want to be chased by the chef out of a restaurant with his rolling pin (which happened to us at least twice). Just implement a minimum wage for hospitality, government!
And not to forget the sales tax added on afterwards (rather than before in UK) so you never know how much you are paying. Oh and remember there’s something called a service tax in addition to the food tax as well. Sometimes there’s a drinks one too. Ah and state tax is important. How about a sitting down tax? Breathing our air tax is yet to be implemented however. Did I also mention there’s a space for gratuity again on the second receipt?

3) The city does in fact sleep!

Yes it’s true. You were probably told that NY was the city that never sleeps in Home Alone 2 to build up the suspense. But in actual fact only a half mile radius from Times Square is pretty much dark and empty by 11pm.

4) You will actually bump into a real celebrity and not just the cast of Made in Chelsea or a Bhangra artist.

Now I don’t mean to gloat but I will – I bumped into Jake Gyllenhaal milling around on Broadway, I was sitting opposite Ben Stiller, John Legend, Patrick Ewing and Spike Lee at a Knicks game. Harry Styles of One Direction was eating at the restaurant next to mine, most of the WWE wrestlers were staying in the Westin opposite my office when Wrestlemania came to town (my entire floor spent most of the time glued to the window). Not to forget when I went to President Obama’s inauguration and Jay Z & Beyonce decided to show up.
Then I came back to London and saw Jay from Eastenders yakking up outside Faces in Ilford. Glamorous!

UPDATE: One of my readers pointed out Anna Wintour, Editor-in-chief of Vogue on the third row in sunglasses. Thank you!

Courtside at the Knicks vs Lakers (Madison Square Garden). Patrick Ewing, Ben Stiller, John Legend.  Credit: Amandip Panesar

Courtside at the Knicks vs Lakers (Madison Square Garden). Patrick Ewing, Ben Stiller, John Legend. Anna Wintour in sunglasses on Third row.
Credit: Amandip Panesar

5) There is an alcohol curfew at 10pm, but it does come big!

So you actually have to go to a designated ‘Liquor Store’ to buy alcohol rather than throwing it in with your Tomato Ketchup and Free-range Eggs at Sainsbury’s. They also mostly shut by 10pm where many supermarkets/off-licences serve all hours in UK.
Liquor (spirits) is usually referred to as ‘Hard Liquor’ in NY whereas in England, we just call it simply ‘drinks.’ I think this stems from a general attitude to drinking which is not as casual as the Brits. Drinking in public (incl the subway/parks) is also an actual civil offence. Not like the Central Line on a Friday night then.
However, like all big things in the US, the bottles do come huge. For example, the local store sold a 1.75 litre bottle of Smirnoff. It was so big it was made out of plastic rather than glass. Oh yeah and it cost $23 (£15) too- less than a .70 litre bottle in UK. Crazy.

The local liquor store.

The local liquor store.

6) Student Clubbing is a no-go!

As 21 is the legal age to drink (the highest in the world), a student/young clubbing scene is fairly redundant. Instead you are expected to ‘pop bottles.’ Yes, you are expected to ball so very hard indeed. And unless you are dressed like the remnants of Lady Gaga’s recycling bin or Willy Wonka don’t expect to get into any clubs in the Meatpacking District. (I’m still trying to work out how the Mayfair equivalent of clubbing can be used as a meat market in the daytime).

7) Hip Hop is becoming the universal language.

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The local Doctor Jays clothing store.

Like we have Shakespeare and the Globe theatre, they have Jay Z and the Brooklyn Barclays Centre. Yes, high culture at its finest.  I asked my 40-something colleague in my office what Staten Island was famous for expecting him to talk about some historic landmark. Instead he took great pride in telling me the Wu-Tang Clan and its roots came from there. The motto for ensuring accuracy on my US Treasuries team (where the average age was 40) was ‘check yourself before you wreck yourself’ in tribute to Ice Cube. Love it!
Not to forget one of my other 50-something colleagues who would constantly recite the lyrics to ‘Juicy’ by Notorious BIG every time we made some money on the federal bonds exchange at work. If you don’t know, now you know!

8) Time is not done in 24 hours!

Several people asked me why after noon, my watch turned into ‘military timing.’ (13:00, 14:00 …).. Eh?

9) People are friendly and genuinely interested in your life.

Americans would say New Yorkers are the least friendliest. That might be true compared to the rest of the US, but compared to London they are very polite. If there’s a door you better wait as long as possible- even if she’s 50 yards away- to let a lady pass first, if there’s not enough money to tip don’t even bother ordering pizza, and don’t even think about letting someone sneeze without saying ‘bless you’.
I also liked that people would strike up a conversation no matter where you were and that they are happy to even maintain a superficial relationship such as cracking jokes with the printer guy in the elevator (lift). Unlike tight-lipped London, everyone is quite happy to hear and mock your life story. It’s all a part of the New York jibber jabber.

10) There is no Chip + Pin, Cheques (Checks) are still accepted, and Cash machines (ATMs) charge you!

Credit cards only operate on a swipe and sign, and rarely are you asked for your PIN – fraud galore! Also, you can only go to ATMs of the bank you are a part of to withdraw money. If you are a part of Citibank and go to a Chase ATM- expect to be charged $2+ ! Ridiculous!

11) Being gay is not just universally accepted, but also quite fashionable!

"Are you my husband?" Gay Pride Parade, Christopher Street, Manhattan

“Are you my husband?”
Gay Pride Parade, Christopher Street, Manhattan

Times Square

Making friends in Times Square

I just so happened to stumble into the Gay Pride parade and it really was an all-out celebration for people of all cultures and colours. There was even an African-American church group float. They were really making a point that they are here and here to stay. One of the most interesting moments was when I overheard a couple of fathers saying to their (adpoted) children: ‘How do you feel about having 2 daddies?’ NY has certainly embraced all walks of life.
Someone also came up to me and said I looked really cute in my Timberland boots. It’s a shame it was a guy though lol.

12) They are aware of Thomas the Tank Engine, and more importantly Mr. Bean.

That is all.

13) They actually have real weather issues there.

Flooding outside my apartment/local pharmacy during Hurricane Sandy

Flooding outside my apartment/local pharmacy during Hurricane Sandy

I will never forget living and working through Hurricane Sandy. The whole skyline of New York blacked out and the hurricane tore through our town. I was still asked to trek it into work (on foot) where we worked in a skeleton office. All supermarkets and pharmacies were closed for the whole week bar one due to the destruction and flooding meaning food was pretty much rationed. It was crazy seeing people charge their phones using street lights and the supermarket plugs. I remember when I ran outdoors during the eye of the storm and saw an entire billboard collapse onto one of the parked cars… AND we complain about the fog and cold in England!
I also experienced a heatwave in the Summer at 35c and a blizzard storm in Winter at -10c!

14) Nothing is local!

In East London we consider Essex fairly local and Slough local to West London. In NY, the following places are considered fairly ‘local’:

Before jumping into our car to go down to Atlantic City, New Jersey

Before jumping into our whip to go down to Atlantic City, New Jersey

Boston, Washington DC, Atlantic City, Toronto. Going to uni ‘not far from home’ would be going to one of these places. I drove to all of these places on the weekends which is considered normal (clocking in 1300 miles on the Canada road trip)…and we fuss about driving from London to Birmingham in UK!

15) There is a parade for every holiday.

New Years parade, Memorial day parade, Labour day parade (rest in peace Bob Marley), Columbus Day parade, The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, Halloween parade, even Indian independence day parade!
Every day off work is a reason to celebrate…which is warranted considering statutory holiday is only 15 days.

16) Haircuts really aren’t the same.

I went to the shopping mall to get my hair cut and the lady was incredibly skilled at doing exactly what I told her not to. I felt like an awkward 16 year old who had got a first special haircut before the school prom. All combed forward with some ikky wet look watery gel- with an abrupt quiff at the front. I won’t post a picture.

17) Indians are not Asians.

They are ‘South-Asians’ to differentiate from Oriental people. Not like in the UK where we just call all Japanese, Thai and Chinese people simply ‘Chinese.’ And anyone with brown skin is ‘Asian.’ ..And where in London, Asians are congregated in East London, and North London, oh and West London. Ah yeah and a fair bit in South London now too, in NY they are all bunched in the borough of Queens- Richmond Hill and Jackson Heights to be precise.

With fellow NY indians as part of the NYU Bhangra team. We were about to perform on the court at the Brooklyn Nets basketball game.

With fellow NY indians as part of the NYU Bhangra team. We were about to perform on the court at the Brooklyn Nets basketball game, at the newly built Barclays Center Arena in Brooklyn, NY. Throwing up the ROC sign in tribute to the team’s owner, Jay Z.

18) Chinatown is actually a Chinese Town.

Unlike Chinatown London which is a street of Chinese restaurants interspersed with bars and a Pizza Express, the NY one is literally like you are in China. It is complete with Chinese therapy centres, food markets and gucci bag wheelers. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have their own local government and mafia too.

19) The Subway is not as dangerous as you might think but is hard to use!

Waiting for the train at Penn Station (Madison Square Garden)

Waiting for the train at Penn Station (Madison Square Garden)

It’s not rough and full of hoodlums as you might think. In fact it’s really just about as unfriendly and full of weirdos as the London Underground. It is definitely dirty but is spacious and air-conditioned. AND 24 HOURS TOO! You never have to worry about getting home.
However, it is hard navigating the stations and lines. In London, you turn left for Eastbound and right for West. You have to be an idiot to get lost. The Subway is more like a labyrinth of different entrances, levels and different platforms with terrible signage, and few maps. Sort it out Bloomberg!

20) Last but definitely not least, it is just as beautiful as you always imagined.

On my last day before I went to the airport, I went up to the Top of the Rock, to soak it in one last time…

Capturing the city one last time. (Rockefeller Center, NY)

Capturing the city one last time. (Rockefeller Center, NY)

The India v England Cricket Dilemma

There exists a phenomenon in England that is oft overlooked. One so widespread and universally accepted that it is virtually a non-issue. And that is the debate, or lack there of, of who to support when India plays England in cricket, for UK Indians.

I was recently posed with the question by my American colleagues, who asked why I supported India when they were playing England in the recent ICC Champions Final… in England!  I was branded a ‘sell-out’.

Bowling Monty

Bowling Monty Panesar (England)
Credit: Wikipedia.

It’s an interesting point to consider, given the virtually unquestioned, sweeping support for the Indian team all across the UK Indian diaspora. It is indeed phenomenal that roads and streets are closed in England, when India win tournaments as a result of celebrations of supporters. Something that happens possibly in no other  nation.

England is the country which gave many opportunities to immigrant families, including welfare and benefit. The country provided jobs, housing and citizenship. Therefore why not support them?

My opinion on this sensitive issue, is that it is a way in which UK-born and Indian-born citizens in England, maintain a sense of pride and connection to their motherland. Obvious, somewhat. But I would say the nexus is more profound. Where music and football may primarily exist only in the realms of second-generation born Indians, Indian cricket has become a common ground where the interests of the first-generation meet those of the second.

For many Indian parents, it is their hope that their children grow up with a sense of awareness to their homeland roots, and for many young people, sport is one of their most captivating pursuits. The Indian cricket team is the bridge between the two.

Youngsters may disagree with the country’s politics, attitudes and certain values, therefore cricket gives something non-contentious and inspiring to be proud of. It is interesting that many support India, subconsciously, without actually considering England as a first team. And I believe that supporting India isn’t always a conscious decision, but a natural one. Due to being raised in an Indian cultured and Hindu/Sikh-centric home from birth, there will naturally be an affinity to that team.

English: Fans wave the Indian flag during a ma...

English: Fans wave the Indian flag during a match against England. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Having said that, there will be a margin that do not support India principally. Is there anything wrong with this? Absolutely not!
Supporting England, as that is the country of citizenship is perfectly fine. After all, Indians will almost certainly give full support to England in the football and Andy Murray in the tennis- so why not the cricket too?

One point which I think was particularly disappointing was the Indian supporters jeering at Ravi Bopara, the England player, no doubt jibing at his Indian heritage. He took 3 key Indian wickets and scored the second highest runs in the final. When one lives in England, and are blessed with this talent, then obviously they will play for their country of citizenship. He is just doing his job.

In fact, over recent seasons, there were 3 Indian players called up to the England national team- Ravi Bopara, Monty Panesar and Samit Patel. People forget that having over 25% of the England national team of Indian heritage is a massive achievement; for an ethnic minority group that makes up only 2% of the population.

English: Photograph of Ranjitsinhji, celebrate...

English: Photograph of Ranjitsinhji, celebrated English cricketer. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Not only this, but English cricket has a long, successful history of Indian players, starting with Ranjitsinhji in 1896, whose record-breaking 5 double-centuries pioneered the conventional batting style and spearheaded ‘imperial cohesion’, despite racist upheaval in his early career. Indian-born Nasser Hussain was widely regarded as ‘one of the most significant cricketers to have captained England since the war’ (The Times). And more recently, Monty Panesar, the first Sikh player, inspired English fans to ‘wear beards and patkas (small Sikh turbans)’ to games. In fact, the list goes on… Mark Ramprakash, Vikram Solanki, Robin Singh, Minal Patel…

My hope is that for those who support India so passionately, they don’t forget that there is much to be proud of and to support in their country of citizenship too. And that if they themselves have a talent for cricket, they can depend on the UK-Indian community for support too. In doing so, though there may be only one winner at the end of the game, the Indian people still win on both fronts.

Partying on Ilford lane when India won the 20/20 world cup, 2007.
It is a phenomenon that streets are closed to allow for Indian celebrations.

Is this the saviour of Hip Hop?

Kendrick Lamar Music Matters Tour Toronto 2012

Kendrick Lamar Music Matters Tour Toronto 2012

There hasn’t been much rain on New York City this Winter. But on this particular February night, it was absolutely pouring. I jumped out of the cab at the front of the Roseland Ballroom, a grimey concert venue just off Times Square, to find myself amongst absolute anarchy- a traffic jungle of tinted cars booming out bass, cabs horning and trying to shuffle in and out, and hoodlums spilling all over the sidewalks and street.

This was no regular night in New York City. I started the walk to find the back of the queue to the entrance…and kept on walking…and kept on walking. After possibly going past maybe 5 blocks and 2 avenues, completing almost an entire circle of a Manhattan neighbourhood, we finally found the back of the gated line.
Kendrick Lamar was due on stage in about 10 minutes.

We eventually spent most of the night at the bar, and saw perhaps half an hour of this little master on stage. But what occurred to me most amidst all this hype and chaos, was that Hip Hop music was almost certainly at a turning point.

I was initially resistant to pick up Kendrick’s now insta-classic album, Good Kid M.A.A.D City, mainly down to bandwagon reasons. After all, what is a rapper from Compton going to tell you that you haven’t heard before eh? Oh, you do guns, drugs and gangbanging? Well, that’s new!

When I finally decided to try the album, it was like being hit round the head with my mum’s rolling pin. It was like nothing I have ever heard before, albeit some similarities to the earlier work of OutKast. Good Kid is a complete body of work, it takes a leaf from the NWA days and thrusts it straight into the modern day music era in terms of flow, delivery, rhythm and production. Lamar is not the ostentatious, self-important rapper that has essentially killed hip hop (cue Cash Money, MMG), but rather a man with a heavy story to get off his chest. He weaves an intricate fabric of narrative lyrics and speech skits interspersed with dynamic beat changes that create a vividly chilling and tragic depiction of Westcoast gangster debauchery.

The album’s centrepiece: ‘M.A.A.D. City’ is one of the most exhilarating pieces of hip hop ever committed to tape, where Lamar conjures up an orchestral war zone of dirty beats and raw lyrics culminating in an unexpected ode to Dr. Dre’s G-Funk trademark. When you think the song couldn’t get any better, it changes up beat and style, with an even more gratifying second half.

I feel this is what is needed to resurrect the death of hip hop. A different approach; a more sincere and personal touch to music, where the concentration is on providing value and personality rather than unnecessary gloating and quick catchphrases. Whilst listening to this type of album, we are not just entertained but also feel more educated.
Lamar’s honest representation of Compton hardship frustrated against a backdrop of economic disenfranchisement, substance abuse and religious epitaph, eloquently transports us into his dark and broken world. An experience that has been so lacking in hip hop recently. 8/10.

Highlights: The Art of Peer Pressure, Money Trees, MAAD City, I’m Dying of Thirst and the anthem Swimming Pools.

Kendrick Lamar x Beats by Dre

Kendrick Lamar x Beats by Dre (Photo credit: fjhomsi)

Recapturing the Indian Dream

“If India are left to govern themselves, they would surely fall apart very soon”, said the British Minister for India.
“Maybe. But rather we live under our own imperfect rule than a foreign rule”, replied the great Mahatma.

…And an imperfect rule it has been.
However, India has a lot to be proud of in its considerably youthful independent state. The only majority Hindu nation that has had a Muslim President, a Sikh Prime Minister as well as a woman Prime Minister and President. They have held their fort up against foreign attacks on their borders and have the largest film industry in the world. The Indian people that have spilled into almost every nation in the world have proved to be a cultural phenomenon with the Bollywood-mania and chicken tikka masalas being served up in every corner.

The current situation, though, in India is one of the most intriguing and riveting worldly events, that could forever change the course of its governance and principles. At once, we see a nation that is at odds with its own people, its own government and its own cultures. On one hand, we see a government mobilizing itself for the economic prosperity that the academics have so promised and a Realpolitik that is preparing to take the world stage as one of the dynamic game changers. On the other hand, we see the Indian people at the very grass roots level who are tangled in a foray between cultures and behaviours that were once accepted but shall be no more. Whilst the political fat cats are busy preparing the business banquet to fill up their coffers, the rank and file of the nation are now deciding they want a piece at the dining table too.

1014768115_698f70f974_z

Credit to: Flickr
AkshathKumar Shetty

This is not about money. This is about the people of India rekindling their spirit. The spirit which won them independence in 1947. The spirit which led them to win every major war they have been involved with in her 10,000 year history. The only difference is that the battle in which is being fought is no longer against a foreign power but an enemy created amongst themselves. The anti-corruption rallies led by Anna Hazare against the government- a lay person with only $1000 to his name last year. The overwhelming demand for technological advancement in the rural states. The empowering Satyamev Jayate TV show hosted by Aamir Khan last year, that unmasked and broke taboos for the common man. And of course- the massive demonstrations for anti-rape laws after the brutal attack on aspiring medical student, Jyoti Singh Pandey (yes, that is her name) in December. This is about Indians recapturing their values, their rights to equality, their right to be a free human being and ultimately their identity; that have been so foolishly sacrificed on the altar table of that which politicians call ‘democracy.’

British Prime Minister, David Cameron, is today ushering in the largest business delegation to India in an effort to bridge the economic gap, and yet at the same time millions are still demanding just the basic rights to living free. The tension between the rising aspirations of the middle-class and the stubborn government is reaching an apex in which one has to permanently give way. As people become increasingly educated and worldly aware, the nation’s consciousness must shift on its axis to face a whole new direction and purpose. This is thus an absolutely fascinating moment in the history of the nation. India has the largest English speaking middle class in the world, and the demand for better treatment of its citizens is a real, conscious sign that many have moved on from the bare subsistence of living that was once the foremost concern of its people. If history is anything to go by, rising literacy rates and standards of living, indicate that people will worry less about basic food and housing and more about their entitlement to equality and human rights. The increased access to technology that has also branched to the poorer sections of society, who almost all have access to mobile devices, is solidifying this effort. In much the same way the Arab Spring was characterized by the rise of a people that had reached their boiling point in current affairs, the Indian people have now decided enough is enough.

The spirit in which Independence was scripted by Nehru and Gandhi on that Summer’s night in 1947 was a republican government, by the people and for the people. In that endeavour, it appears the politicians have got lost in translation and made a government by some of the people (with money) in favour of only some other people (with money). All of which is typified by a third of the politicians having criminal records including some 15 rape allegations. A government where scandal and bribery is on the daily agenda, exasperated by a Prime Minister, who has more degrees than a thermometer but less words to say than a mute stranded at sea. When the Indian people rise up, and reclaim this dream set out by the nation’s father and other freedom fighters then maybe they’ll be steered back on course again. The non-violent resistance movement that made a celebrity of India in the independence struggle, was a perfect instance of India being an example to the world. When power is restored to the people that matter, I believe India will be a shining example once more. It is just a matter of time.

foot march in India

New York: the Beautiful Struggle

I’ve been in New York for 4 months now. I’m not going to write a standard travel blog describing what indie coffee shops I sat in pondering the world, or how many celebrities I may or may not have been a mile away from. But I will try to give you an accurate description of what this city really is at it’s heart and core.
Well, it’s everything you ever imagined. The fashionistas scuttling through the streets complete with Starbucks accessories, the roadside exhaust fumes and smoke that tangles its way into your stride, the dizzying perpetuity of Times Square, the bums and Hip Hop heads riding the Subway and the altogether universal opinion of the daily commuters that this city, is in fact, the only one that really matters.
I’ve experienced a great deal living and working here so far and done all the clichéd rounds: the rowdy American Saturday brunch, wondered the Met gallery pretending I really know appreciation, seen Jay-Z perform in Brooklyn and of course re-enacted scenes from Home Alone 2 in Central Park.
But the most valuable experience has been to find out what New York: the ‘concrete jungle where dreams are made of’ is really all about. This is something you probably would not get as a tourist with a mere short snapshot view.
I’ve been to New York several times before, always just for a few days, and in that short period one would be mesmerized by the glittering pleasureland that makes up Manhattan. But I think whilst living here for an extended period of time, you progress beyond that first phase. I’ve found that once you become unfazed and overwhelmed by the speed, flashing lights and dominating sense of it’s own importance, you begin to scratch the surface of what this city is really all about. I’ve found that beneath the glitzy and glamorous veneer, there is an undertow of strugglers. A beautiful struggle. It is the city that promises to nurture the dreams of those that commit to work hard enough; that epitomizes what it means to pursue the American dream and ostensibly what it means to be an American. People are always moving, not that it really matters where, but as long as they are moving there is the perception of progress.

There is almost a feeling that New Yorkers are a movement, a body of people that mutually hold the same set of beliefs, values and attitudes. That no personality is too outrageous, no dress is too flamboyant, no conversation is too taboo and no dollar is not worth chasing. The basic tenet that rings across the 5 boroughs that ‘if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere’ essentially holds people to their place in this society. I believe it is this same belief that empowers the Harlem street hustler to look for something better for himself, as does the Wall Street banker attempting to establish his nuclear family.
…And of course, this is where it is all possible. It is this city that gave birth to the template ‘rags to riches’ tale, where the struggling diner waitress can become a platinum selling artist, the street sweeper could be the next Broadway star, and the poor ghetto boy can graduate college. In this respect, I think it would be not improper to label New York City a cosmopolitan and developed ‘ghetto’ in itself, where those who are wealthy and poor, together seek a lifestyle better, circumstances more comfortable, and a life with more overall purpose and direction. I would also add that New Yorkers do it with a great deal of zest and humour, in a manner I would say foreign to that found on British shores. The famous American friendliness, jolliness and charm holds true to day to day life especially with the plethora of holidays, parades and the overall pomp and pageantry of the land. Everyone knows life could be better but they take the present for what it is and decide to laugh through it together. After all, this is where the world comes full circle- all the joy and heartbreak of a lifetime can be experienced on the 12 avenues of Manhattan whilst all the same devastation and hope can be lost and found. A daily grind for some; a pleasureland for others. That is the Beautiful Struggle.

new york 2

100 things to do before you die…

Some of you may be familiar with a gentleman by the name of Alfred Nobel, who was around in the late 19th century. Some may ask what was he actually famous for? If you said- the ‘Nobel Prize’- you would be wrong!
He was actually the creator of dynamite, as a Swedish chemist and innovator. In 1888, Alfred’s brother died, and the national newspapers erroneously published Alfred’s obituary. It read ‘the merchant of death is dead; Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday’. It was at this pivotal point, that at the age of 62, he decided he wanted to be remembered for something more worthwhile; something more noble. He assigned all his fortune to be used to establish the annual Nobel prizes to award annually for distinction and excellence in different fields…and his legacy lives over a century later.

This shows you can create an extraordinary life, no matter the age or whatever your previous history is.

I think it is therefore important to create a Bucket List of things to do and achieve in your life, so you know you’ve made the best of your short time here on Earth. You can go away with no regrets. I made my own list a couple years ago and have been working through them and hope it helps you too!

I have made a generic list below which includes a mix of my own wishes as well as ones that have been suggested (though not necessarily my own – you’ll have to work out which is which!).
Don’t be modest or play small- you’ve only got 1 life to live so go for it!

The Bucket List

1)      Run the London Marathon.

2)      Run the New York Marathon

3)      Complete an Iron Man.

4)      Donate blood.

5)      Get a degree from a respected university.

6)      Marry an amazing person.

7)      Have children.

8)      Meet/have dinner with a huge music/actor superstar.

9)      Meet the President of the United States.

10)   Be invited to 10 Downing Street.

11)   Be invited to Buckingham Palace.

12)   Meet the Queen

13)   Meet the Prime Minister.

14)   Work in the Houses of Parliament.

15)   Buy my dream car.

16)   See Eminem & Dr. Dre live in performance.

17)   Stay at the Burj Al Arab hotel, Dubai.

18)   Drive all across the coasts of the USA.

19)   Climb to the top of Mount Everest.

20)   Climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

21)   Go to a Drive-In Cinema.

22)   Shower in a waterfall

23)  Have Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner in a different world destination in the same day.  (London –> NY –> LA)

24)   Ride in a hot-air balloon.

25)   Drink Absinthe

26)   Attend a samurai class in Japan.

27)   Stay at the Namale resort, Fiji.

28)   Visit Australia and have a BBQ.

29)   Visit Punjab and the villages.

30)   Go Skydiving.

skydive

31)   Bungee jump.

32)   Visit every continent.

33)   Visit the Antarctic.

34)   Ride a gondola in Venice.

35)   Visit the Pyramids, Egypt.

36)   Visit the Grand Canyon, Nevada.

37)   See the Taj Mahal, India.

38)   Build my dream house.

39)   Surf on Bondi Beach.

40)   *** ****

41)   Scuba Dive in the Great Barrier Reef.

42)   Own the Beats By Dre headphones.

43)   Meditate in a Buddhist Temple.

44)   Complete Tony Robbins Mastery University.

45)   Own a successful company.

46)   Become a millionaire.

47)   Fly First Class.

48)   Participate in the La Tomatina festival, Spain.

49)   Go fishing.

50)   Maintain a healthy and fit diet.

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51)   Go Zorbing.

52)   Watch the Olympics Opening Ceremony live.

53)   Live in New York City.

54)   Go Parasailing.

55)   Learn to play the piano.

56)   Go Firewalking.

57)   Race a Ferrari or Lamborghini on a race track.

58)   Ride on the Orient Express.

59)   Travel to the Moon with Virgin Galactic.

60)   Become a vegetarian.

61)   Stay in Bora Bora.

62)   See the Mona Lisa painting, Le Lourve

63)   Go to Mardi Gras Carnival, Rio De Janeiro.

64)   Songkran Festival, Thailand

65)   Glastonbury Festival, UK

66)   Take up Gourmet Cooking.

67)   Take up Photography.

68)   Watch every movie that won an Academy Award for Best Picture. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academy_Award_for_Best_Picture)

69)   Perform in The Bhangra Showdown.

70)   Own a helicopter.

71)   Charter a private jet.

72)   Own an island.

73)   Own a ski getaway.

74)   Adopt a child.

75)   Spend a week at a silent retreat.

76)   Bathe in the River Ganges

77)   Start a Charitable Foundation.

78)   Make a film.

79)   Own a distinguished restaurant.

80)   Create a website.

81)   Write an autobiography.

82)   Appear in Time magazine.

83)   Throw a surprise party.

84)   Speak at TED.

85)   Go to the Bada Bing, New Jersey.

86)   Try Lobster

87)   Appear on a TV game show (The Weakest Link)

88)   Eat at a double Michelin star restaurant.

89)   See [Manchester United] win at [Old Trafford].

90)   Go to the FIFA World Cup.

91)   Read at least 20 of the 100 Best Books of All Time (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_100_Best_Books_of_All_Time)

92)   Ask a girl/boy out and fail/succeed.

93)   Run for a political/public office.

94)   Become a trustee of a social foundation or organisation.

95)   Write and be published in a major publication.

96)   Visit the holiest place for my respective religion.

97)   Teach/volunteer in a country far away from home.

98)   Stand on the equator.

99)   Ride an ostrich.

100)  Pass away happy.

And the list goes on!… What more would you add??

Keep Moving Forward.

Keep Moving Forward. #forward2012 was the slogan of the political campaign that drove the President back into his seat in November. Forward is the aspiration of the millions of struggling, marginalized, forgotten and downtrodden in our society. Forward is the direction we always hope we are heading, even when the future looks bleak and unknown. But it is sometimes easy to get kicked off track. Shit happens. You don’t make the team, you get told you have to leave your job, she says no to you, the hurricane sweeps up your home, you find out about that medical condition. That’s life.

People don’t like it because they believe they were destined for some other fate. We all do; we think him but not me. Maybe them but not us. But we are all victims of circumstance, we are all ants under the same microscope. As was once said by someone famous whose name I now forget, no matter where our journeys start or what happens in between, we all have to cross that same bridge at the end.

My message is short and direct. Sometimes in life you don’t often get what you want, but you always get what you need. You may not see it yet but have faith you will know someday soon; and it will all make sense. You just have to keep faith. It’s not about how hard you get hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit but keep moving forward.

If you can’t fly then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, do not stop moving forward.

Happy Spring!

Image

Live With Passion.

India is no more dangerous than it was before – but we already knew that.

Every year my grandparents make the annual trip to our holiday home in Gurgaon, just outside of New Delhi, India. I regularly join them and following the recent judgements in the Delhi rape trial and other similar incidents, one might suspect this year would be very different.

Mood of India 2013

Mood of India 2013 (Photo credit: ramesh_lalwani)

It is a wish of many first and second generation parents that their children grow with a sense of awareness about their roots and their migration to the UK that became part of the great British Asian narrative. It might be presumed that for the huge diaspora of expatriates that currently reside in the UK, the customary trip ‘back to the motherland’ may never be the same. One in eight tourists to India are British and those who holiday and pilgrimage to the nation may do so with a greater sense of trepidation and planning than ever before. Indeed the Foreign Office stated earlier this year that “women travellers should exercise caution when travelling in India even if they are travelling in a group.”

However, despite the flurry of criticism in the media, I am somewhat unfazed. I do not feel that the plight in India now is that much worse than it was before and let me explain why.
It is true that the numbers of reported rapes in India have spiked with over 1,000 cases of rape reported until August this year, against 433 cases reported over the same period last year. But this is most likely due to more reporting than due to higher incidence, which is in fact a positive sign that the taboo is slowly breaking and victims are finally speaking up.
We agreed that we would be a little careful when visiting guests and travelling out of the popular areas but few should be any more worried than they might have been in the past. I am not saying not to exercise greater caution; but that any dangers that may be present were in fact present before the so-called sudden influx of rape cases.

Indeed the numbers of reported rapes doubled between 1990 and 2008, including the rape and murder of the Australian Dawn Griggs and English teenager Scarlett Keeling in 2008, but this did not largely deter the number of visitors. In fact the number of Western tourists went up by 7% between 2009-10. The apparent imminent ‘rape epidemic’ has only become such because the media have decided to push such stories from the back pages to the front headlines alongside politics and the economy. They were always happening in the background and increasingly so over the last 20 years.

Whilst the Delhi and Mumbai cases have been harrowing and despicable acts of violence, rampant rape has never been exclusive to the nation. The death penalty judgments in the Delhi case on Friday were warranted as the case was considered ‘the rarest of the rare,’ by Judge Khanna. But for those of us who visit India from the West on a regular basis, we know there is nothing really that rare about this incident. The only thing that was rarest of the rare in this case was the intense media scrutiny and subsequent protests. Murder, rape, ethnic cleansing, bribery and theft coupled with a cultural epidemic of misogyny have been systemic parts of the Indian society for many years. My relatives in the nation oft remind me of stories of murder, acid attacks and abuse of women on their front doorsteps that go largely unreported. Indeed there is a rape every twenty minutes and only a 3% conviction rate.

It just so happens that the lawlessness of the nation has not been a hindrance or discouragement for tourists in the past as it is quite simply ignored. The fast current of Indian metropolitan life is such that if the media do not heavily publicize it, people will eventually turn a blind eye, and eventually forget it is happening at all.

Hence, the Delhi case paralyzed the nation’s consciousness not so much for the gravity of the crime but for the pandemic of international press coverage that exposed what everybody always knew. Everybody always knew India was not that safe a place for women. Trains have long been segregated by women-only carriages as well as recreational facilities. Over the last decade, dowry death and kidnapping of women has been increasing by 15% year on year.

Tourists were maybe not as concerned before as India has long been comparatively a safer place for women than the vast majority of its neighbours – and still is. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh have laws that explicitly cement patriarchal dominance and misogyny in society mostly through Sharia law. India has in fact been seen as one of the more progressive nations for women empowerment – starting with one of the first female Prime Ministers in history with Indira Gandhi in 1966. In Hindu religious imagery, goddesses have always been portrayed as ‘Shakti’ or power with numerous weapons. Indeed the cow is so revered for its resemblance to a mother figure through its gentle nature and milk producing attributes.

The media have so eloquently typecast India in the past as a brutish nation of curry, caste and cow, and now chauvinism. And thus the stream of international condemnation flows from there. Maybe it is just that people expect more of India. I, for one, just see it as it always was.